Officer Sued For Excessive Force; Resort Seeks Dismissal, Denies Wrongdoing

OCEAN CITY — A resort police officer, who allegedly viciously beat a Severn man during an incident outside a resort nightclub last August, is seeking a dismissal of the case on a variety of grounds including a nearly blanket denial of the allegations.

In March, attorneys for Branden Thomas, 26, filed suit in U.S. District Court against Ocean City Police Pfc. Ryan Flanagan and the department alleging the officer of an unprovoked attack against Thomas outside a midtown nightclub in August. The suit seeks an undisclosed amount of damages to be determined at trial for several charges against the officer including assault and battery, false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and violations of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom from seizure.

“It is alleged that the individual police officer defendant made an unreasonable seizure of the person of plaintiff Branden Thomas, thereby violating his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and that this individual police officer defendant battered the plaintiff and otherwise utilized excessive and unwarranted force during the course of said seizure,” the complaint filed in March reads.

However, Flanagan’s attorney, Ocean City Solicitor Guy Ayres, last week filed a formal answer to the complaint, systematically denying nearly every aspect of the complaint while denying knowledge of many other elements. Ayres’ formal answer to the complaint seeks a dismissal of the case alleging Flanagan did not commit the alleged actions and is not guilty.

According to the complaint, Thomas, an employee of the Master Security Company, a private contractor that provides security services to the U.S. government, and two other companions were leaving a midtown nightclub on Aug. 16, 2012, and were walking through the parking lot en route to their hotel when they came upon a scene of Ocean City police officers arresting a man for assaulting a female. The female was injured and was bleeding from the nose when Thomas and his companions asked what had happened.

Thomas and his companions were informed the female victim had been assaulted by the male and suspect was being arrested. According to the complaint, Thomas and his friends expressed some verbal disdain as they continued walking about the assault on the female and subsequent arrest of the suspect when Flanagan allegedly told them to “shut up or be arrested,” according to the complaint. Thomas then told Flanagan they were leaving and returning to their hotel and asked Flanagan, “arrested for what?”

According to the complaint, Thomas and his group continued to walk when Flanagan yelled for them to stop. Flanagan then closed the distance between he and Thomas and allegedly struck Thomas in the back left side of his head, near his neck, with a closed fist. The force of the strike caused Thomas to lose his balance and stumble to his right. Flanagan then allegedly pushed Thomas, causing him to fall to the ground and strike his head on the concrete.

According to the complaint, Flanagan then straddled Thomas and used his legs to pin Thomas’ arms to his side. While Thomas was lying on the ground with Flanagan pinning his arms to his side, Flanagan allegedly struck Thomas roughly four times with a closed fist in his left temple, eye and jaw. Thomas was injured as a result of the assault and suffered a brief loss of consciousness.

Thomas was subsequently arrested and handcuffed. According to the complaint, Thomas had not physically resisted or otherwise assaulted the officer in any way and the force directed against him was “unnecessary, unreasonable and excessive.”

Also, according to the complaint, at no time during the incident was Thomas a threat to the safety of himself, the Ocean City police officers responding to the scene or any other person present.

“As a result of this vicious assault, the plaintiff was clearly injured and in need of medical attention,” the complaint reads. “The plaintiff was subsequently taken to the hospital for medical care and treatment where he had to undergo a CT scan of his head.”

Flanagan issued a statement of probable cause and requested Thomas be charged with disorderly conduct, obstructing and hindering and failing to obey a reasonable and lawful police order. According to the complaint, the charges against Thomas were trumped up.

“Flanagan included a contrived and disingenuous characterization of the facts to support these charges and in an attempt to obfuscate his own misconduct,” the complaint reads.

As part of his employment requirements, Thomas reported his arrest in Ocean City to his supervisors at Master Security Company. To obtain the position, Thomas was required to hold a security clearance, be licensed to hold and carry a firearm and fulfill other license requirements.

At the time of the incident last August, he was working security at St. Elizabeth’s Department of Homeland Security headquarters in Washington, D.C. He was allowed to continue his employment until Oct. 31, 2012, because St. Elizabeth’s had not yet opened to the public. However, when the facility was opened to the public on Nov. 1, Thomas was required to have a secret security clearance, which he was unable to obtain because of the pending charges against him in Worcester County from the incident in Ocean City in August.

“As a result of the arrest, he was unable to obtain a secret security clearance and was accordingly forced to take leave without pay pending the resolution of the spurious criminal charges advanced by the defendant Flanagan,” the complaint reads.

On Jan. 30, all of the charges against Thomas were entered “nolle prosequi,” or not prosecuted, and he was allowed to return to work around Feb. 14. However, by that time, there was no full-time position available to him at Master Security and he was forced to take a part-time position until a full-time placement became available.

Court records indicate the charges against Thomas were not prosecuted, but in his answer to the complaint, Ayres asserts the disposition of the case does not necessarily indicate Thomas was not guilty. As to the outcome of the criminal case against Thomas, Ayres admits the charges were nolle prosequi, but only after Thomas “completed community service, which the plaintiff sought to avoid prosecution,” and further neither admits nor denies the employment allegations because he had no knowledge of them.

In his answer to the complaint filed last week, Ayres in general asserts Flanagan did not commit the wrongs alleged and that he is not guilty as alleged. Specifically, the motion to dismiss the suit categorically denies nearly every element of the suit, or neither admits or denies stating having knowledge certain elements. Flanagan denies the vicious assault but admits Thomas was taken to the hospital. He also admits the charges were filed against Thomas, but denies they were contrived.

In the affirmative defenses in Flanagan’s answer, the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The answer also asserts the defendant is entitled to immunity, qualified immunity and good faith immunity. The answer also asserts Thomas is guilty of contributory negligence and guilty of an assumption of risk.

OCPD Public Information Officer Mike Levy said there was never a formal complaint filed against the officer. He said the department only learned about the allegations after being served with the court papers.

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