United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
E.K. PRATTER United States District Judge
Wright sued the City of Philadelphia and 11 individuals, all
of whom were members of the Philadelphia Police Department
during the time relevant to this action, pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983 and Pennsylvania state law. This action
arises out of the investigation and prosecution that resulted
in Mr. Wright's wrongful conviction for a 1991 rape and
murder. Mr. Wright alleges that the Defendants, working
individually and in concert, fabricated evidence, coerced a
false confession, and withheld exculpatory evidence, among
other alleged misconduct, all of which led to Mr.
Wright's arrest, prosecution, and conviction for a crime
he did not commit. After DNA evidence conclusively excluded
Mr. Wright as the source of the biological evidence found at
the crime scene, Mr. Wright's conviction was vacated.
Upon retrial, a jury acquitted Mr. Wright of all charges. Mr.
Wright spent 25 years in prison as a result of his wrongful
Wright now brings an eight-count complaint against Defendants
for (i) malicious prosecution pursuant to § 1983 (Count
1) and Pennsylvania law (Count 8); (ii) due process
violations (Count 2); (iii) violating his right against
self-incrimination (Count 3); (iv) civil rights conspiracy
(Count 4); (v) failure to intervene (Count 5); (vi)
supervisory liability (Count 6); and (vii) municipal
liability (Count 7). Defendants have moved to dismiss (i)
Counts 2-4 on statute of limitations grounds; (ii) Count 7
for failure to sufficiently plead a Monell claim;
and (iii) all claims against Detectives David Baker, Dennis
Dusak, and Eugene Wyatt for failure to state a claim. Because
the Court concludes that Mr. Wright's claims did not
accrue until after the criminal proceedings against him were
favorably terminated, and because Mr. Wright has stated
plausible claims for relief against the City and Detectives
Baker, Dusak, and Wyatt, the Court will deny the motion in
Allegations in the Complaint
October 18, 1991, 77 year-old Louise Talley was raped and
murdered in her North Philadelphia home. While DNA evidence
would eventually exonerate Mr. Wright, and conclusively
implicate an individual named Ronnie Byrd, Mr. Wright was
wrongfully convicted of Ms. Talley's rape and murder and
served 25 years in prison.
Dennis Dusak, Manuel Santiago, and Thomas Burke (the
“on-scene Defendants”) were the first officers to
arrive at the crime scene. Detective Dusak, as the lead
detective, was responsible for overseeing the investigation
of Ms. Talley's rape and murder. The on-scene
Defendants' initial review of the crime scene revealed
(i) that Ms. Talley was stabbed to death with a 12-inch metal
knife with an eight-inch blade; (ii) evidence that suggested
the crime's perpetrator stole a TV; and (iii) the
presence of masculine clothing items, including a black
Chicago Bulls shirt, blue jeans with suede material, and Fila
sneakers. Detectives Dusak and Santiago prepared detailed
reports documenting their examination of the crime scene.
investigating the crime scene, the on-scene Defendants
learned that an individual named Roland St. James had been
seen attempting to sell Ms. Talley's stolen TV. After
following this lead, the on-scene Defendants determined that
Mr. St. James, as well as a friend of Mr. St. James, John
“Buddy” Richardson, had been in possession of Ms.
Talley's TV and other items of stolen property. Based on
this finding, the on-scene Defendants instructed other police
officers to take Messrs. St. James and Richardson into
custody. Once in custody, the on-scene Defendants and
Detectives James Morton and David Baker discussed details of
Ms. Talley's murder learned by the on-scene Defendants
with Messrs. St. James and Richardson. After Messrs. St.
James and Richardson were provided details of Ms.
Talley's rape and murder, Detective Morton took Mr. St.
James's formal statement concerning the crime and
Detective Baker took Mr. Richardson's formal statement.
The detectives never reported their pre-statement discussions
with Messrs. St. James and Richardson, including statements
made by Messrs. St. James and Richardson by which they
incriminated themselves and exculpated Mr. Wright, and the
fact that certain detectives provided Messrs. St. James and
Richardson with details of the crime. The on-scene Defendants
simply reported that neighborhood witnesses, including
Messrs. St. James and Richardson, implicated Mr. Wright in
Ms. Talley's death. Neither Mr. St. James nor Mr.
Richardson were ever charged in connection with Ms.
Talley's death or for being in possession of Ms.
