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Lionel Franks v. Officer Matthew Hassel

January 10, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schiller, J.


One day in April 2010, Plaintiff Lionel Franks went to a sporting goods store in North Philadelphia to buy a pair of sneakers. Minutes after he left the store, he was arrested by Temple University police officers in connection with a shooting in the area, based largely on the fact that he was wearing the same color sweat suit as the suspected shooter. Franks spent nearly five months in custody before all charges against him were dismissed and he was released from jail. He now brings this false arrest and false imprisonment action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Temple Officers Matthew Hassel and David Alston and Philadelphia Police Department ("PPD") Detectives Robert Hassel and Michael Acerenza. Currently before the Court are Defendants' motions for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the motions are granted.


On April 9, 2010, Franks, then an eighteen-year-old high school student, went to buy a pair of sneakers at an Olympia Sports store on Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia. (Pl.'s Reply to Defs.' Robert Hassel Jr. and Michael Acerenza Mot. for Summ. J. [Pl.'s Resp. to PPD Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J.] Ex. 8 [Franks Dep.] at 19; id. Ex. 24 [PPD Investigation Report] at 8; id. Ex. 29 [Security Camera Pictures].) Video surveillance showed that he entered the store at approximately 4:20 p.m. and left with his new sneakers at approximately 4:26 p.m. (Security Camera Pictures.)

At the same time Franks was leaving the store, PPD officers responded to a radio call about a shooting on North Seventeenth Street in Philadelphia. (PPD Investigation Report at 1.) When they arrived on the scene, the PPD officers found a man lying on the sidewalk with gunshot wounds in his face, neck, and belly. (Id.) PPD Officer Scott Holmes interviewed a witness, Valerie Logan, who said she saw a man in a green sweat suit run from the scene of the shooting and get into a car. (Id. at 4; Pl.'s Resp. to PPD Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 1 [Holmes Dep.] at 8.) Two other witnesses corroborated Logan's description and provided additional details about the shooter's appearance, including approximate height and weight. (PPD Investigation Report at 2-3.) None of the witnesses saw the shooter's face. (Id. at 2-4.) A description of the suspect was broadcast over police radio. (Id. at 1.)

Temple Officer Hassel heard this flash information and, within minutes, observed Franks only a few blocks away from the site of the shooting. (Pl.'s Resp. to PPD Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 11 [M. Hassel Dep.] at 7.) Franks was wearing a green sweat suit and matched the description broadcast over police radio. (Franks Dep. at 41; M. Hassel Dep. at 8; Pl.'s Resp. to PPD Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 21 [Acerenza Dep.] at 25-27.) Other Temple officers stopped Franks and patted him down while Officer Hassel watched. (M. Hassel Dep. at 7-8.) They did not find any weapons. (Defs.' Matthew Hassel and David Alston's Statement of Undisputed Facts [Temple Defs.' SOF] ¶ 6.) Additional Temple officers, including Officer Alston, arrived a few minutes later. (Id. ¶ 7.)

Meanwhile, PPD Officer Holmes and his partner transported Logan from the scene of the shooting to the location where Franks was being held to see if she could identify him. (Holmes Dep. at 9-10; PPD Investigation Report at 4.) Based on his green sweat suit, Logan identified Franks as the same person she had observed fleeing the scene of the shooting. (PPD Investigation Report at 4.) She did not see Franks's face. (Id.) According to Officer Holmes, the PPD officers then informed the Temple officers that Logan had made a positive identification of the suspect. (Holmes Dep. at 9.) Franks disputes this fact, arguing that Officer Holmes lied at his deposition because: (1) an identification based upon clothing alone cannot constitute a "positive identification," and (2) statements made by Officers Holmes and Hassel during the PPD investigation do not specifically mention that the PPD officers told the Temple officers of a positive identification. (Pl.'s Reply to Defendants' Matthew Hassel and David Alston Mot. for Summ. J. [Pl.'s Resp. to Temple Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J.] at 8-12; Pl.'s Statement of Facts Which Preclude Summary Judgment (Document No. 24-2) [Pl.'s SOF] ¶ 10.) It is clear from the record, however, that Officer Holmes viewed Logan's statement as a positive identification and that this information was relayed to the Temple officers. (Pl.'s Resp. to PPD Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 13 [Holmes Investigation Interview Record.]; id. Ex. 14 [M. Hassel Investigation Interview Record].) The Temple officers had no direct contact with Logan. (Pl.'s SOF ¶ 10.) Officer Hassel handcuffed Franks and placed him in a Temple police vehicle, which Officer Alston drove to the PPD station. (M. Hassel Dep. at 13-14; Alston Dep. at 14, 16.)At the station, Officers Hassel and Alston completed Franks's initial processing paperwork, writing on one form that Franks "was ID for a shooting." (M. Hassel Dep. at 22; Pl.'s Resp. to PPD Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 12 [Alston Dep.] at 17; id. Ex. 16 [Initial Processing Paperwork].)

