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Judge rules Black attorney arrested for sexual assault on word of lying woman has no federal case against the cops but that he might under state law

A judge today dismissed a federal civil-rights charges by a Black attorney against the MBTA and Transit Police officers who arrested him on the word of a woman who turned out to be lying because "qualified immunity" means they are protected in a case where they made a mistake - even one that cost him his job and sent him to the hospital with a pinched nerve from the handcuffs.

But US District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor said that Timothy Fraser might still have a case under state law and so sent his claims of assault and battery, discrimination under state law, abuse of process, malicious prosecution, negligent supervision and training, filing a false police report and defamation to Suffolk Superior Court for adjudication there.

Fraser had initially sued the MBTA and four officers in Suffolk court, but the MBTA and the officers successfully had the case moved to federal court because of the civil-rights issues.

At issue is the way Fraser was arrested and held for several hours following an incident at the Haymarket bus station around 6 p.m. on Aug. 1, 2017. Fraser was on his way home to Chelsea from his job with a Seaport firm when the woman bumped into him as he was boarding a 111 bus, then began berating him. He told the driver he'd get off the bus to let the driver start his route and the driver agreed to let him board at the next stop, a short walk away.

But back at the station, the woman grew more and more irate. Police arrived and she told them that he had very deliberately ground his genitals into her and smiled at her. They caught up with and stopped the bus, ordered him off, took him back to Haymarket where the woman identified him. They then arrested him on sexual-assault charges, handcuffed him and brought him to TPD headquarters for booking.

The next morning, according to the court's summary, Transit Police detectives asked the Suffolk County District Attorney's office to drop the case before it even came up on the court docket because after reviewing surveillance video, they concluded the woman was lying. At first, the assistant DAs on duty in court refused, telling Fraser he could plead not guilty and bring up the video at his next hearing, but then they got word from the DA's office on Bulfinch Place to strike the case immediately, which they did.

In 2020, Fraser sued for what he said were a variety of civil-rights violations. In his suit he also alleged that officers changed their story on what had happened after they searched him and found his bar membership card.

In his ruling, Saylor said he sympathized with Fraser, but that federal qualified immunity lets police officers off the hook if they make certain types of mistakes, which he said happened here. He wrote:

There is no question that Fraser suffered an unpleasant, if not traumatizing, experience. He was falsely accused of sexual assault, arrested, and spent several hours in jail. He was cleared of suspicion within a day, once officers reviewed video footage of the area.

After an analysis of qualified immunity, he wrote:

The qualified-immunity doctrine does not demand perfection; it permits a degree of latitude to make mistakes or misjudgments. ...

It is true that the officers did not attempt to interview any potential witnesses, and the video was not retrieved until later that night. It may well have been prudent or good practice to do so. But the officers were not legally obligated at that stage to pursue every investigative avenue. ... Moreover, the complaint does not allege, and there is no reason to believe, that the video footage was immediately accessible to them, in their patrol cars or otherwise, at the moment the arrest decision was made.

The judge then took a side trip into the issue of the societal context of the arrest in 2017:

It is also noteworthy that this incident was perhaps more fraught with complexity than a typical arrest. Arguably, the officers should have been more skeptical of the report of an alleged victim of sexual assault, and demanded additional proof. But law enforcement has been under substantial criticism—often justified—for not sufficiently crediting the complaints of such victims. As a result of giving her testimony credence, they made an arrest. Unfortunately, they arrested a man who was shown relatively quickly to be innocent. And law enforcement has also been under substantial criticism—again, often justified—for unduly aggressive enforcement actions against minority populations. That does not, of course, mean that these officers made the correct decision—obviously, they did not—but it helps to underscore the difficult nature of the decisions such officers are routinely required to make.

But he concluded:

In any event, it is not necessary to find that the officers got it right. One of the purposes of qualified immunity is to provide a reasonable degree of protection for officers to make certain kinds of mistakes. The question, therefore, is not whether they might have made a better choice. Rather, it is whether their actions were not even "arguabl[y]" supported by probable cause. Under that standard, they are clearly protected by qualified immunity.

And that meant he had no choice but to dismiss Fraser's federal civil-rights charges of false arrest and false imprisonment, as well as any federal charges related to Fraser's other claims.

However, he said that several of Fraser's charges might also be applicable under state law, such as filing a false police report and defamation - the harm done to Fraser by that report - and sent the case back to Suffolk Superior Court to let Fraser continue his case there.

PDF icon Complete ruling277.27 KB

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Who has taken the MBTA for about 25 years, the idea that transit cops would arrest a White man for this is laughable.

Every single one of us, regardless of age, body shape, ethnicity or race has had this happen multiple times, and the drivers, transit cops, and MBTA staff at best shrug at us.

This is another example of systemic racism in policing. This man was likely dressed as a Seaport attny, and the cops thought it would be fun to take him down a peg.

Voting closed 28

Mr. Fraser states that after he was released on bail he called his friends in law enforcement who than I presume called their friends in the detective unit of the Transit Police. Later that night the detectives who couldn't be bothered all day to do an investigation then review the bus video tapes of the arrest and the video show that Mr. Fraser was falsely accused and arrested.
The detectives the next day go to court and get into a pissing contest with the DA over dropping the charges and and the patrol officers who did their job during the initial investigation all get sued. This was a serious accusation of a sexual assault and a black man lost his job and was falsely arrested. Why didn't the detectives review the bus tapes that day and not wait to review the video evidence until later that night after they received phone calls from Fraser's law enforcement friends? It appears that the sleuths who work as detectives for the MBTA should have been sued not the officers who responded and did the best they could.

