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Recco Ford v. City of Philadelphia

July 24, 2012

RECCO FORD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is the Motion of Defendant City of Philadelphia*fn1 ("Defendant" or "the City") to partially Dismiss the Complaint of Plaintiff Recco Ford ("Plaintiff" or "Ford"). For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This matter arises out of the investigation, prosecution, and ultimate acquittal of Plaintiff Ford for first-degree murder charges. According to the facts set forth in the Complaint, at the time of the underlying action, Plaintiff was a sixteen-year-old student that resided with his mother in Southwest Philadelphia. (Compl. ¶ 24.) On the afternoon of April 12, 2007, nineteen-year-old Leon Blackwell was sitting on a bench in a playground at the Kingsessing Recreation Center with his two friends, Q.T. and J.V.*fn2 (Id. ¶¶ 25, 51.) Ford was not at the playground at the time. (Id. ¶ 27.) At approximately 4:30 p.m., an unidentified male approached Blackwell with a gun and fired multiple gunshots at his head and face. (Id. ¶ 26.) The shooter then fled the scene.

Several local Philadelphia residents heard the gun shots and immediately called 911. (Id. ¶ 29.) Philadelphia police officers arrived at the scene within minutes. (Id. ¶ 30.) Blackwell was taken to the hospital by emergency personnel, and the officers began to collect information and interview witnesses. (Id. ¶ 31.) Emergency radio dispatchers also began to broadcast information about potential suspects to police officers on patrol in the area. (Id. ¶ 34.) Officer James Cook received information that Q.T. and K.V. were sitting alongside Blackwell in the playground at the time of the shooting, and therefore detained them so that they could be taken to the Philadelphia Police Department's Southwest Detective Division ("SWDD") headquarters for further questioning. (Id. ¶¶ 32, 33.) A few minutes later, a young female, Ro. W., reported to 911 dispatchers that she had witnessed the shooter fleeing the scene, and described him as a man with "medium brown skin" wearing jeans and a tan jacket with graphics on the back. (Id. ¶¶ 35, 102, 103.) This information was broadcast over the police radio, and a male matching the description was stopped at a nearby location. (Id. ¶¶ 36, 37.) Shortly thereafter, Officer Cook and Detective Omar Jenkins received a different description of the shooter from an eyewitness, and broadcast over the police radio that the suspect was a tall, black male with a thin build, and was wearing tan pants and a green windbreaker. (Id. ¶ 38.) Within a few minutes of the latter broadcast, a male matching that description was also stopped at a nearby location. (Id. ¶ 39.) Several minutes later, Officer Cook once again dispatched a different description, stating that the suspect was believed to be a black male named B.G. and was wearing tan pants and a blue-hooded sweatshirt. (Id. ¶ 40.) Two males matching this description were eventually detained by Philadelphia police officers. (Id. ¶¶ 41, 42.)

After these various individuals were detained and/or taken into police custody, a woman at the scene approached Officer Cook and told him that an anonymous source had informed her that Ford was the person who shot Blackwell at the playground. (Id. ¶ 43.) Officer Cook relayed this information to the SWDD Special Investigations Unit charged with investigating the shooting. (Id. ¶ 45.) The particular SWDD unit at issue was comprised of Detectives Robert Hagy, Matthew Farley, and Daniel Brooks, Sergeant Charles Layton, and Lieutenant Walker. (Id.) Upon receiving the information regarding Ford, the SWDD Unit focused its investigation on him as the potential shooter. (Id. ¶ 46.) According to the Complaint, the officers and detectives made no further attempt to investigate the other males that were detained as suspects near the scene, and also failed to conduct follow-up interviews of the other eyewitnesses that were present at the scene. (Id. ¶¶ 47--50.)

Meanwhile, Q.T. and K.V. had been transported to SWDD headquarters for further questioning. At the station, both juveniles were placed in separate locked interview rooms and told that they were guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. (Id. ¶¶ 53, 54.) Their requests to contact their parents were allegedly denied, and they were advised that their parents could not help them. (Id. ¶ 54.) When their parents contacted the station, they were told that Q.T. and K.V. were not being held there. (Id. ¶¶ 55, 56.) Q.T. and K.V. were held for more than two hours in their separate interrogation rooms prior to being interviewed. (Id. ¶¶ 53, 57.) Eventually, both juveniles were individually presented with a photo spread including a photo of Ford, and were "demanded" to identify him as Blackwell's shooter. (Id. ¶¶ 58, 65.) When both individuals separately stated that Ford was not the shooter, they were allegedly threatened that if they did not identify Ford as the shooter, they would not be permitted to leave SWDD headquarters and would be prosecuted for conspiracy to commit murder and receive life sentences. (Id. ¶¶ 59, 60, 66, 67.) Faced with this threat, Q.T. and K.V. thereafter identified Ford as the shooter. (Id. ¶¶ 61, 68.) Following Q.T. and K.V.'s identifications, Detectives Farley and Jenkins allegedly prepared fabricated written statements indicating that the two juveniles had voluntarily identified Ford as Blackwell's shooter. (Id. ¶¶ 62, 69.) Q.T. and K.V. were subsequently coerced into signing the false written statements. (Id. ¶¶ 63, 70.)