PPD then took over the attempted murder investigation and the Temple officers had no further involvement. (Temple Defs.' SOF ¶ 15.) PPD Detectives Hassel and Acerenza were assigned to investigate the attempted murder. (Defs. Robert Hassel Jr. and Michael Acerenza's Statement of Undisputed Facts ["PPD Defs.' SOF"] ¶ 10.) On the night Franks was arrested for the shooting, Detectives Hassel and Acerenza went to the cell room at the police station to question him and to recover the sweat suit and sneakers he was wearing. (Pl.'s Resp. to PPD Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 5 [R. Hassel Dep.] at 6-7.) Detective Hassel immediately sent the sneakers to PPD's forensic lab to be tested because they had "red marks which appear to be blood." (Pl.'s Resp. to PPD Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 23 [Property Receipt].) On April 29, 2010, Assistant District Attorney ("ADA") Bridget McVan called the lab to request analysis of the evidence before the preliminary hearing then scheduled for May 13, 2010. (Pl.'s Resp. to PPD Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 26 [Lab Case Correspondence File].) ADA McVan spoke to a lab analyst on May 3, 2010, who told her the lab would try to obtain some information for her by the preliminary hearing. (Id.) PPD Forensic Scientist Ryan Gallagher completed the lab analysis on May 6, 2010. (Pl.'s Resp. to PPD Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 18 [Gallagher Dep.] at 28-29.) Only one of the sneakers had enough of the substance to be tested, and the result was inconclusive as to whether the substance was human blood. (Id. at 14, 17.)

A preliminary hearing was held in Philadelphia Municipal Court on May 25, 2010. (Pl.'s Resp. to PPD Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 7 [Notes of Test.].) When asked whether he had noticed anything about the condition of the shoes Franks was wearing when he was arrested, Detective Hassel testified, "On one of the shoes-there appeared to be blood on one of the shoes." (Id. at 34.) On cross-examination by defense counsel, Detective Hassel was asked, "Did you see my client on the surveillance tape in the store buying the sneakers?" ADA McVan's objection on the ground of relevance was sustained and Detective Hassel never answered the question. (Id. at 37.)

During the preliminary hearing, defense counsel argued that the green sweat suit was the Commonwealth's only evidence connecting Franks to the shooting. The court responded, "when the defendant is stopped, there appeared to be blood on the sneakers was Detective Hassel's testimony that he saw, so there's some evidence. I can't ignore that evidence." (Id. at 46.) Defense counsel protested that this was not evidence because the Commonwealth, despite having a month and a half between the arrest and the preliminary hearing, had not produced any report confirming that the substance on the sneakers was human blood. (Id. at 46-47.) The court subsequently asked whether the Commonwealth had analyzed the sneakers, and ADA McVan replied, "I can offer it has been tested. It's human blood. It hasn't been able to be an actual match to anyone. It takes longer than six weeks." (Id. at 60.) Based on the record presented at the preliminary hearing, the court held Franks over for trial. (Id. at 52.)

On August 6, 2010, a judge ordered Franks to submit a swab of genetic material for DNA analysis and comparison. (Pl.'s Resp. to PPD Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 27 [Order].) When the DNA match came back negative, nolle prosequi was entered on all charges against Franks on August 31, 2010. (Pl.'s SOF ¶ 12.) In total, Franks was held in jail for nearly five months before his release.


Summary judgment is appropriate when the admissible evidence fails to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). When the moving party bears the burden of persuasion at trial, it must identify evidence in the record establishing the absence of a genuine factual issue. Nat'l State Bank v. Fed. Reserve Bank, 979 F.2d 1579, 1582 (3d Cir. 1992). When the moving party does not bear the burden of persuasion at trial, it may meet its burden on summary judgment by showing that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to carry its burden of persuasion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Thereafter, the nonmoving party demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact if sufficient evidence is provided to allow a reasonable finder of fact to find for the nonmoving party at trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In reviewing the record, a court must "view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor." Spence v. ESAB Group, Inc., 623 F.3d 212, 216 (3d Cir. 2010) ...

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