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Blanding v. Pennsylvania State Police

argued: August 2, 1993.

JACKSON D. BLANDING, APPELLANT
v.
PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE; THOMAS O. MARAKOVITS; RONALD M. SHARPE



On Appeal From the United States District Court For the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. D.C. Civil Action No. 90-02860.

Before: Stapleton, Hutchinson and Roth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Stapleton

Opinion OF THE COURT

STAPLETON, Circuit Judge:

Jackson Blanding alleges that he was discharged from the Pennsylvania State Police ("PSP") without due process and because of racial animus. He brought this action claiming violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, Title VII, and the Civil Rights Act. After discovery, the defendants moved successfully for summary judgment. This appeal followed. We will affirm.

I.

Blanding became a cadet at the PSP Academy on June 29, 1987. After graduating five months later, he was assigned to the Bethlehem Troop where he worked as a probationary trooper until his dismissal from the PSP on December 9, 1988.

Blanding's discharge stemmed from an incident that occurred on June 16, 1988. That evening, Blanding had an argument with his girlfriend, Lisa Serafine, in an apartment they shared in Philadelphia. There are conflicting accounts of what occurred. Serafine says that Blanding physically abused her in the apartment and pointed his loaded revolver at her head. Blanding denies pointing a gun at Serafine and insists that she attempted to kick him in the groin and that he struggled with her in self defense. Ultimately, Serafine left the apartment and Blanding followed her into the street. Some youths came to Serafine's assistance and Blanding told them to mind their own business. A struggle ensued and Blanding knocked one of the youths to the ground. The youths then left but, according to Blanding, said that they would be back "to finish it." Blanding went to his apartment, retrieved his revolver, sat on his front stoop, and awaited the return of the youths. The youths did return and fired five shots at Blanding. Blanding neither identified himself as a state police officer nor called the Philadelphia police for assistance. The Philadelphia Police Department later arrived on the scene and determined that Blanding had not fired his weapon during the incident.

Blanding reported his version of the incident to his supervisor. Because a shooting was involved, Blanding's actions were investigated by Lieutenant Thomas O. Marakovits of the PSP's Bureau of Professional Responsibility ("BPR"). After interviewing Blanding and conducting an investigation, Marakovits prepared a General Investigation Report which included summaries of witness interviews and relevant documents. The report makes no recommendation as to what discipline, if any, Blanding should receive.

Blanding claims that Marakovits' report contains four errors: (1) the account of one of Blanding's interviews incorrectly states that Blanding admitted to having smoked marijuana with Serafine when in fact he admitted only to being present on two occasions when marijuana was being smoked; (2) the assertion that Blanding failed to identify himself as a police officer is false; (3) the statement that Marakovits provided Blanding with the Philadelphia Police Department's report of the incident is incorrect; and (4) the account of a July 6, 1988, interview incorrectly states that Blanding did not mention Serafine's alleged threat to contact his superiors.*fn1

Marakovits' allegedly flawed report was submitted to his supervisor who then forwarded it to Blanding's Troop Commander, Captain Robert G. Werts. Werts prepared a document charging Blanding with violating four sections of the PSP Code of Conduct. This document references the incident of June 16, 1988, but does not summarize the substance of Marakovits' report. After receiving Werts' charging document, Blanding was given an opportunity to rebut orally the charges against him. Blanding was also permitted to make a written response within ten days, and he did so.

The charging document and Marakovits' report were forwarded to the Department Disciplinary Officer, Captain Ronald A. Rostalski, for a decision on the penalty to be imposed. Rostalski decided that a supplemental person interview of Serafine was desirable. Marakovits traveled to Florida, interviewed Serafine, secured a sworn statement from her, and thereafter submitted a supplemental report.

As Rostalski reviewed the information submitted to him, he was impressed with a discrepancy in Blanding's accounts of the events of June l6. Marakovits reported that Blanding, when asked during his second interview, denied having hit Serafine in the street, but the Philadelphia police report, based on an interview the night of the incident, reported that Blanding admitted to following Serafine outside and striking her in the head. Based on his review of the investigation, Rostalski believed the "course of events" to be:

That they had an altercation; that he did in fact strike Lisa Serafine; that he did in fact point a revolver at her head; that he did in fact go out to the street and get into an altercation with some of the youths and also hit Lisa Serafine out in the street; that he did in fact sit on the porch with his gun tucked in his belt and waited for some other youths to come at him, and that he did in fact not call the police as he appropriately should have done.

A-437.

Rostalski recommended to Deputy Commissioner Glenn A. Walp that Blanding be dismissed from the PSP. Walp concurred with Rostalski, and their recommendations were forwarded to Commissioner Ronald M. ...


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