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Hopkins v. Vaughn

May 12, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sylvia H. Rambo


The instant action arises out of a case of mistaken identity in a bank robbery investigation. Plaintiffs Troy and Tammy Hopkins commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that they were unlawfully seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment by officers in the Northern York County Regional Police Department. Before the court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 26). Defendants claim that their seizure and detention of Plaintiffs was justified under the Fourth Amendment, and that they are entitled to qualified immunity. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

A. Facts

The facts, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs,*fn1 are as follows:

1. Sovereign Bank Robbery Investigation

Throughout late 2004 and 2005, an armed robber struck a number of Sovereign Banks in York County, Pennsylvania. (Defs.' Stmt. of Facts Not in Dispute ¶ 2.)A task force of multiple police departments in the area was formed. The Northern York County Regional Police Department participated in the task force. Based on information from the previous robberies, the task force compiled a description of the suspect. The robber was variously described as 5'10 to 6' feet tall, and weighing approximately 185-200 pounds. This description was distributed to all participants in the task force. In addition to the physical description of the suspect, the task force issued the following description of the modus operandi of the robber: The robber always approached the bank on foot, and always around closing time. The robber always carried a bag, either black plastic or clear, and he carried a gun. The suspect was always covered from head to toe, wearing a ski mask and gloves. (See Pls.' Ex. C.)

Additionally, the Northern York County Regional Police Department compiled its own description of the suspect based on the information provided by the task force. (Vaughn Dep. Ex. 2, Aug. 30, 2006.) The description is as follows: "Suspect Description: Black, male, 6', Muscular Build, Possibly wearing soft body armor, Full face ski-type mask. MO: Displays a weapon, produces a bag for tellers and demands money. Has become more aggressive. Thought to be a second person involved as a driver (unconfirmed at present). Possible suspect vehicle: Silver-Gray Dodge Stratus/Aspen/Neon." (Id.)

The Northern York County Regional Police Department set up a surveillance operation at a Sovereign Bank at 500 Greenbriar Road in York. Sergeant Detective Steffen oversaw the operation. (Id. 23:13-20.) This bank was chosen because it was the only Sovereign Bank within the jurisdiction of the Northern York County Regional Police Department. None of the previous robberies had occurred within the boundaries of the Department.(Id. 22:10-15.)The surveillance detail had been in place for approximately two weeks before the incident in question. (Id. 34:1-2.)

The surveillance detail worked as follows. One officer observed the front door of the bank from a vehicle parked across the street from the bank. Another officer was in an unmarked vehicle behind the bank in radio contact with the other officer. On most nights a third unoccupied vehicle contained a camera trained on the front door of the bank. (Id. 54:21-24.) The camera could be activated via a remote control operated by the officer viewing the front of the bank. (Id. 57:8-20.)

2. Events of February 9, 2005

i. Defendants' Observations at the Bank

Detective John Vaughn was conducting surveillance of the front entrance to the Sovereign Bank that evening. Detective Migatulski was stationed in an unmarked car behind the bank. Detective Vaughn observed Mr. Hopkins pull up to the drive through, about fifty feet in front of his own vehicle. (Id. 98:12.)He saw the driver press the button for service at the drive through, and noticed that as the driver waited for service, a bank employee locked the front door. (Id. 99:10-17.) He then saw the vehicle pull up to the front of the bank, parking perpendicular to the marked spaces. He observed the driver for two or three seconds as he exited the vehicle and approached the door. Vaughn saw that the driver was a large black male, wearing baggy clothing, but no head covering, and carrying something white in his hand. (Id. 114:1-19.)

ii. Plaintiffs' Perspective

On Wednesday, February 9, 2005, around 5:55 p.m., Plaintiff Troy Hopkins drove to the Sovereign Bank on Greenbriar Road in York to deposit his paycheck. In the front seat of the vehicle was his wife Tammy Hopkins, and seated in the backseat were the couple's two children. (Troy Hopkins Dep. 51:5-12.)*fn2 The family was traveling in a Ford Expedition. (Id. 15:25-17:8.) Troy Hopkins is an African-American male. His height is 6'1", and in early 2005 he weighed approximately 370-373 pounds. (Id. at 38:19-24.) On this evening, Mr. Hopkins was wearing gray sweat pants, a T-shirt, and a blue winter jacket. (Id. 35:17-36:1.) He was not wearing a hat or gloves. (Id.)

