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Judge Advances D.C. |Police Brutality Case

WASHINGTON (CN) - D.C. police must face false-arrest and other claims from a man who allegedly tried to film an incident of police brutality, a federal judge ruled.

William Kenley says the incident occurred outside his house when he saw several officers with the Metropolitan Police Department approach his friend on June 20, 2013, question him for no apparent reason, and then proceed to choke and beat him with a baton.

As Kenley used his cellphone to videotape the incident, the officers took notice, according to Kenley's complaint.

Kenley says Officer Brandon Baldwin charged him, knocking his phone to the ground. Kenley's mother then allegedly opened the front door of their house, and his dog ran outside.

Claiming that the officers had pulled their guns on him and his dog, Kenley took the dog into the house.

Kenley says several more officers arrived at the scene then, and that they decided to have arrested on bogus charges of assaulting a police officer.

While detaining Kenley overnight, the officers concocted a fictitious arrest report, according to the complaint.

Kenley says the officers took a witness statement refuting their claims, but that they left the exculpatory testimony out of the report until more than a month after the arrest.

An officer also allegedly informed Kenley's employer of the felony arrest, causing Kenley to face an unpaid suspension, according to the complaint.

Kenley filed suit a year to the day of the incident, nine months after the charges against him were dismissed.

The District of Columbia removed the superior court case to federal court and then moved along with the four defendant officers to dismiss various charges.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg found last week that Kenley can advance First and Fourth Amendment charges against the four officers but not the district.

The court also dismissed Fifth Amendment, malicious prosecution and false imprisonment claims against all the defendants, but the false-arrest charge will stand against all five defendants.

Baldwin and the district must face assault and battery charges, according to Boasberg's order, while a negligence claim will move forward against Sgt. Jonathan Dorrough, Officer Michael Littlejohn and the district.

The fourth defendant officer is Adam Shaatal.

In a 41-page opinion filed alongside the order, Boasberg explained why the officers may have trampled free-speech rights in allegedly knocking the cellphone out of Kenley's hand.

"Official reprisal for protected speech 'offends the Constitution [because] it threatens to inhibit exercise of the protected right,' and the law is settled that as a general matter the First Amendment prohibits government officials from subjecting an individual to retaliatory actions, including criminal prosecutions, for speaking out," Boasberg wrote, quoting from Hartman v. Moore.

While each of the officers involved can thus be held liable for a conspiracy to impede free speech, Boasberg said that the district cannot be held liable for the actions of its individual employees.

Boasberg applied the same analysis for Kenley's Fourth Amendment false-arrest claim.

As for Kenley's Fifth Amendment due-process rights, the judge noted that the charges against Kenley never went to trial. Without an unfair trial or a conviction of a crime, there is not enough substance to uphold a claim of due-process violations.

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