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Hales v. Fell

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 23, 2013

JEROME HALES, et al.
v.
CHARLES FELL, City of Chester Police Captain, in Both His Official and Individual Capacity, et al.

MEMORANDUM

Juan R. Sánchez, J.

Plaintiffs Jerome Hales, John Robertson, and Mikeem Brigman bring this action against Defendants Captain Charles Fell and Officer Timothy Garron of the City of Chester Police Department alleging false arrest, malicious prosecution, and conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count I). Plaintiffs also assert state tort claims for malicious prosecution, false arrest, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Counts V through VIII).[1] Plaintiffs allege Fell and Garron lacked probable cause to arrest them on attempted homicide and armed robbery charges which were later dismissed. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing Plaintiffs’ arrests were supported by probable cause, and even if probable cause was lacking Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. For the following reasons, the motion for summary judgment will be granted.

FACTS[2]

On July 4, 2010, the City of Chester was in a state of emergency due to a rash of recent violent crimes. Consequently, the City had imposed a 9:00 p.m. curfew on July 4 for all residents. At around 11:15 p.m., in the area of 22nd and Chestnut Streets in Chester, Ariel Pierce and Brian Iovino were robbed while walking home from a convenience store by three or possibly four black males, one of which threatened them with a gun.[3] The robbers took approximately $30 and two cellular phones. As the robbers fled, Iovino chased them on foot and one of the robbers fired a gun at him. Chester Police officers, including Officer Garron, were called to the robbery scene and took a statement from Pierce and Iovino. After giving their statements, Pierce and Iovino were driven to their home. A flash information was broadcast to all patrols describing the offenders as three black males in their teens or early twenties wearing black and white t-shirts.

During the initial investigation at the robbery scene, Iovino told Garron one of the stolen phones was equipped with a global positioning system (GPS). Garron contacted the phone’s service provider, which, about 25 minutes later, was able to locate the phone using its GPS to within 25 meters of a location on the 500 block of East 8th Street in Chester. Upon receiving this information, Garron and other police officers immediately proceeded to that location.

Meanwhile, Plaintiffs had been at a family barbecue at 530 East 8th Street for several hours. At some point shortly before midnight, 15-year-old Lamar Queen, who lived a few houses down from 530 East 8th Street, arrived in a car with two males and a female. Queen’s friends walked towards Queen’s house, while Queen lingered in an area closer to 530 East 8th Street, speaking with his father. After a brief conversation with his father, Queen walked toward 530 East 8th Street and greeted the partygoers, including Plaintiffs.[4]

At that moment, Chester Police officers, including Garron, arrived on the 500 block of East 8th Street. Garron observed Plaintiffs and Queen in close proximity to one another and within the approximate area indicated by the stolen phone’s GPS. Garron also observed that Plaintiffs and Queen matched the descriptions of the suspects-all four were black males appearing to be in their teens or twenties wearing white or black t-shirts (Hales and Robertson wore black shirts, Brigman wore a white shirt, and Queen wore either a white or black shirt). Garron effected a pedestrian stop of all four and searched their persons for weapons. In searching Queen, Garron felt a cellular phone inside Queen’s pocket and retrieved it. That phone matched the description of the stolen phone not equipped with GPS. Garron also retrieved cellular phones from Brigman and Robertson, which did not match the descriptions of either stolen phone. Based on the fact Queen and Plaintiffs matched the descriptions of the suspects and were found within the approximate range of the tracked stolen phone, and based on Queen’s possession of a phone matching the description of one of the stolen phones, Garron asked Captain Fell (a Sergeant at the time), who had been on patrol elsewhere in Chester that evening, to bring Pierce and Iovino to the 800 block of East 8th Street to attempt to identify the suspects.

Thereafter, Pierce and Iovino received a phone call from someone with the Chester Police Department asking them to accompany a police officer to a location to attempt to identify four individuals as the possible robbers. According to Iovino, the caller also informed him the four suspects were apprehended in the proximity of where the stolen phone with GPS was tracked and one suspect was found carrying a phone matching the description of the other stolen phone. There is no evidence suggesting the caller was Garron or Fell.

Someone from the Chester Police Department called Fell over the phone to tell him Pierce and Iovino’s address so as not to broadcast the address over the police radio. Fell picked up the witnesses at their home at or around 12:00 a.m. On the ride to the 800 block of East 8th Street, the three spoke only briefly, and they did not discuss the circumstances of the suspects’ apprehension.[5] Fell, Pierce, and Iovino arrived at the 800 block of East 8th Street at approximately 12:10 a.m. Soon after their arrival, Fell and/or another officer at the scene told Pierce and Iovino police had found a phone matching the stolen phone without GPS on Queen and asked for that phone’s number so they could call and confirm it was the stolen phone. Pierce and Iovino provided the phone number and watched as an officer dialed the number, causing a phone sitting on the hood of a car next to where the four suspects stood to ring. An officer then brought the phone to Pierce, who confirmed it was the phone without GPS which had been stolen during the robbery.

Next, Pierce and Iovino were asked if they could identify each of the four suspects.[6] The two victims remained in the back seat of Fell’s patrol vehicle, about 20 to 30 feet away from the suspects and viewed each suspect in turn. The four suspects stood in a line facing Fell’s patrol vehicle and were illuminated by police headlights. Fell remained in the car with the victims and conducted the identification, while Garron stood near the suspects. Both Pierce and Iovino positively identified Queen as the individual who was carrying the gun and who shot at Iovino. Pierce also identified each of the Plaintiffs as an individual who had robbed them. Iovino testified at his deposition he could only recognize Queen, but admitted later in his deposition it was possible he indeed identified Plaintiffs that night as well, although he now believes he did not recognize Plaintiffs as being among the men who committed the robbery. Fell testified both witnesses definitively identified all four suspects. Fell relayed the identifications of all four suspects to Garron, who arrested Queen and Plaintiffs. Fell then drove the victims back to their home. Fell, Pierce, and Iovino were present at the 500 block of East 8th Street for approximately five minutes.

Garron prepared Affidavits of Probable Cause and Criminal Complaints for Queen and Plaintiffs. All four were charged with attempted homicide, robbery, conspiracy, aggravated assault, and a host of other lesser offenses. At the preliminary hearing on September 20, 2010, Iovino testified he saw only the face of the suspect with the gun, i.e. Queen, and could not identify Plaintiffs. Pierce did not testify. Consequently, all charges against Plaintiffs were dismissed, and the case against Queen proceeded.

Plaintiffs subsequently filed this civil rights action. The remaining claims are § 1983 claims for false arrest, malicious prosecution, and conspiracy, and state claims for malicious prosecution, false arrest, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. After discovery, Fell and Garron filed the instant motion for summary judgment.

DISCUSSION

A motion for summary judgment shall be granted “if the movant shows there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Material” facts are those facts “that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. The court “must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and must make all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor.” Hugh, 418 F.3d at 267. To defeat a summary judgment motion, the non-moving party “must rely on affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file” to show there is a genuine issue of material fact. GFL Advantage Fund, Ltd. v. Colkitt, 272 F.3d 189, 199 (3d Cir. 2001) ...


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