Talley's stolen property. The police released both
individuals after they each implicated Mr. Wright in the
following day, Detective Santiago and Sergeant Burke
approached Mr. Wright, who had just turned 20 years-old, at
his home. The officers asked Mr. Wright if he would accompany
them to the police station to discuss a murder in the area,
telling Mr. Wright that they would bring him right back. Upon
their arrival at the police station, however, Detective
Santiago placed Mr. Wright in an interrogation room.
Detective Santiago and Sergeant Burke, joined by Detective
Martin Devlin (the “interrogating Defendants”),
interrogated Mr. Wright for hours, without informing Mr.
Wright of his Miranda rights and without recording
the deposition by audio or visual means. Detective Devlin,
who had not previously taken part in the investigation, was
included in the interrogation at the urging of Officers
Santiago, Burke, and Dusak for the express purpose of
coercing a confession. During the course of the
interrogation, the interrogating Defendants accused Mr.
Wright of Ms. Talley's murder and falsely claimed that
the police had eyewitnesses and physical evidence against
him. At no point did the police tell Mr. Wright he was free
to leave or that he could call a lawyer. Nor did the police
allow Mr. Wright to call his mother, despite his repeated
request that he be permitted to do so. Mr. Wright maintained
his innocence for hours, repeatedly providing the
interrogating Defendants with details of his movements for
the previous few days.
the interrogating Defendants failed to obtain a confession,
the interrogating Defendants handcuffed Mr. Wright to a chair
and presented him with a nine-page statement handwritten by
Detective Devlin. While this statement contained inculpatory
information, Mr. Wright never made any of the statements that
the document attributed to him. Rather, the nine-page
statement was a narrative of how the Defendants believed the
crime occurred and included details meant to match
Defendants' theory of the crime. These details included
references to the believed cause of death (stabbing), the
perceived sexual assault, and assertions that Mr. Wright wore
a black Chicago Bulls shirt, blue jeans with suede material,
and black Fila sneakers during the crime. The statement also
purported to establish that Mr. Wright informed the
interrogating Defendants that the clothes he wore when
perpetrating the crime were in his bedroom. The statement did
not include the fact that Ms. Talley suffered blunt force
trauma to the head, a fact that neither the on-scene nor
interrogating Defendants were aware of at the time of Mr.
Mr. Wright refused to sign the fabricated statement, (i) one
of the interrogating defendants threatened to “rip [Mr.
Wright's] eyes out” and “skull-f**k”
him, unless he confessed to the crime and signed the
statement, Compl. ¶ 76; (ii) another interrogating
defendant pressed Mr. Wright's neck causing him to fear
that he would be choked; and (iii) the interrogating
Defendants promised that if Mr. Wright signed the statement,
he could go home. Mr. Wright ultimately succumbed to the
interrogating Defendants' coercion and signed the
statement without even reading the statement's contents.
The interrogating Defendants also forced Mr. Wright to sign a
Miranda waiver form, despite never informing Mr.
Wright of his Miranda rights. The interrogating
Defendants falsely reported that Mr. Wright not only waived
his Miranda rights, but had provided a detailed and
voluntary confession within minutes of the
interrogation's commencement, which, according to the
interrogating Defendants, Detective Devlin transcribed
verbatim from Mr. Wright's responses. The interrogating
Defendants never reported Mr. Wright's continued
protestations of innocence or the details of any of the
statements Mr. Wright actually made.
same night, Detective Frank Jastrzembski obtained a warrant
to search Mr. Wright's bedroom after Officers Santiago,
Devlin, Dusak, and Burke informed him of Mr. Wright's
alleged confession. Detective Jastrzembski, along with
Detectives Anthony Tomaino and Thomas Augustine (the
“search Defendants”) promptly executed the search
warrant for Mr. Wright's bedroom and claimed to have
found the items of clothing described in Mr. Wright's
fabricated confession statement, namely, a black Chicago
Bulls shirt, blue jeans with suede material, and black Fila
sneakers. While the search Defendants reported to prosecutors
and in their official reports that they found these items in
Mr. Wright's bedroom, the search Defendants knew that, in
actuality, the on-scene Defendants had recovered these items
from Ms. Talley's home.
after Mr. Wright's arrest and interrogation, Defendants
brought Messrs. St. James and Richardson back to the police
station to provide second statements. Detectives Tomaino and
Dusak took Mr. St. James's statement and Detective Wyatt
took Mr. Richarson's statement. Messrs. St. James and
Richardson's statements again implicated Mr. Wright in
the crime, but otherwise deviated in material ways from their
initial statements. Detectives Tomaino, Dusak, and Wyatt
failed to report the entirety of their interaction with
Messrs. St. James and Richardson, including failing to report
inculpatory statements made by the witnesses, exculpatory
statements made concerning Mr. Wright, and details provided
to the witnesses to strengthen the credibility of their
statements. Defendants, however, were aware that Messrs. St.
