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Franks v. Philadelphia Police Dept.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

August 9, 2013

RICKY FRANKS, Plaintiff,
v.
PHILADELPHIA POLICE DEPT., et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.

I. INTRODUCTION

Ricky Franks (“Plaintiff”) brought this civil rights action against the Philadelphia Police Department, Robert Shaw, William Schlosser, Kevin McNicholas, John Komorowski, and “All Officers of the 24th Eastern Division” (collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiff filed his complaint on March 26, 2012, alleging false arrest in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and alleging defamation under Pennsylvania state law.[1]

On November 5, 2012, the Court granted Defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment, leaving only Plaintiff’s claim of false arrest against Officer Schlosser and claim of defamation against Detective Komorowski intact.

Following a bench trial and pursuant to Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, this Memorandum constitutes the Court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant judgment in favor of Plaintiff on his claim of false arrest, and in favor of Detective Komorowski on Plaintiff’s claim of defamation. The Court will award Plaintiff $7, 500 in compensatory damages.

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On October 4, 2012, Defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment. Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 25. The Court held a hearing on Defendants’ motion on November 5, 2012. Plaintiff represented himself at this hearing. The Court granted Defendants’ motion as to all claims against Defendants Shaw, McNicholas, the Philadelphia Police Department, and “All Officers of the 24th Eastern Division.” Order, Nov. 5, 2012, ECF No. 28. It denied the motion as to all claims against Detective Komorowski. Id. The case proceeded to trial on Plaintiff’s claim of false arrest against Officer Schlosser and his claim of defamation against Detective Komorowski.

After ruling on Defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment, the Court placed the case in suspense for 75 days in order to allow Plaintiff time to seek legal representation for the balance of the proceedings. On March 21, 2013, the Court held a final pretrial conference. After a discussion with Plaintiff regarding his inability to retain counsel and his desire to proceed pro se, the Court scheduled a non-jury trial upon Plaintiff’s request and with the consent of Defendants. Order, March 22, 2013, ECF No. 42. Plaintiff represented himself at trial.

On April 25, 2013, the Court held a bench trial at the conclusion of which it heard closing argument. The Court has reviewed all of the admitted evidence in this case: Plaintiff’s testimony, Officer Richard Ciaccia’s testimony, Officer Shaw’s testimony, Officer McNicholas’s testimony, Officer Schlosser’s testimony, Detective Komorowski’s testimony, and each party’s supporting exhibits. Upon this record, the Court makes its findings of fact and conclusions of law.

III. JURISDICTION

The Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s constitutional and federal law claims. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343 (2006). The Court has supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s state law claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).

IV. FINDINGS OF FACT[2]

On December 3, 2010, at approximately 2:00 p.m., Police Officers Schlosser, Shaw, and McNicholas were on bike patrol in the 24th Police District of Philadelphia. Trial Tr. 69:7-24, April 25, 2013. At that time, the three officers were in the park located at Belgrade Street and Allegheny Avenue in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia.[3] Id. at 69:7-24; see Court Ex. 1. All three officers testified that they observed a double-parked black Chevy Impala and three African American men exit the vehicle. Trial Tr. 39:4-7, 52:13-18, 69:25-70:15. Officer Schlosser and Officer Shaw testified that they saw one of the men go to the back of the vehicle and bang on the trunk, asking the driver to open it. Id. at 39:4-10, 70:10-12. These officers stated that once the trunk was opened, one of the men retrieved a black backpack and they then all began walking into the park. Id. at 39:8-15, 70:10-15. Officer Schlosser testified that after the man had retrieved the black backpack, the vehicle took off at a high speed, north on Almond Street and made a left-hand turn onto Madison Street. Id. at 70:19-21; see Court Ex. 1.

Officer Shaw testified that the three men walked towards a storage shed in the park, and that once they approached it, Officer Shaw said “Yo, ” to them. Trial Tr. 39:16-22. Officer Shaw stated that at this time, upon looking in his direction, the three individuals ran. Id. at 39:22-23. Two men ran eastbound and the third man with the backpack ran northbound up Almond Street through the park. Id. at 36:23-40:3; see Court Ex. 1.

Officer Schlosser testified similarly, but in less detail, that when the three males walked into the park and saw the bright blue and yellow jackets of the officers with the word “Police” on the backs, they began to run. Trial Tr. 71:3-6. When asked where the men were in relation to the officers in the park, Officer Schlosser testified, “Well, they were still almost behind us, I think, initially when they see us, and then two males ran directly passed [sic] us, across us almost on our, like it would have been my right side at least.” Id. at 72:8-11. He testified that at their closest, the men were approximately twenty feet ...


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