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Craig v. Collins

United States District Court, Third Circuit

September 17, 2013

TAHMIR CRAIG
v.
NELSON COLLINS, ANITA AMARO, MICHAEL JAY, JOSEPH RYAN, THE CITY OF CHESTER and THE COUNTY OF DELAWARE

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Savage, J.

In this civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the dispositive issue is whether the defendant police officers had probable cause to arrest and detain the plaintiff Tahmir Craig on murder charges that were dismissed six months later. We conclude that they did. Thus, because the defendants are not liable under § 1983 for false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

In his complaint, Craig named six defendants: Captain Anita Amaro and Detective Nelson Collins of the Chester City Police Department; Lieutenant Joseph Ryan and Detective Michael Jay of the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division; the City of Chester; and Delaware County. Craig contends that Collins and Jay falsely arrested him for a murder he did not commit and failed to properly investigate the crime before arresting him. He alleges that the defendants detained him for over six months despite knowing that he did not commit the murder. His only claim against Amaro and Ryan is that they did not investigate information provided to a police officer regarding another possible suspect.[1] Craig claims his unlawful arrest and detention were caused by the municipal defendants’ failure to properly supervise, train and discipline their employees.

Collins and Jay assert they had probable cause to arrest Craig, thus relieving them of any liability. Amaro and Ryan contend that because they had no personal involvement in the arrest or decision to prosecute Craig, there can be no supervisory liability under § 1983. They also contend that they were not policymakers and cannot be held liable under the municipal liability theory. The municipal defendants argue that because Craig has not sufficiently alleged that they had a custom or policy concerning the officers’ alleged conduct, Craig cannot maintain a Monell claim against them.

All defendants moved to dismiss the complaint. Because they raised factual issues that were not alleged in the complaint, we converted their motions to ones for summary judgment. The parties had an opportunity to engage in discovery and supplement the record.

In his four-page opposition to the defendants’ motions for summary judgment, Craig does not dispute any of the facts asserted by the defendants. His sole argument is that while knowing that another suspect resembled the person in the video, the Criminal Investigative Division was “dragging their [sic] feet” in the investigation of Williams’ death.[2] He also makes, for the first time, a vague assertion that the assigned Delaware County assistant district attorney withheld “potential exculpatory evidence” from Craig’s attorney once he asked for information regarding another suspect.[3]

Whether Craig has any constitutional claim stands or falls on whether the police had probable cause to arrest him. If there was probable cause, as the defendants argue, there is no basis for Craig’s constitutional claims and the defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Facts[4]

Devon Williams was murdered on May 28, 2012, in Chester, Pennsylvania.[5]After conducting an investigation, Collins and Jay applied for a warrant to arrest Craig, which was issued by a Pennsylvania Magisterial District Judge on June 2, 2012. Craig surrendered to police two days later.

According to Craig’s complaint, William Casey, a Chester police officer dispatched to the scene of the crime shortly after the shooting, spoke to two witnesses. One witness observed the victim running toward the scene of the shooting. The other saw a black male, wearing a white T-shirt and khaki pants, running away from the scene. Casey was not given the height and weight of the fleeing man.

Collins and Jay, the detectives assigned to investigate the murder, retrieved a surveillance video of the shooting from a nearby store. According to the investigation report, undisputed by Craig, the video depicted a black male in a white T-shirt and tan shorts chasing and firing at the victim, and then running away from the scene.[6] Seeking the public’s assistance in identifying the shooter, the detectives distributed a still photo from the video to all local newspapers and television stations, which published the photo. A few hours later, the detectives received information from an anonymous source that the subject in the photo was known as “Tahmir.”[7] A records check produced the name and address of Tahmir Craig and two pieces of photographic identification of Craig. Comparing the photos of Craig to the still shot from the video footage, the detectives concluded that the person in the photos resembled the shooter in the video.

The day after the shooting, the detectives received a telephone call from Mahoummad Zeinulaeewyn, [8] the owner of a convenience store located across the street from Craig’s home. He informed the officers that he believed the man in the newspaper photograph was Craig, a patron of his store.[9] A few hours later, the detectives received a call from Lee Jackson informing them that he believed that the person in the circulated photo was Craig, whom he had known for over twenty years.[10]Both Zeinulaeewyn and Jackson provided Craig’s home address, which matched the one retrieved from the records check.

Acting on this information, Collins and Jay went to Craig’s address. After no one answered there, they met with Zeinulaeewyn, who told them that Craig had been in his store prior to their arrival, walked into his house, and had not been seen leaving.[11]Zeinulaeewyn also reported that Craig’s mother and stepfather had been in his store earlier that morning, reading the newspaper with the circulated photo. Craig’s mother said that she needed a lawyer for her son.[12] She asked Zeinulaeewyn if he had any footage of Craig in the store on the day of the shooting to support a potential alibi.[13]

Zeinulaeewyn gave Collins and Jay video surveillance footage of his store from the day of the shooting depicting a man wearing a white T-shirt and tan short pants. Comparing the two videos, the detectives concluded that the subject in both videos was wearing the same clothes and matched Craig’s description. They did not ask Zeinulaeewyn or anyone else to describe Craig’s height and build.[14]

On May 30, 2012, Collins and Jay applied for a search warrant. Based upon the affidavit of probable cause, the warrant was approved by Magisterial District Judge Davis.[15] The affidavit included the information from Zeinulaeewyn and Jackson that the fleeing man in the photo was Craig and that the person in the footage at Zeinulaeewyn’s store was wearing the same clothes as the man in the footage of the incident. Pursuant to the warrant, the detectives searched Craig’s house the same day. They seized nothing.

That same day, Collins and Jay interviewed Kerie Hahn, the victim’s girlfriend, who related that she had witnessed an altercation between the victim and some men in a car a few days prior to the incident. From a photo array, she identified Craig as one of the ...


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