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Miller v. County of Allegheny

November 16, 2006

CHARLES KEVIN MILLER, SR., AND SANDRA L. MILLER, HIS WIFE; AND ERICA MILLER; PLAINTIFFS,
v.
COUNTY OF ALLEGHENY, A PENNSYLVANIA MUNICIPALITY; THOMAS HORTON, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS A DETECTIVE FOR THE ALLEGHENY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE; FRANCES LAQUATRA, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER CAPACITY AS AN INVESTIGATOR FOR THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE OF CORRECTIONS; THOMAS LEICHT, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS AN OFFICER/EMPLOYEE FOR THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY JAIL; RONALD POFI, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS AN OFFICER/EMPLOYEE FOR THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY JAIL; RAMON C. RUSTON, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS WARDEN OF THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY JAIL; DANIEL ONORATO, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF ALLEGHENY COUNTY; STEPHEN A. ZAPPALA, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS DISTRICT ATTORNEY FOR ALLEGHENY COUNTY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mitchell, Magistrate Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Presently before the Court are the defendants' motions for summary judgment on all claims brought against them, as well as the plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment on whether defendants Leicht, Pofi, Horton and Laquatra had probable cause to arrest plaintiff Charles Kevin Miller. For reasons discussed below, the plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment (Document No. 49) is denied, the motion for summary judgment filed by defendants Stephen A. Zappala, Thomas Horton and Frances Laquatra (Document No. 50) is granted, and the motion for summary judgment filed by defendants Allegheny County, Thomas Leicht, Ronald Pofi, Ramon Ruston and Daniel Onorato (Document No. 53) is granted.

The plaintiffs, Charles Kevin Miller, Sr., his wife, Sandra L. Miller, and their daughter, Erica Miller, have filed an amended civil rights complaint against defendants Allegheny County, PA, its Chief Executive Daniel Onorato, its District Attorney Stephen Zappala, Thomas Horton and Frances Laquatra, who are employees of the District Attorney's Office, Ramon Ruston, the Warden of the Allegheny County Jail ("ACJ"), and Thomas Leicht and Ronald Pofi, who are employees of the Allegheny County Bureau of Corrections. This action arises from the alleged illegal arrest and detention of plaintiff Charles Kevin Miller on February 18, 2004 based on a case of mistaken identity.

Charles Kevin Miller ("C. Kevin Miller") was employed as a corrections officer at ACJ from 2001 until 2004. A nonparty to this suit, Charles Richard Miller ("C. Richard Miller"), also was employed as a corrections officer at ACJ from 1994 until he was discharged in 2002 for fraternizing with female inmates.

The record shows as follows: in June 2003, defendants Laquatra, Horton and Leicht began investigating allegations of sexual abuse against several corrections officers at ACJ. On February 13, 2004, defendant Laquatra interviewed Monica Burbidge, a former ACJ inmate, by telephone. During that interview, Burbidge told Laquatra she was incarcerated in ACJ during July, August and September 2003, during which time Corrections Officer Charles Miller called her out of her cell on two or three occasions, and they would meet in a closet, where they would kiss, and he felt her breasts. Prior to this interview, Monica Burbidge had been a confidential informant for the District Attorney's Office, and her information had always proven reliable.

When Laquatra interviewed Burbidge on February 13, 2004, Burbidge was in a drug rehabilitation facility. Laquatra had met Burbidge on several occasions, and had spoken to her by telephone about unrelated matters prior to interviewing her by telephone on February 13, 2004. During some of their prior conversations, Laquatra realized Burbidge was under the influence of a controlled substance, and on other occasions she knew Burbidge was not. On February 13, 2004, when Laquatra interviewed Burbidge by telephone, Laquatra avers Burbidge seemed sober and lucid.

Laquatra informed defendants Horton and Leicht of Burbidge's accusations against Charles Miller. Leicht read the notes of Laquatra's interview with Burbidge, and based on Burbidge's accusations, Leicht called defendant Pofi to ascertain if a corrections officer named Charles Miller worked at ACJ in July, August and September of 2003. Pofi checked the roster of corrections officers at ACJ and confirmed that a Charles Miller was employed there at such times.

C. Kevin Miller was the only Charles Miller employed at ACJ from July through September 2003. Thus, Pofi provided Leight with C. Kevin Miller's full name, address, and other data.

Leicht, Laquatra and Horton then executed an Affidavit for Issuance of Process (hereinafter, the "Probable Cause Affidavit"), as well as a police criminal complaint against C. Kevin Miller, charging him with institutional sexual assault. The Probable Cause Affidavit referred to Ms. Burbidge as "Victim 'U'", and it provided in pertinent part:

During an interview conducted with Victim "U", Victim "U" stated that the actor had indecent contact by touching the sexual or intimate parts of her body, while she was in [ACJ] in 2003.

On February 17, 2004, a district justice issued a warrant for the arrest of C. Kevin Miller. On the morning of February 18, 2004, Bruce Helt, a corrections officer at ACJ, spoke with defendant Pofi about the arrests of ACJ officers for alleged sexual assault within the prison. Helt asked Pofi whether Charles Miller was going to be arrested, and Pofi informed him that C. Kevin Miller was to be arrested later that day for sexual misconduct. Helt asked Pofi if he was certain that C. Kevin Miller was the proper target of the investigation, as he knew C. Richard Miller had been fired for allegations of sexual misconduct in 2002.

Indeed, in the fall of 2002, defendant Pofi interviewed C. Richard Miller for alleged sexual improprieties at ACJ, and during the interview, C. Richard Miller admitted giving his home phone number to Monica Burbidge, a female inmate on his pod. When records showed that numerous phone calls were made from ACJ to the home phone number of C. Richard Miller, a disciplinary hearing was scheduled for nonparty Miller for violating ACJ's administrative directive against fraternization, after which C. Richard Miller was discharged. Significantly however, when Leicht conversed with Pofi on or about February 13, 2004 and asked him to verify ACJ records, Leicht never mentioned to Pofi that Monica Burbidge was the victim of sexual assault in this instance. Thus, Pofi informed Helt that C. Kevin Miller was to be arrested later that day for alleged sexual misconduct at the prison.

On February 18, 2004, defendants Horton and Leicht went to C. Kevin Miller's residence to effectuate the warrant. They knocked on the door, and Mr. Miller let them inside, at which point they informed him he was being arrested. Mr. Miller told his daughter he was being arrested, and then he walked outside with Horton and Leicht to an unmarked vehicle. Mr. Miller was not handcuffed until he was inside the vehicle. As he was driven to the District Attorney's Office, C. Kevin Miller professed his innocence, informing Horton and Leicht they were mistaking him for C. Richard Miller, who formerly worked at ACJ.

Shortly after arriving at investigative offices, Leicht contacted Pofi about Mr. Miller's claims, and they came to realize that C. Richard Miller may have been responsible for the alleged sexual assaults at issue. Defendants Leicht and Horton took C. Kevin Miller to the office of the presiding magistrate, where Horton requested that Miller be released on his own recognizance. The charge against C. Kevin Miller was subsequently withdrawn.

On February 19, 2004, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review published stories that C. Kevin Miller was one of the guards at ACJ charged with institutional sexual assault. On February 25, 2004, police issued a criminal complaint against nonparty C. Richard Miller for institutional sexual assault in ...


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