OCEAN CITY — The Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, named as co-defendants in a $1 million civil suit filed in July by a Virginia woman arrested while pregnant during a melee on the beach in 2013, this week filed a motion to dismiss the case on several grounds including the vagueness by which its unnamed deputies are attached to the case.
In July, nearly three years to the day since the 2013 incident, Dalima Palmer, now 27, of Dumfries, Va., filed suit in U.S. District Court against the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) officer who allegedly tackled her to the ground while she was nine-months pregnant during a brawl on the beach. Also named in the suit is the OCPD, Chief Ross Buzzuro, two unnamed OCPD officers who allegedly denied her medical attention while she was in police custody and the Maryland State Police.
The Worcester County Sheriff’s Office is named as a defendant because two of its officers, named only as John Doe, may or may not have allegedly remained in Palmer’s hospital room against her wishes while she gave birth via C-section to her child as a result of the incident. Oddly, the complaint states the two officers who remained in Palmer’s room while she was giving birth could have been Worcester County Sheriff’s deputies, Maryland State Police officers or even OCPD officers. Because of the vagueness of that section of the complaint, and for other reasons including its immunity from being sued, the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office this week filed a motion to dismiss the case against it.
“Subsequent to the encounter, Palmer, who was pregnant, was taken to the hospital for medical treatment,” the Sheriff’s Office motion to dismiss reads. “Palmer alleges that two John Doe defendants, who may have been employed by the Ocean City Police Department, the Sheriff’s Office or the Maryland State Police, refused to leave her hospital room when asked to do so. Based on the allegations, it appears Palmer is trying to hold the Sheriff’s Office liable for the alleged conduct of the John Doe officers who may have been deputy sheriffs.”
The motion to dismiss goes on to state Palmer’s complaint merely identifies the possibility the two John Does Sheriff’s Office may have been officers of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office without actually identifying them.
“Where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has not shown that the pleader is entitled to relief,” the answer reads. “Applying these principles here establishes that the Sheriff’s Office is entitled to dismissal.”
The Sheriff’s Office’s motion to dismiss the case asserts it is protected by governmental immunity and is not capable of being sued.
“Palmer has sued an entity identified as the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office,” the answer reads. “Simply put, the Sheriff’s Office is not a legal entity capable of being sued. In light of the fact that the Sheriff’s Office has no independent legal identity, it simply does not exist, it cannot be sued and claims against it must be dismissed.”
In addition, the motion to dismiss erroneously identifies the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office under the same umbrella as the Worcester County Commissioners.
“Having apparently realized that naming the Sheriff’s Office as a defendant might cause a problem, Palmer now alleges that the Sheriff’s Office is an agency within Worcester County, Maryland known as the Worcester County Commissioners,” the answer reads. “This bald allegation that the Sheriff’s Office is merely an agency of the County Commissioners is not supported by Maryland law.”
The incident began around 2:30 p.m. on July 21, 2013 when Ocean City Police responded to the beach at North Division Street for a reported group of disorderly males. The request for assistance came from an Ocean City Beach Patrol lifeguard, who told police he had approached the group about playing soccer on the crowded beach, at which time one of the suspects allegedly threatened him.
When OCPD officers attempted to speak with the suspect, identified as Abdul Kargbo of Woodbridge, Va., he began cursing and yelling at the officers and attempted to leave the scene. As officers attempted to arrest Kargbo, other members in the disorderly group began to yell at police and act in a disorderly manner.
What happened next, according to police reports and witness testimony, was a pushing and shoving match between the suspects and the police, including punches thrown, as officers attempted to detain the combatants, including Musa Seisay, 27, of Garrisonville, Md., Saidu Kargbo, 24, of Woodbridge, and Palmer, then 24, of Dumfries, Va.
According to police reports and witness testimony, Palmer, who was nine months pregnant at the time, was involved in the fray and verbally and physically abused the arresting officers. During the struggle, Palmer was wrestled to the beach by OCPD officers and an attempt was made to handcuff her.
All four of the suspects were arrested and charged with various offenses. Palmer was taken to the Public Safety Building for processing when she began to experience labor pains. She was ultimately transported to PRMC in Salisbury where she gave birth to her child via C-section. She was later charged with second-degree assault, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and reckless endangerment.
According to the complaint, Palmer told OCPD officers identified in the suit only as Officer Jane Doe and Officer John Doe she was experiencing sharp pains in her stomach and requested medical attention. The suit alleges the officers denied medical attention for Palmer and only after she lost consciousness was she transported to PRMC.
According to the complaint, while Palmer was in labor at PRMC, two male officers identified in the suit as John Does with either the OCPD, the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office or the Maryland State Police remained in her room despite her requests for privacy.
So, in summary, the suit names the arresting officer on the beach for his alleged excessive force while taking the pregnant Palmer into custody, the unnamed officers at the Public Safety Building who allegedly denied her immediate medical attention when she went into labor, the two male officers who remained in her room while she gave birth to her child. The Ocean City Police Department and Buzzuro, along with the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and now the Mayor and Council and the Worcester County Commissioners were named as the agencies that hired and trained the named defendants.
It’s important to note each of the four suspects in the case was ultimately found guilty. Palmer was found guilty of second-degree assault and was initially sentenced to 30 days, but upon reconsideration was placed on probation for one year.