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Bachorz v. Silvio

March 7, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge

(Judge Conner)


This is a civil rights action filed by Danielle L. Bachorz ("Danielle") against the City of Harrisburg and several members of its police force. Presently before the court is a motion for summary judgment, filed by defendants City of Harrisburg ("the City"), Officer Christopher M. Silvio ("Officer Silvio"), Officer Andrew Rosetti ("Officer Rosetti"), and Officer Kelly Wetzel ("Officer Wetzel"). (Doc. 29.) For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Statement of Facts*fn1

On the evening of April 25, 2004, Danielle, her husband Brian Bachorz ("Brian"), and their friend Paul Dankowsky ("Dankowsky") went out for dinner and drinks in downtown Harrisburg. (Doc. 31 ¶ 3; Doc. 48 ¶ 3.) Eventually, the three attempted to gain admittance to the Eclipse Night Club, but Brian was turned away because the club's bouncer deemed him to be visibly intoxicated. (Doc. 31 ¶¶ 10-11; Doc. 48 ¶¶ 10-11.) After a brief discussion with the bouncer, the three left the night club. (Doc. 32, Ex. B at 44.) Shortly thereafter, Dankowsky and Brian decided to cross Second Street to use an automatic teller machine before attempting to gain entrance to another night club. (Doc. 31 ¶ 12; Doc. 48 ¶ 12; Doc. 32, Ex. B at 45, 48-49.) Before Danielle could follow them, she saw her brother, Shannon Mock ("Mock"). She and Mock had a brief discussion, before she followed her husband and Dankowsky across Second Street. (Doc. 47, Ex. A at 49-51.)

As Danielle was crossing the street, her purse "grazed the rearview mirror of a motorcycle." (Doc. 31 ¶ 13; Doc. 48 ¶ 13.) The owner of the motorcycle approached Danielle, called her a "fucking white bitch," grabbed her by the shirt, and pushed her "full force into the road." (Doc. 31 ¶ 14; Doc. 48 ¶ 14; Doc. 47, Ex. A at 52-53, 55.) Mock stepped in and began to argue with Danielle's assailant. (Doc. 31 ¶ 15; Doc. 48 ¶ 15; Doc. 47, Ex. A at 55.) After Mock used a racially charged expletive, the encounter escalated into physical violence, and several police officers, including Officers Rosetti, Silvio, and Wetzel, reported to the scene. (Doc. 32, Ex. B at 65; Doc. 47, Ex. C at 22.) Danielle's assailant fled, and the officers focused their attention on Mock. (Doc. 47, Ex. A at 64; Doc. 32, Ex. B at 67.) From a distance, Danielle observed the police interacting with and attempting to arrest her brother. (Doc. 31 ¶ 16; Doc. 48 ¶ 16; Doc. 47, Ex. A at 71.) Her brother was visibly upset and was directing expletives toward the officers but was not physically violent or resisting arrest. (Doc. 47, Ex. A at 72-73, 75, 79-80.) Danielle began to approach her brother and the arresting officers.

