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Date: 11-22-2023

Case Style:

John Rodgers Burnley v. Alexandra M. Valentin

Case Number: 3:23-cv-00160

Judge: Roderick C. Young

Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (Henrico County)

Plaintiff's Attorney:

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Defendant's Attorney: Soroush Naser Moghaddassi, John Ryan Owen, Paul Bradenham Michelle, IV

Description: Richmond, Virginia personal injury lawyer represented the Plaintiff who sued the Defendant on a civil rights racial discrimination theory.

Plaintiff is a Black resident of Richmond, Virginia. (Compl. ¶ 4, ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff purchased his home in 1999, at which time the other residents of his block were “98 per cent [B]lack [A]fro- [A]mericans ....” (Id.) The demographic ratio has since changed to “96 per cent [W]hite [A]mericans.” (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that “[t]he [W]hites [sic] defendants named in this suit have harass[ed], intimidate[d] and discriminated against Plaintiff” (id.) and consistently employed racial slurs against him and told him to “move from this block” and to “move from his home or [they] will keep calling the police.” (See generally id. ¶¶ 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14.)

Plaintiff alleges that RPD Detective Margaret Cunningham (“Detective Cunningham” or “Cunningham”) conspired with Plaintiff's White neighbors to harass Plaintiff, and specifically to “get[] the neighbors to call the Richmond Police Department on a daily basis and complain about the Plaintiff. Cunningham had the neighbors . . . allege that Plaintiff was a ‘drug dealer' and th[at] Plaintiff was a ‘drug user.'” (Id. ¶ 16; see also id. ¶¶ 5, 8.) Plaintiff further alleges that, at various times during 2022, Detective Cunningham would sit on different neighbors' porches and use racial slurs against Plaintiff, specifically calling him “n****r” and “porch monkey.” (Id. ¶¶ 11, 13.) Plaintiff alleges that Detective Cunningham is racist, and that her animus stems from both his race and the fact that he filed a complaint against her sometime previously. (Id. ¶¶ 16, 20; see id. ¶ 13 (“n****r when I finish with you, you will wish you never filed a complaint against me, n****r”).) Plaintiff was separately told by other neighbors that Detective Cunningham “stood behind [them]” and that they and Cunningham had “got the police on [Plaintiff's] a** now.” (Id. ¶¶ 6, 8.) Another neighbor told Plaintiff that Detective Cunningham “dispatched a Richmond City Police Detective to watch [Plaintiff]” for two days in February of 2023. (Id. ¶ 9.)

According to Plaintiff, Detective Cunningham has used her position as a supervisor with RPD to use the Unknown Named Police Officers to place Plaintiff under 24/7 police surveillance and to tailgate Plaintiff and his family when they leave the house. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18, 23.) Plaintiff


filed complaints with various state and federal agencies concerning Detective Cunningham and requested that Cunningham be investigated for her alleged “hate crimes” against him. (Id. ¶¶ 2021.) Plaintiff alleges that RPD's Internal Affairs Division lacks any “established policy, procedure and custom” for handling such complaints, as a result of which Cunningham was able to throw the two complaints in the trash can when they were forwarded to the Fourth Precinct where Detective Cunningham works. (Id. ¶ 21.) Later in the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that, to the extent there are general policies and orders, the Internal Affairs Division does not follow them. (Id. ¶ 29.)

Plaintiff alleges that RPD Fourth Precinct Commander Donald Davenport (“Commander Davenport” or “Davenport”) is Detective Cunningham's supervisor, and that Davenport acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's rights when he failed to contact Plaintiff concerning Plaintiff's complaint against Cunningham. (Id. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff further alleges that Commander Davenport “fail[ed] to train, supervise and discipline Cunningham” and “allowed Cunningham to run around like a loose cannon without any type of supervision,” which allowed for Cunningham's acts of discrimination against Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 19 (corrected for punctuation).) Likewise, Plaintiff alleges that RPD Chief of Police Richard G. Edwards (“Chief Edwards” or “Edwards”) did not have an established policy and procedure in place within RPD for handling complaints such as Plaintiff's, and that Chief Edwards “showed no concern” when Plaintiff informed him that, contrary to Edwards's instruction, Commander Davenport never contacted Plaintiff concerning the complaints. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 22.)

Plaintiff contacted City of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney (“Mayor Stoney”) three times from November 2022 through January 2023, informing Mayor Stoney of the police misconduct he was experiencing and the need for investigation by Mayor Stoney's office. Mayor Stoney, however “ha[d] no ‘established policy and procedure' in place to investigate [RPD]” and “failed to train, supervise, and discipline” Chief Edwards. Moreover, Mayor Stoney failed to act in the face of Plaintiff's complaints and communications.

Plaintiff similarly alleges that he contacted Richmond City Council President Cynthia I. Newbille, Richmond City Council Vice-President Ellen F. Robertson, and Richmond City Council 3rd District Councilwoman Ann-Frances Lambert (collectively, the “City Council Defendants”) and requested that they look into Plaintiff's complaints regarding RPD misconduct. Plaintiff specifically alleged that an RPD officer followed Plaintiff in his vehicle from his home into downtown Richmond, where the officer almost caused an accident when they cut in front of Plaintiff's vehicle. Plaintiff alleged that he asked Newbille, Robertson and Lambert each to get the traffic footage from the intersection where this incident occurred, but all three refused to do so. According to Plaintiff, this footage would have shown police misconduct and should have triggered an investigation.

Finally, Plaintiff alleged that the General Counsel for RPD, Sharon Carr, stated to the Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper that “it takes her 150 hours to review the ‘general orders' that are currently in place” to govern RPD officer conduct. Based on this, Plaintiff alleged that “it is not possible for [Detective] Cunningham to know, follow and understand the ‘required guidelines and general orders' and act accordingly” and that this density of policies is a failure of policy making that “falls in the lap of the [M]ayor” and “result[s] in liability upon the City of Richmond.”

As a result, Plaintiff alleged that he has suffered severe depression that has required him to seek medical treatment for symptoms such as sleep apnea, fright, gritting of teeth that requires sleeping with tooth guards on . . . and biting of [the] tongue while sleep[ing].”

Outcome: Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 13) will be granted in part and denied in part.

Settled for an undisclosed sum and dismissed with prejudice.

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