The D.C. Court of Appeals on Thursday affirmed the award of $450,000 in damages to a man arrested and jailed for reckless driving (but later exonerated) after a D.C. police detective rear-ended his car.
The bizarre fender-bender case stems from an incident in October 2004, which a trial judge described as a “minor traffic stop,” according to court records, “but it apparently generated a significant measure of road rage.”
Steven Tulin, identified in court papers as a clinical psychologist at Walter Reed Hospital, was driving his silver Porsche northbound on 14th Street NW and preparing to turn left onto Newton Street. Immediately behind him, Metropolitan Police Department Detective Barbara Rauf was driving her son to school in a green Honda.
Tulin and Rauf blamed each other for the ensuing collision.
According to court records:
Detective Rauf claimed that after she honked her horn at Mr. Tulin for failing to make a left turn in front of her when there was no oncoming southbound traffic, Mr. Tulin engaged in a series of provocative acts, twice slamming his brakes and suddenly stopping, and then speeding off in front of her, with his tires screetching. Detective Rauf testified that when Mr. Tulin’s car finally stopped for a third time, “on a dime,” it was impossible for Detective Rauf, who said she was at least one car length behind Mr. Tulin, to avoid a collision. According to Detective Rauf, it was “the [reckless] manner in which [Mr. Turin] was operating his vehicle which caused me to crash into him.”
Tulin, however, tells a different story, court papers show:
Mr. Tulin testified that, as he was edging out into the intersection…to make a left turn, he heard the honking of a horn behind him. He looked in his left-side mirror and saw Detective Rauf apparently trying to go around him in order to make the left turn before he could do so. Concluding that the driver behind him was “in a big hurry,” he completed his left turn, and he then stopped his car on Newton Street to allow Detective Rauf to pass. To Mr. Tulin’s astonishment, however, Detective Rauf stopped her vehicle next to his and appeared to be gesturing in a a scolding manner. Mr. Tulin testified that when Detective Rauf resumed driving, she lurched forward, an event which “would happen if you put your foot down hard.” Thinking that he “just wanted to get ahead of this person,” Mr. Tulin accelerated….As he shifted to second gear, however, he felt his car being struck from behind by Detective Rauf’s vehicle.
Tulin claimed his Porsche sustained some $3,500 worth of damage; Rauf, however, claimed “she did no more than scratch his vehicle,” court records show.
A “‘hostile interaction” ensued. “That is some fucked up shit what you did,” Rauf told Tulin, according to court papers. The detective testified that her “level of pissitivity” was fairly high. “I was pissed is what I was. I wasn’t mad. I was pissed.”
Rauf called her fellow cops. Another officer soon arrived on the scene, responding to a call “for an officer in trouble,” court papers show. Two other officers also showed up, responding to what court documents describe as “a ‘priority’ call, which meant that somebody’s life was in danger.”
Tulin was handcuffed, charged with reckless driving, and locked up for 14 hours, court records show. The following April, Tulin was tried on the reckless driving charge and found not guilty.
In 2005, Tulin filed a lawsuit accusing Rauf and arresting officer Leticia McKoy of false arrest, malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and further accusing the District government of negligent supervision.
A jury found Rauf liable for the intentional infliction of emotional distress, but not for false arrest or malicious prosecution. It also found the District liable for negligently supervising the arresting officer. The jury awarded Tulin $450,0000 in compensatory damages.
Rauf and the District appealed, but the appellate court this week affirmed the award.
In handing down its decision, the appellate court noted that “there is no law against stopping, even ‘abruptly.'” However, there is a statue prohibiting a driver from following too closely.
The court further noted that two sergeants had authorized Tulin’s “‘warrantless arrest, which could be lawful only because Detective Rauf, the driver who had run into the car in front of her, was a police officer and was present when the accident occurred. They did so without even asking the Detective, who was the presumptively culpable following driver, how fast she was going and how far she was behind Mr. Tulin’s car.”