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LOHMAN v. TOWNSHIP OF OXFORD

February 23, 1993

ROBERT LOHMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF OXFORD, OXFORD TOWNSHIP POLICE DEPARTMENT, and MICHAEL O'MARA, PATROLMAN, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DANIEL H. HUYETT

 HUYETT, J.

 February 23, 1993

 This action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 arises out of a criminal complaint filed by Defendant O'Mara against Plaintiff Robert Lohman charging Plaintiff with felony murder and burglary, and concerns Plaintiff's arrest and imprisonment for thirty-six days. Plaintiff is a citizen of Pennsylvania. Defendant Township of Oxford is located in Warren County, New Jersey. Defendant Michael O'Mara is a police officer of Defendant Oxford Township Police Department and a citizen of New Jersey.

 Plaintiff commenced this action alleging violations of his rights under the United States Constitution. Plaintiff also asserted state law claims. The following claims remain: Plaintiff's section 1983 claim against Defendants Township of Oxford and Oxford Township Police Department and Plaintiff's state law claims against Defendant O'Mara. Defendants now move for summary judgment on all remaining claims.

 I. Facts

 The following are the pertinent facts viewed in a light most favorable to Plaintiff. On October 10, 1990 Alice Skov and John Bell were murdered in their residence in Oxford Township, Warren County, New Jersey. On October 11, 1990 Defendant O'Mara arrived at the residence and discovered the bodies. Alice Skov had multiple gunshot wounds to the head and John Bell had multiple stab wounds and a gunshot wound to the face. The Warren County Prosecutor's Office and the New Jersey State Police began investigating the murders. Law enforcement personnel searched the residence and discovered a spent .22 caliber shell casing, scissors that appeared to be covered with blood, and cigarette butts.

 On October 13, 1990, Bobby Brown, boyfriend of Coleen Alexander, a grandniece of Alice Skov, gave a statement in which he denied that he had anything to do with the murders. Brown contradicted himself and also gave information that conflicted with information given by George Bell, John Bell's brother, and Coleen Alexander. Brown failed the polygraph examination and later that day confessed to being at the Bell/Skov residence on October 10, 1990 with a friend named Robert Lohman. Brown stated that Lohman killed the two individuals. Brown was placed under arrest.

 On October 13, 1990 Brown gave a second statement in which he admitted being present with Robert Lohman during the burglary of the Bell/ Skov residence and the subsequent murder of the victims. Brown stated that Lohman shot the victims, that there were blood spots on Lohman's hands, and that he and Lohman left the crime scene together in Brown's car. He stated that he smoked a cigarette while in the residence. Brown guessed that the gun was a .22 caliber revolver. He also stated that Lohman fired a total of three shots. On October 14, 1990 at 12:45 a.m. law enforcement personnel arrived at the residence of Stephen and Violet Krouch, where Brown and Alexander lived. while some officials conducted a consent search, two others obtained a taped statement from Coleen Alexander who admitted that she lied the day before when she gave information to the officers. During the consent search of the Krouch residence, officers discovered and seized fifteen .22 caliber long rifle rounds found in a night stand used by Bobby Brown. They also discovered, but did not seize, a .22 caliber rifle owned by Stephen Krouch.

 On October 14, 1990 Defendant O'Mara prepared a criminal complaint against Plaintiff charging him with burglary and felony murder. Based upon this complaint the Oxford Township Municipal Court issued an arrest warrant for Plaintiff. Plaintiff was characterized as a fugitive from justice and a Pennsylvania court issued a warrant for Plaintiff's arrest. Later that day, Pennsylvania and New Jersey law enforcement personnel arrived at Plaintiff's residence in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, and arrested Plaintiff. The officers received consent to search the house and seized a .22 caliber handgun underneath the mattress in the bedroom used by Robert Lohman, Sr. and a sweat suit with what appeared to be two spots of blood from a common area on the second floor. The officers took Plaintiff to the county jail in Easton, Pennsylvania.

 On October 15, 1990 Bobby Brown told law enforcement officers that his confession was not true and that he would not testify against Robert Lohman.

 On October 19, 1990 the .22 caliber handgun seized from the Lohman residence was submitted to the New Jersey State Police laboratory and preliminary information from the laboratory indicated that the weapon seized did not fit the known ballistics evidence derived from the projectiles recovered at the scene of the murder. On November 2, 1990 the New Jersey State Police laboratory positively identified Stephen Krouch's .22 caliber rifle as the weapon used to fire the two spent shell casings found on the floor of the first floor bedroom containing the body of Alice Skov.

 On November 8, 1990 Coleen Alexander admitted to her participation in the burglary of the Bell/Skov residence. She stated that she accompanied Bobby Brown to the Bell/Skov residence on October 10, 1990 after Brown had threatened her with the .22 caliber rile owned by Stephen Krouch and that Brown shot Skov and stabbed and shot Bell using the .22 caliber rifle.

 On November 21, 1990, Robert Lohman gave a statement at the Warren County Prosecutors office saying that he was not involved in the crimes that occurred on October 10, 1990. He gave a detailed account of his activities on October 10 and 11, 1990. On November 27, 1990 Lohman submitted to a polygraph examination. The examiner found that Lohman was truthful. The charges against Plaintiff were formally withdrawn.

 II. Standard for Summary Judgment Summary judgment shall be granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Where the movant is the defendant, or the party without the burden on the underlying claim, as here, the movant does not have an obligation to produce evidence negating the opponent's case. The moving party rather must demonstrate that there is a lack of any evidence to support the nonmovant's claim. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). Once the movant satisfies this initial burden, the proponent of the claim must demonstrate to the court that there is sufficient evidence from which a jury might return a verdict in his favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). The evidence presented must be significantly probative, not merely colorable. The Court does not resolve questions of disputed fact, but rather ...


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