Based on Q.T. and K.V.'s false identifications of Ford, Detective Hagy prepared and filed an affidavit of probable cause seeking a search warrant for Plaintiff's home. (Id. ¶ 71.) On the evening of April 12, 2007, several officers executed the search warrant and searched Ford's home. (Id. ¶ 73.) No evidence of the crime, however, was discovered there. (Id.)

Two days later, on April 14, 2007, Blackwell died as a result of his multiple gunshot wounds. (Id. ¶ 75.) Due to his death, investigation of the case was transferred to the Philadelphia Police Department's Homicide Division, and the case file was assigned to Detective John Verrecchio and Lieutenant Williams. (Id. ¶ 76.) That same day, Detective Verrecchio prepared and filed an affidavit of probable cause seeking an arrest warrant for Ford based exclusively on the information previously provided by Detective Hagy when seeking the search warrant. (Id. ¶ 78.) A warrant for Ford's arrest was subsequently issued. (Id. ¶ 82.)

On April 28, 2007, Ford voluntarily surrendered himself to SWDD. (Id.) He was arrested, placed in custody, and held without bail. (Id.) Ford's preliminary hearing took place on September 5, 2007. (Id. ¶ 83.) Q.T. and K.V. received subpoenas to appear at the hearing, and both testified that they were coerced into signing false statements identifying Ford as the shooter. (Id. ¶¶ 84--86.) Both witnesses further testified that the actual shooter was a tall, thin male whom they did not know. (Id. ¶ 87.)

During the discovery phase of pre-trial proceedings, the aforementioned officers and detectives failed to disclose to prosecutors the events surrounding Q.T. and K.V.'s identifications, as well as a compact disc that contained recordings of all the police dispatch broadcasts from the day of the shooting. (Id. ¶ 90.) Ford's defense counsel also never received information concerning the various eyewitness reports that had been given at the scene. (Id. ¶ 91.) Upon further investigation, defense counsel developed a theory that another juvenile male, "J.A.," could actually have been Blackwell's shooter. (Id. ¶ 92.) Evidence unveiled during this time revealed that J.A. matched the description of the shooter provided by Q.T. and K.V. at the preliminary hearing, and that J.A. and his younger relative D.W. had been taken into police custody on the day of the shooting. (Id. ¶¶ 93, 94.) No one at the Philadelphia Police Department had previously disclosed this information to the prosecution. (Id. ¶ 96.) Therefore, when defense counsel requested the prosecution to provide it with all evidence related to J.A. and D.W., the prosecution advised that neither individual had been stopped or investigated by police that day. (Id.)

Ford's trial for first degree murder commenced in the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia on September 30, 2008. (Id. ¶ 97.) On the second day of jury selection, the prosecution provided defense counsel with new evidence that had just been disclosed to it by the aforementioned officers and detectives, including: the compact disc containing the police radio dispatcher recordings from April 12, 2007, police reports stating that J.A. and D.W. were taken into police custody on that day, and a note handwritten by Detective Hagy which stated that Blackwell's father told police that he knew where the "doer" of the shooting was located. (Id. ¶ 98.) As a result of this newly disclosed evidence, the Common Pleas Court declared a mistrial and continued the case. (Id. ¶ 99.)

Further investigation into the matter subsequently revealed that Sergeant Himmons and Officers Lloyd and Young had transported J.A. and D.W. to SWDD on the day of the shooting, but released them from custody shortly thereafter. (Id. ¶ 100.) Defense counsel was also able to locate Ro. W. and Ra. W, the initial witnesses of the shooting, and both confirmed that Ford was not the shooter. (Id. ¶¶ 102, 103.) Both Ro. W. and Ra. W. also confirmed that neither had been contacted by the police following their initial eyewitness reports. (Id. ¶ 104.)

Plaintiff's new trial in the Court of Common Pleas commenced on May 3, 2010. (Id. ¶ 105.) The trial resulted in Ford's acquittal on all charges on May 17, 2010. (Id. ¶ 106.) Plaintiff was incarcerated in the Philadelphia Prison System between the dates of his initial arrest in 2007 and his eventual acquittal in 2010. (Id. ¶ 113.) He was released from incarceration at nineteen years of age. (Id.) As a result of his allegedly unnecessary imprisonment, Plaintiff avers that he suffers from emotional distress and trauma, loss of enjoyment of life, personal infliction of physical injury as a ...


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