Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

STARR v. PRICE

September 8, 2005.

JOAN STARR, individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Raienha P. Bechtel and Jacob Bechtel, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT PRICE; ELIZABETH HONICKER; SCHUYKILL COUNTY; FRANCIS McANDREW; CHRISTOPHER BAYZICK; THOMAS POWELL; ROBERT BETNAR; and WESLEY LEVAN, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES MUNLEY, District Judge

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court for disposition are two motions for summary judgment, the first filed by Defendants Schuykill County and Sheriff Francis McAndrew (collectively "Schuykill Defendants"), and the second by Defendants Corporal Scott Price, Police Communication Supervisor Elizabeth Honicker, Pennsylvania State Trooper Christopher Bayzick, Trooper Thomas Powell, Trooper Robert Betnar, and Trooper Wesley Levan (collectively "Commonwealth Defendants"). Plaintiff Joan Starr ("Plaintiff") is the mother of Raienhna Bechtel and grandmother of Jacob Bechtel, both deceased. She seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendants violated the deceased's constitutional rights by returning a firearm to Raienhna's husband, Michael Harvey Bechtel, which he subsequently used to murder Raienhna, Jacob, and two other individuals.

The parties have fully briefed and argued these matters, and thus, they are ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, we will grant summary judgment for the defendants and dismiss this case.

  I. Background

  The background facts leading to the deaths of Raienhna and Jacob are tragic and largely undisputed. Raienhna and Michael had a history of domestic violence that included incidents on September 23, 2001, and December 25, 2001, where the Pennsylvania State Police intervened. (Pl. Counter Statement of Facts to Commonwealth Motion ("Pl. Ex.") Ex. A at 24-26, Tarson Dep.; Pl. Ex. B at 23, Bayzick Dep.; Pl. Ex. C at 24, Powell Dep.). During the second incident, Michael informed the troopers he had firearms on his person, but they did not seize the weapons. (Pl. Ex. B at 23-26; Ex. C at 16, 20-22).

  On March 14, 2002, Troopers Wesley Levan and Robert Betnar arrived at the Bechtel residence following a report of domestic violence. (Pl. Ex. E at 8, Levan Dep.; Pl. Ex. F at 7-8, Betnar Dep.). Michael informed the officers that he had two firearms on his person. (Pl. Ex. E at 12; Pl. Ex. F at 20). Both he and Raienhna denied that he used the weapons in the incident. (Pl. Ex. E at 15; Pl. Ex. F at 28). Troopers Levan and Betnar asked if they could retain the firearms, and Michael provided the guns without complaint. (Pl. Ex. E at 21; Pl. Ex. F at 30). The troopers personally transported Michael to his friend's residence for the evening. (Pl. Ex. E at 20-22; Pl. Ex. F at 30). Trooper Levan suggested that Raienhna obtain a Protection From Abuse Order ("PFA") and explained the application process. (Pl. Ex. E at 16).

  After transporting Michael to his friend's house, Troopers Levan and Betnar brought the firearms to the Frackville Pennsylvania State Police barracks, determined that they were registered in Michael's name with the Schuykill County Sheriff's office, and placed them in an evidence room. (Pl. Ex. E at 23; Pl. Ex. F at 24-25, 35). Trooper Betnar then sent an e-mail to Corporal Scott Price relating the facts of the incident and explaining that he had confiscated two weapons. (Pl. Ex. G at 13-14, Price Dep.).

  Later that same day, March 14, 2002, Raienhna obtained a temporary PFA. (Pl. Ex. H, Temporary PFA). In the application process, Raienhna completed a Schuykill Women in Crisis PFA worksheet. (Commw. Def. Ex. J, PFA worksheet). The worksheet contained a space for the applicant to describe the weapons that were used in the incident of domestic violence, and Raienhna's application provided no response in this space. (Commw. Def. Ex. J). When the temporary PFA was issued, it did not refer to the confiscated firearms or indicate that any firearm was used in the incident. (Pl. Ex. H, Temporary PFA). It did provide notice to law enforcement agencies that "[s]ubsequent to an arrest [for a violation of the Final PFA], the law enforcement officer shall seize all weapons used or threatened to be used during the violation of this Order OR during prior incidents of abuse." (Id.).

  On March 18, 2002, pursuant to an agreement between Michael and Raienhna, Raienhna obtained a Final PFA. (Commw. Def. Ex. O, PFA Hearing Transcript, Pl. Ex. K, Final PFA). The PFA stated "Defendant shall not abuse, stalk, harass, threaten the Plaintiff or any other protected person in any place where they might be found." (Pl. Ex. K ¶ 1). Regarding firearms, it directs, "Defendant is prohibited from possessing, transferring or acquiring any other firearms license or weapons for the duration of this order. Any weapons and/or firearms license delivered to the sheriff pursuant to this order or the Temporary Order shall not be returned until further order of the court." (Pl. Ex. K ¶ 6). It includes the following notice to law enforcement officers:
This Order shall be enforced by the police who have jurisdiction over the plaintiff's residence OR any location where a violation occurs OR where the defendant may be located. . . . An arrest for violation of Paragraphs 1 through 6 of this order may be without warrant, based solely on probable cause, whether or not the violation is committed in the presence of the police. 21 PA.C.S. § 6113.
Subsequent to an arrest, the law enforcement officer shall seize all weapons used or threatened to be used during the violation of this Order OR during prior incidents of abuse. The [sic] shall maintain possession of the weapons until further order of this Court.
(Pl. Ex. K).

  In conjunction with the Final PFA, the Schuykill County Prothonotary issued a Pennsylvania State Police data sheet. (Pl. Ex. L at 4-5, 25-26). The data sheet contained Michael and Raienhna's personal information, such as birthdays, names, and addresses, and was created by a computer program called the Protection From Abuse Database ("PFAD") for the benefit of the Pennsylvania State Police. (Id. at 25-27). It also contained protection codes describing the conditions of the Final PFA. (Id. at 27). Raienhna's final data sheet contained numerous protection order codes, including a code of "07". (Pl. Ex. M, Pennsylvania State Police Protection from Abuse Datasheet). This code indicates that "the subject is prohibited from possessing and/or purchasing a firearm or other weapon." (Pl. Ex. O, Protection From Abuse Datasheet Code Overlay). Her datasheet also included a box entitled "Brady Indicator," marked "No." (Pl. Ex. M).

  On April 15, 2002, Michael Bechtel returned to the Frackville Barracks to retrieve his guns. (Id. at 38-39). Corporal Price believed that he had no right to withhold the guns from Michael any longer. (Pl. Ex. G at 33-34, 40). Therefore, he returned the two firearms, a nine millimeter Beretta and a nine millimeter Kel-tec. (Id. at 38-39, Commw Ex. F at ¶ 10, Michael Bechtel Decl.).

  On August 15, 2002, Michael used the nine millimeter Beretta to kill Raienhna, Jacob, and two other adults. (Commw. Ex. F at ¶ 11). At the time he committed the murders he had access to another nine millimeter handgun. (Id. at ¶ 22). Michael's housemate kept the weapon in a holster next to his bed in his unlocked bedroom. (Id.). Thus, Michael admits that he would have used this weapon to kill Raienhna and Jacob had Corporal Price not returned his Beretta. (Id. at ¶ 20-22). On January 21, 2004, he pleaded guilty to four counts of first degree murder and numerous lesser charges, and was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences. (Commw. Ex. F. at ¶ 12-13).

  II. Standard

  Granting summary judgment is proper 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. See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n. 4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

  In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. International Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chemical Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.