Voting closed 17

cops should just have to obtain malpractice insurance; therefore, to prevent higher premiums, they would act rite.

Voting closed 26

They'd just add it to the contract and the city would cover it.

They city already covers the cost of lawsuits and payouts when cops screw up.

Voting closed 26

Let's say they summons him for the felony instead of arresting him while they have time to investigate (Or they just tell him he is under investigation and they let him go). Then they find out he actually did it and he hurts someone else. Are the cops liable for not holding/arresting him then? How long do you hold someone to get evidence or interview witnesses?

I think the issue here is that departments don't use clerk's PC hearings often enough in a case like this. That would have probably been the best avenue in this case.

I like the idea of malpractice insurance actually, but cities and towns that could afford it would simply pay those premiums for them. Then instead of some union lawyer they have a large insurance company attorney basically defending the city for them at probably a low cost, especially if the insurance companies could sue back for damages.

Voting closed 18

It only makes sense that the local government pay the malpractice insurance.

But insurance creates a profit based reason for making sure that local police are as good as they can be according to the standards of the insurance policy. Assuming of course that the insurance policy standards match public policy standards.

Use the profit motive as a tool to reduce wrongful police behavior. That is supposed to work in medicine and law. Why not police?

This means that local government, and tax payers, pay more. That is worth both the money saved from law suits against police that are not covered by qualified immunity and, if it helps reduce violence against innocent people, and create general improvement in how the local police force is run, well, win, win and win.

In an ideal world police are not needed (nor are lawyers and judges). So defunding police is throwing out the baby with the bath water. But oversight where money can be earned and saved on that might prove very worthwhile.

If there are laws there will be people violating laws. Especially in a society where profit and wealth are highly valued, where a medical problem of drug addiction remains criminalized, etc.

Voting closed 17

Who was this man's employer? His name was cleared within 24 hours, and they still fired him the following week?

Voting closed 35

"Fraser appeared for his arraignment the following morning, August 2. Before his case was called, MBTA investigators informed the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office
that the MBTA was declining to file a criminal complaint. According to the complaint, the D.A.’s office refused to withdraw the complaint drafted by the MBTA officers. It informed Fraser that he could plead “not guilty,” and produce the exculpatory video evidence at a pretrial hearing. "

"Fraser returned to work the next day, August 3. Following his company’s policy, he informed a partner of the charge and the resolution of the incident. He was sent home on personal leave."

"The following week, on August 8, Fraser returned to work. That day, he was fired. ."

He didn't have the charges dropped before he was fired. If the DA wanted to go forward? There probably was a moral clause in his employee contract.

Voting closed 11

i would assume most law firms dont want to have their names adjacent to sexual assault. most social media obsessed humans read the headline and rarely read the follow-up article.

Voting closed 23

And what is the racial aspect of this arrest?

Can't he sue her as well?

Voting closed 36

So the black attorney is implying he should have been immune from arrest because he was black and/or an attorney? Should the police have just apologized to him based off of those aspects and sent him on his way?

Voting closed 30

I dont see any reason for his race to be brought up, they were arresting a guy because a woman said he did something. She should be arrested for lying.

Voting closed 26

Specifically the long quote from the judge where he discusses race.

Voting closed 21

The judge said the police have to assume the woman isn't lying and then says police are overly aggressive with minorities.
The police chose to arrest him and believe the woman, people who say they arrested him because he is black are letting the lying woman off the hook and labeling the police as racists or bullies when I assume they didnt want to dismiss her claim and let him go for safety sake..
I still think it took too long to clear him but I dont think it had anything to do with race.
I'm not blind to police misconduct but this just seems like they chose wrong and believed the woman over the man.

Voting closed 14

i dont think he mentioned his race.

he shouldnt have been arrested becuz there was little evidence of wrong-doing. if he was a caucasian man, the police wouldve taken the five minutes it takes to check the security cam before slapping cuffs on someone and imprisoning them for a day.

Voting closed 27

After she said he sexually assaulted her.
It had nothing to do with race...SHE said he did it not the police.

Voting closed 25

the police are supposed to imprison only those who evidently caused harm.

are yoo reaching for the minute possibility that the polices violation of civil rites is coincidental that the man happens to be black ?

Voting closed 26

Why is that?

Are you saying if the woman accused a white man they would have let him leave because he was white?

I agree they held him too long but I dont think it had anything to do with his race, and as the judge said they had little choice but to arrest him .

Voting closed 19

Are you assuming I'm caucasian?

Oh, honey...

Voting closed 21

Please explain.

Voting closed 22

Bless your heart.

Voting closed 26

so youre saying if someone accuses bill gates of stealing a car, the police has to arrest him; eventhough, they could easily check security camera footage that would show that he didnt commit the crime ?

Voting closed 17

Almost always get the benefit of the doubt in these situations. And it’s a much different situation than a stolen car (which also has sub chapters like use without authority).

Voting closed 24

As a child (11 to 18) i have been had this happen to me on the T mainly taking it to and from school (all the perverts are out). As a woman my knee would go hard into the offender’s nether region or a chop to his troat, but i digress.
This woman who it has been proven was lying should be sued for false report and noted by name. I think once you are arrested you have a record even if it was a false arrest based on a lie. That is a HUGE DEAL! Esp for sexual assault.

Voting closed 14

Another concerted effort to bring a black man down and humiliate him. If this was a white man he wouldn’t be going through this. Did they arrest governors bakers son for sexually assaulting that lady on the plane? No! Race always factor in a racist society.

Voting closed 13