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Spiess v. Rakaczewski

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 14, 2015

WILLIAM SPIESS; KASHEEN THOMAS; GENE THOMAS, II; JALEEL HOLDEN and JOSE LACEN, Plaintiffs,
v.
MICHAEL RAKACZEWSKI, Esquire and WENDY BENTZONI Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

JAMES M. MUNLEY, District Judge.

Before the court for disposition are the parties' motions in limine filed in advance of the pretrial conference. The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

Background[1]

On the morning of February 11, 2008, a sixteen-year-old girl, AJ, and a fifteen-year-old girl, TM, reported to the Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department that they had been sexually assaulted on February 9, 2008, by multiple men at a house party. Police officials interviewed the girls separately and, in describing the assaults they said were committed by the plaintiffs-William Spiess, Kasheen Thomas, Gene Thomas, II, Jaleel Holden, and Jose Lacen-they provided different accounts of what happened. Although their accounts varied, it is undisputed that the girls attended a party, that the plaintiffs attended the party, and that sexual activity occurred.

After the girls' interviews, Detective Richard Luthcke of the Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department and Defendant Wendy Bentzoni, a detective for the Monroe County District Attorney's Office, took AJ to the Pegasus Child Advocacy Center in Carbondale, Pennsylvania. Dr. Andrea Taroli examined AJ and opined that AJ had been sexually assaulted. Luthcke then called his supervisor, Detective Chris Wagner, regarding the alleged assault and brought Wagner into the on-going investigation. Luthcke and Wagner spoke with AJ together, but failed to record the interview.

That evening, a group of detectives went to Spiess's residence, where Spiess's mother told the detectives that TM's family had spoken to her and her husband about the party. Spiess's mother provided the detectives a note in TM's handwriting stating that Spiess did not participate in the alleged assaults. Approximately two hours later, Spiess voluntarily arrived at police headquarters, and Luthcke and another detective interviewed him. Luthcke then prepared search and arrest warrants for Lacen, at whose home the alleged assaults took place. Wagner reviewed the warrants and affidavits of probable cause and spoke with Defendant Rakaczewski, a Monroe County Assistant District Attorney, who approved the warrants.[2] The warrants were then presented to a judge.

The judge granted the search and arrest warrants, and authorities executed a search at Lacen's home. They arrested him shortly before midnight on February 11, 2008. The remaining plaintiffs were variously arrested on February 25, 2008, and March 24, 2008. Authorities charged each plaintiff with multiple counts of rape. Three of the five plaintiffs were minors, but the police officials and Defendant Rakaczewski charged them as adults because AJ claimed plaintiffs used a knife during the assault.

A preliminary hearing was held on March 28, 2008, at which AJ and TM testified, and the plaintiffs were subsequently incarcerated for nearly a year awaiting trial. In January 2009, however, the District Attorney's Office received a letter from AJ's school stating that she had confessed to giving false statements and testimony. The school's letter indicated that AJ said that the sexual activity had been consensual and that no knife was involved. When Rakaczewski and Luthcke interviewed AJ, she denied the school's allegation. During a second interview, however, AJ confessed to lying about three things: that Spiess assaulted her, the presence of alcohol at the party, and that a knife was involved in the assault. In February 2009, Rakaczewski filed a nolle prosequi petition with regard to the charges against all the plaintiffs and consented to the plaintiffs' subsequent expungement petitions.

Based upon Rakaczewski's decision to dismiss the underlying criminal charges, plaintiffs filed the instant civil rights action against Defendants Rakaczewski and Bentzoni (hereinafter "defendants").[3] At the conclusion of discovery, Defendant Rakaczewski filed a motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs' section 1983 false arrest claim, which the court denied on March 26, 2013. (Doc. 124). Defendant Bentzoni also filed a motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs' section 1983 false arrest and false imprisonment claim and plaintiffs' malicious prosecution claim. The court granted Defendant Bentzoni's motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs' malicious prosecution claim, but denied Bentzoni's motion for summary judgment regarding plaintiffs' false arrest and false imprisonment claim. (Doc. 124). Therefore, the only remaining claim against Defendant Rakaczewski is false arrest and the remaining claims against Defendant Bentzoni are false arrest and false imprisonment.

Discussion

A pretrial conference has been scheduled, and in accordance with the court's rule, the parties filed various motions in limine seeking to preclude evidence from trial. The court will first address plaintiffs' motions.

I. Plaintiffs' motions in limine

Plaintiffs have filed five (5) motions in limine. The court will discuss each motion in seriatim .

A. Plaintiffs' settlement with police defendants

Plaintiffs first seek to preclude from trial evidence that they settled their claims with the Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department (hereinafter "police defendants"). Plaintiffs contend the settlement is not relevant. Defendants assert the settlement amount is relevant to a setoff calculation-the verdict amount must be reduced by plaintiffs' settlement with the police defendants. After careful consideration, the court agrees with plaintiffs.

Federal law provides that relevant evidence is generally admissible. FED. R. EVID. 402. "Relevant evidence' means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less ...


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