Mr. Hopkins pulled up through the drive through to the teller's window and waited but received no service. (Id. 45:24-47:8.) After a few minutes, he pushed the call button but no one answered, although the lights were still on inside the bank. (Id. 46:22-47:20.) Unaware that the front entry had been locked, and hoping to cash his check before the bank closed short time later, Mr. Hopkins pulled up to the entrance of the bank and put the vehicle in park, parallel with the entrance. (Id. 49:11-25.) He exited the vehicle, leaving it running with the lights on. (Id. 52:7-23.) Mr. Hopkins walked up to the entrance with his paycheck in hand. (Id. 53:19-54:7.) The lights were still on inside, but he tried the door once, only to find it was locked. (Id. 56:4-57:7.) He then returned to the car and told his wife Tammy that he had just missed the bank. (Id. 58:22-59:14.)

iii. Felony Stop

As Plaintiffs drove away, Detective Vaughn contacted Sergeant Stephen and informed him that he observed a large black male attempt to enter the bank at closing time with something white in his hand. (Steffen Dep. 46:21-47:4, Aug. 30, 2006.) After receiving this report, Detective Vaughn, Detective Migatulski and a number of other police officers followed Plaintiffs' vehicle as it turned on Greenbriar Road and then Roosevelt, before turning on Route 30. During this time, the officers ran a record check of the Hopkins' vehicle, and the dispatcher said that no record was available.*fn3 (Vaughn Dep. 134:9-15).

As the officers followed Plaintiffs, Detective Steffen authorized a felony stop of the vehicle.*fn4 (Id. 127:13-18.) Altogether, the stop involved six officers and five police vehicles, and blocked traffic on Route 30. (Migatulski Dep. 42:18-21, Oct. 17, 2006.) The officers all drew their service weapons and pointed them at the vehicle. (Vaughn Dep. 139:1-2; 140:6-8.) Through a loudspeaker, Troy Hopkins was ordered to roll down his window, turn off the ignition to the vehicle, drop the keys outside the window, put his hands outside the door, and open it from the outside. (Hopkins Dep. 72:13-73:15.) Mr. Hopkins obeyed the officers' commands and exited the vehicle as instructed. He then backed away from his vehicle with his hands in the air. (Id. 74:23-75:22.) When Mr. Hopkins reached the officers, he was ordered to get down on his knees in the middle of the street and put his hands behind his head.(Id. 76:1-22.)Officers attempted to handcuff Mr. Hopkins behind his back, but his hands would not reach, so he was handcuffed in front. Throughout this time, Mr. Hopkins asked why he was being handcuffed and explained that he was a pastor at a local church. (Id. 76:22-77:21.)At some point, an officer informed Mr. Hopkins that the officers were looking for a bank robber and Mr. Hopkins resembled the suspect. (Id. 86:1-87:12.) Mr. Hopkins reiterated that he was a local pastor, not a bank robber. (Id.)

A few minutes after Mr. Hopkins had been handcuffed, Mrs. Hopkins exited the car, walked toward the officers, and asked what was going on. (Id. 81:5-21.) She was ordered to her knees and handcuffed as well. (Id.) As the officers placed the cuffs on her, they caught in her hair, causing her to cry out in pain. At some point, Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins explained that their children were in the car. (Id. 93:21-25.)The police went to the vehicle and confirmed that there were children present, but the handcuffs remained on and Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins were not free to leave. Throughout the stop, Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins remained calm and cooperative, and did use any profanity.

The Hopkinses remained handcuffed as the officers walked around and talked to each other. After about a half hour had elapsed, the handcuffs were removed. (Id. 97:10-12.) The record is silent about the steps taken by police to determine that Mr. Hopkins was not involved in the robberies. After the handcuffs were removed, they were detained an additional ten to fifteen minutes before they were told that they were free to go.

Altogether Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins were detained for forty minutes before they were free to leave. Before they left, one of the officers said he wanted to show them a photograph. (Id. 104:5-9.) The photograph was a suspect in the robberies, an African-American male who was bald and had an earring and a goatee. (Id. 108:19-20.) Mr. Hopkins told the officer he looked nothing like the photograph. (Id.) A short time later, Detective Vaughn asked the Hopkins not to publicize their stop because that would jeopardize the surveillance operation that the police planned to continue. (Vaughn Dep. ...

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