What happened next is a matter of contention between the parties. Danielle testified that she attempted to communicate with her brother in an effort to placate him. (Id. at 72, 86.) When her communications were ineffectual, she jumped "on her brother's back in an effort to gain his attention and to focus him." (Doc. 48 ¶ 17; Doc. 47, Ex. A at 74-75, 88; Ex. C at 29.) She then got down from his back and began to communicate calmly with Officer Wetzel to explain what had precipitated her brother's earlier actions. Officer Wetzel did not respond. (Doc. 47, Ex. A at 71, 76-77, 81, 83, 89, 92, 96-97.) While Danielle was talking with Officer Wetzel, her brother was placed in handcuffs. (Doc. 47, Ex. A at 78, 82-83, 93-94; Ex. C at 32.) Danielle contends that she was a bystander and was not in any way blocking Officer Wetzel's ability to handcuff her brother. (Doc. 47, Ex. A at 91, 119; Ex. C at 34-36.) Shortly thereafter, Officer Rosetti approached Danielle from behind, grabbed her hands and placed them behind her back, picked her up by the hair and belt, and pushed her face first into the ground. (Doc. 31 ¶ 20; Doc. 48 ¶ 48; Doc. 47, Ex. A at 82, 97-98, 101; Ex. C at 29.) She began bleeding from her nose and lip.*fn2 (Doc. 47, Ex. A at 100, 106, 116; Doc. 32, Ex. B at 133-40.) She then crawled up onto her knees before Officer Rosetti picked her up onto her feet and put her in handcuffs.*fn3 (Doc. 47, Ex. A at 101-02.) She and her brother were transported to the police station and were detained overnight before being released. (Doc. 47, Ex. A at 104, 110-14.) Danielle was charged with resisting arrest, obstruction of justice, disorderly conduct, and public drunkenness. She completed Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, and the crimes were expunged from her record. (Doc. 31 ¶¶ 26-27; Doc. 48 ¶¶ 26-27; Doc. 47, Ex. A at 119; Doc. 32, Ex. B at 121-22, 131-32.)

The officers' version of events is markedly different. Officer Wetzel testified that he was the first to arrive on the scene. In fact, he witnessed the confrontation between Mock and the owner of the motorcycle. He called for backup before attempting to break up the fight. He asked the parties to the fight to walk in opposite directions. As the parties were in the process of complying, Mock directed a racial slur at the owner of the motorcycle. As a result, Officer Wetzel informed Mock that he was under arrest. (Doc. 47, Ex. F at 30-32, 34, 39-40, 44-45, 48.) As Officer Wetzel was attempting to handcuff Mock, Danielle began to "physically interfere with the arrest." (Id. at 46.) She "jump[ed] in between" Officer Wetzel and Mock and began yelling, "He's my brother. Don't arrest him." (Id.) She also began "grabbing a hold of" her brother to prevent Officer Wetzel from arresting him. (Id. at 47.) Officer Wetzel advised Danielle to "back off," before pushing past her to handcuff Mock. (Id. at 67-68.) Danielle jumped onto Officer Wetzel's back with her "hands over [his] shoulders." (Id. at 67; Doc. 31 ¶ 17; Doc. 47, Ex. E at 31.) As Officer Wetzel was struggling with Danielle and Mock, he turned to Officer Rosetti and screamed, "Get her off me." (Doc. 47, Ex. E at 32.) Officer Rosetti approached the scuffle, grabbed Danielle by the arm and hair, and told her to move back. She resisted and kept "trying to pull away" toward Officer Wetzel, who was in the process of handcuffing Mock. (Id. at 47.) After repeatedly providing Danielle with unheeded advice to stay back, Officer Rosetti "locked her into an escort hold and directed her towards the ground." (Id.) He admits that it is "totally possible" that she sustained a broken nose and other facial injuries as a result of his actions. (Id.; see also Doc. 47, Ex. E Att. 2 at 1-2.) At some point, Officer Silvio approached the scene, and he and Officer Wetzel were able to handcuff Mock. (Id. at 67, 70.)

On April 21, 2006, Danielle initiated the instant action against the City and Officers Silvio, Wetzel, and Rosetti.*fn4 (See Doc. 1.) Danielle alleges that the individual defendants violated her Fourth Amendment right against excessive force and committed assault and battery under Pennsylvania law. Danielle also alleges that the City should be held liable for its officers' actions because it failed to provide them with adequate training and supervision. (See id.) Defendants now move for summary judgment on each of Danielle's claims. (See Doc. 29.) The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine issue as to any material fact," and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). It places the burden on the non-moving party to come forth with "affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings," in support of its right to relief. Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004); FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-moving party on the claims. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-89 (1986); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c), (e). Only if this threshold is met may the cause of action proceed. Pappas, 331 F. Supp. 2d at 315.

III. Discussion

Danielle asserts excessive force and municipal liability claims pursuant to ยง 1983, as well as assault and battery claims under state law. The court will ...

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