James and Richardson lacked credibility because both had
lengthy histories of criminal behavior and drug abuse and
both were connected to the crime in question. Accordingly, in
order to ensure approval for Mr. Wright's arrest, the
on-scene Defendants located additional teenage witnesses,
aged 14 to 16, to implicate Mr. Wright in the crime.
Detectives Jastrzembski and Charles Myers took the formal
statements of the teenage witnesses without their parents
present. Detectives Jastrzembski and Myers reported that the
statements were verbatim transcripts of the answers to
questions posed to the teenage witnesses. The statements,
which were hand-written by the detectives, implicated Mr.
Wright in Ms. Talley's rape and murder. Two of the three
statements included the false detail that the teenage
witnesses saw Mr. Wright wearing a Chicago Bulls shirt or
jacket. Two of the three teenage witnesses later testified
during post-conviction proceedings that their interrogators
had coerced them into implicating Mr. Wright. One of the
teenage witnesses testified that his interrogator threatened
that he would not see his mother again unless he testified
that he saw Mr. Wright enter Ms. Talley's home.
Defendants uniformly provided Philadelphia District
Attorney's Office prosecutors with false, misleading, and
incomplete information in order to obtain approval for Mr.
Wright's arrest and prosecution. Prosecutors, unaware of
the fabricated confession, witness statements, and evidence,
charged Mr. Wright with Ms. Talley's rape and murder.
Prosecutors utilized the fabricated confession, witness
statements, and evidence to obtain a guilty verdict against
Mr. Wright. Mr. Wright was ultimately sentenced to life in
prison without the possibility of parole after the jury split
on whether to impose the death penalty.
several unsuccessful post-conviction petitions in state
court, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted Mr.
Wright's request for post-conviction DNA testing. The
post-conviction DNA test and investigation revealed that the
medical examiner who initially tested Ms. Talley's rape
kit swabs for DNA incorrectly determined that the swabs were
negative for semen and sperm. When the vaginal and rectal
swabs were retested in 2013 and 2014 respectively, the
results showed the presence of DNA from a single male donor.
The DNA that was found on both swabs conclusively matched
Ronnie Byrd, whose DNA was in the FBI's National DNA
Index System, and conclusively excluded Mr. Wright as the
source of the DNA. As part of the post-conviction
investigation, the shirt, jeans, and shoes allegedly
“found” in Mr. Wright's bedroom were put
through DNA testing that was not available at the time of the
initial trial. This additional testing identified Ms. Talley,
not Mr. Wright, as the individual who wore the clothing
on the new DNA evidence, the District Attorney's Office
agreed to vacate Mr. Wright's conviction, but decided to
retry Mr. Wright based on the same fabricated confession and
evidence that was presented at the initial trial. At the
conclusion of the retrial, a jury took less than an hour to
acquit Mr. Wright of all charges.
Wright commenced this suit on September 20, 2016.
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) authorizes testing the legal
sufficiency of a complaint. Although Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 8 requires only “a short and plain statement
of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,
” in order to “give the defendant fair notice of
what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests,
” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
555 (2007) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)
(alteration in original), the plaintiff must provide
“more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not
do.” Id. (citation omitted).
survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead
“factual content that allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Specifically, “[f]actual
allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above
the speculative level . . . .” Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). The question is not whether
the claimant will ultimately prevail, but whether the
complaint is “sufficient to cross the federal
court's threshold.” Skinner v. Switzer,
562 U.S. 521, 529-30 (2011).
decide a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court may look
only to the facts alleged in the complaint and its
attachments. See Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien
& Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). The
Court may also consider documents that are “integral to
or explicitly relied upon in the complaint . . . without
converting the motion [to dismiss] into one for summary
judgment.” In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec.
Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997) (citation
omitted). The Court must accept as true all well-pleaded
allegations in the complaint and view them in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff. Angelastro v.
Prudential-Bache Sec., Inc., 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir.
1985). Likewise, the Court must accept as true all reasonable