United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
TERRENCE F. McVERRY, District Judge.
Pending before the Court is DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF No. 34), filed by Thomas O'Barto and Larry Medlock ("Defendants"). Defendants also filed a brief and concise statement of material facts ("CSMF") in support of their motion. (ECF Nos. 35, 36). Tim Hamborsky ("Plaintiff") filed a BRIEF IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF No. 44) and a separate response to Defendants' CSMF (ECF No. 45). The motion is ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, the motion will be GRANTED.
This Section 1983 action arises out of a sting operation targeted at Plaintiff, a long-time correctional officer at the Fayette County Prison, as executed by the Fayette County Drug Task Force, of which Defendant O'Barto is a member, in conjunction with the prison's warden, Defendant Medlock, and a jailhouse informant. Plaintiff was apprehended while attempting to bring a bag containing tobacco and four Vicodin pills into the prison for the informant. As a result of the operation, Plaintiff was charged with three drug-related offenses. Ultimately, however, he was acquitted of all of the charges. He now claims that the prosecution violated his Fourth Amendment rights since it was allegedly not based on probable cause. He also claims that the Defendants engaged in a conspiracy to deprive him of his rights.
A. Factual Background
Plaintiff was a correctional officer at the prison from December 6, 1987, until November 12, 2008. During that time, he became friendly with an inmate named Erin Spade, a career criminal and one of the prison's "frequent flyers." Spade was considered a "trusty, " or inmate worker, so he was permitted to spend time outside of the general population unit working on various projects ( e.g., painting or cleaning) in other parts of the prison. While Spade was working outside the general population unit, Plaintiff admitted that he would sometimes provide him with "snuff" tobacco. He continued to do so even after the prison adopted a tobacco-free policy for inmates. Although Plaintiff knew that providing Spade with tobacco was technically in violation of the prison's revised policy, it does not appear that he thought twice about continuing to do it. "Everyone else was giving snuff. No one seemed to care, " he testified. Pl.'s Dep. at 53:23-24. "I was just doing what everyone else was doing." Plaintiff, however, vehemently denied ever having given Spade illicit drugs.
In September 2008, Spade, who was then serving time on a parole violation and awaiting the disposition of a retail theft charge, sent Medlock at least three request slips seeking a meeting to discuss a then-unnamed correctional officer, who turned out to be Plaintiff. Medlock considered Spade a "snitch" who would keep tabs on inmates and correctional officers for the prison's top brass. After receiving the requests, Medlock eventually agreed to meet with Spade. During their meeting, Spade told Medlock that Plaintiff was bringing "contraband" into the prison, including tobacco, pills, and marijuana. Plaintiff disputes that Spade ever told Medlock that Plaintiff had brought drugs into the prison for him. According to Medlock, however, he had suspected that Plaintiff had been engaging in such conduct for some time, but his hunch was apparently based on nothing more than prison rumors.
After meeting with Spade, Medlock reached out to Defendant O'Barto, a detective with the Fayette County Drug Task Force. The two met to discuss Plaintiff's potential involvement in smuggling drugs into the prison on October 29, 2008. Later that day, Medlock and O'Barto met with Spade. During this meeting-the first of three between O'Barto and Spade leading up to the sting-Spade told O'Barto that in exchange for his assistance in getting his retail theft charge dismissed or reduced, he could get Plaintiff to bring narcotic pills and tobacco into the prison. O'Barto was not concerned with the allegation regarding tobacco, but the suggestion that Plaintiff had been bringing drugs into the prison piqued his concern. Eventually, it was agreed that Spade would ask Plaintiff to bring him a shopping bag containing tobacco and Vicodin pills in exchange for $75.00 in cash. According to O'Barto's testimony, it was Spade's idea to put the pills in the bag, while O'Barto proposed having the money put inside. Soon thereafter, Spade met with Plaintiff to see whether he would be amenable to the deal. Although Plaintiff admitted that he agreed to bring tobacco into the prison for Spade, he denied that Spade said anything about Vicodin during their discussion.
On November 3, after having received approval to proceed with the sting from then-Fayette County District Attorney ("DA") Nancy Vernon, O'Barto met with Spade again to finalize the plan. After Spade confirmed that "everything was good, " the two fleshed out the details of the sting. O'Barto instructed Spade to tell Plaintiff that the package would be left in a newspaper vending machine near the County courthouse, which is adjacent to the prison. Plaintiff was to pick up the shopping bag before starting his midnight shift on November 5 and then bring it into the prison, where he would be apprehended. O'Barto and Spade met for the final time on November 4 and confirmed that Plaintiff would be picking up the package the next night, as planned.
At approximately 11:30 on the night of the sting, Plaintiff arrived at the courthouse, retrieved the bag from under the newspaper vending machine, placed it inside the upper part of his jacket, and headed into the prison. Meanwhile, Medlock, O'Barto, and Deputy Warden Miller were stationed outside the back entrance of the courthouse and watched as Plaintiff's truck pulled up. Upon observing Plaintiff head toward the prison, Medlock and O'Barto followed him, and once inside Medlock called out for Plaintiff to stop. Medlock, O'Barto, and other members of the Drug Task Force then escorted Plaintiff, who was never placed in handcuffs, from the prison to the adjacent courthouse, where the DA's office was located. While walking to the courthouse, O'Barto attempted to Mirandize Plaintiff. At the time, Plaintiff apparently did not understand the nature of his rights. Once inside the DA's office, however, Plaintiff signed a waiver of rights form and agreed to speak with law enforcement. Ultimately, a search of Plaintiff's jacket uncovered the bag, which by then had slid down into the jacket's sleeve. One of the police officers opened the bag in Plaintiff's presence and revealed that it contained a package of Bugler tobacco with four Vicodin pills secreted inside, along with $75.00. After seeing the drugs, Plaintiff was confounded, as he claimed that the bag was only supposed to have contained tobacco. Sometime soon after the pills were discovered, Medlock advised Plaintiff that he would be placed on indefinite suspension.
Plaintiff was then transported to the nearby police station for a video arraignment. He was charged by O'Barto with possession of a controlled substance, possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, and furnishing a controlled substance to a confined person. While in the police station, Plaintiff asked Detective Ryan Reese, a member of the drug task force, whether he could be released that night without paying bond. Reese said that he would see what he could do. Later, O'Barto asked Plaintiff to provide a written statement regarding the incident. Plaintiff obliged and wrote the following paragraph:
I, Tim Hamborsky, did pick up a bag of tobacco to take to the prison to Inmate Spade. I did not know anything about drugs. I only did it because I needed money to live on. I only thought it had tobacco in it. I knew Spade for awhile and was also just helping him out.
Def.'s CSMF, Ex. E (ECF No. 36).
Plaintiff was released pending trial on $25, 000 unsecured bond. No travel restrictions were imposed. In fact, just a few days after the sting, Plaintiff embarked on a ...