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Shiloh v. Does

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 23, 2017

JOHN DOES, et al., Defendants.


          KAROLINE MEHALCHICK United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Lisa Lee Shiloh filed the instant civil rights action on June 8, 2012. (Doc. 1). Proceeding through five years of pre-trial motions, discovery, and amendments, the matter culminated with a bench trial on August 15, 2017. (Doc. 195). The sole claim remaining at trial was Shiloh's claim for excessive force against Defendants Hassinger and O'Shea. Following presentation of the Plaintiff's case, the Defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which was granted. Contained within this Memorandum are the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law warranting the entry of judgment in favor of Defendants Hassinger and O'Shea.

         I. Procedural History

         Given the duration of this action, much of the procedural history is omitted and the Court focuses primarily on the case progression as it relates to the issues at trial.

         On June 8, 2012, Shiloh filed her complaint alleging violations of her Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights as a result of a search of her home by authorities involving forcible entry and chemical agents. (Doc. 1). Shiloh alleged that the use of tear gas was not identified on the warrant and caused medical distress that went ignored by the Defendants. (Doc. 1). Further, she stated that the Defendants handcuffed her while she was not clothed, until two male Defendants dressed her, constituting cruel and unusual punishment. (Doc. 1). Lastly, she stated that the forcible entry performed six days after the signing of a search warrant violated her due process rights. (Doc. 1). Defendants Hassinger and O'Shea were identified in the initial complaint, although their specific participation was not detailed.

         These Defendants were initially dismissed on May 14, 2013. (Doc. 36). Shiloh filed an amended complaint on August 9, 2013. (Doc. 49). Therein, she reaffirmed that the Defendants participated in the deployment of tear gas and forcible entry into her home without announcing their presence. The Defendants filed an answer to the operative complaint on August 8, 2014, denying all allegations. (Doc. 78). The Defendants moved for summary judgment on November 5, 2014, arguing they should be dismissed because they were not present at the time of the entry. (Doc. 94; Doc. 97). The Court recommended dismissal of all Defendants contained in the motion except Hassinger and O'Shea, finding disputes of fact remained on their presence at the time of entry and participation in planning of the search. (Doc. 130). The Report and Recommendation was adopted on September 17, 2015. (Doc. 135).

         The parties consented to proceed before the undersigned on June 1, 2017, and four days later the Court set trial for August 15, 2017. (Doc. 183). On July 17, 2017, Shiloh moved for leave to include a Fourth Amendment failure to intervene claim against Hassinger and O'Shea. (Doc. 186). Citing evidentiary and timing concerns, the Court denied Shiloh's motion on August 9, 2017. (Doc. 192).

         The case then proceeded to trial. The first witness to testify was Lieutenant Gary Carter, tactical leader for the Special Emergency Response Team on the day of the search.[1] Carter testified that the Defendants requested the service of the SERT team for the search of Shiloh's residence. (Doc. 197, at 10). The Defendants informed the SERT team on the house layout, expected occupants (Shiloh and her husband, along with a dog), the background of the occupants including law enforcement training, the presence of motion sensing lights at the home, and expected presence of drugs and firearms. (Doc. 197, at 11). As a result of these beliefs, SERT approved the Defendants' request for SERT assistance in execution of the search warrant. (Doc. 197, at 11).

         SERT members then developed the plan for execution of the warrant. (Doc. 197, at 14). The plan developed involved concurrent entry and deployment of agents through the window of the bathroom adjacent to Shiloh's bedroom, due to concerns about access to firearms in the bathroom, to be performed between 4 and 4:30 a.m. (Doc. 197, at 15).

         Carter then testified that the plan was executed as planned on June 15, 2010. (Doc. 197, at 17). He testified that on the date of the execution of the search and arrest warrants, the SERT team arrived at the Plaintiff's home between 4:00 and 4:30am. (Doc. 197, at 15.) The “knock and announce” was initiated and two rounds of tear gas were deployed into the master bathroom of the residence where investigators believed the guns were kept. (Doc. 197, at 17). Both the Plaintiff and her husband were found in the master bedroom, secured without incident, and taken into custody. (Doc. 197, at 17). Approximately two minutes elapsed from the time of the “knock and announce” until the securing of Plaintiff and her husband. (Doc. 197, at 19). SERT members then opened the windows in the home to help ventilate the gas. (Doc. 197, at 19). Carter testified that neither Hassinger nor O'Shea were not at the house when the gas was deployed, nor entered the house with the SERT team. (Doc. 197, at 17-18.). Carter stated that Hassinger and O'Shea waited at a restaurant along Route 97 for safety purposes, as is standard practice. (Doc. 197, at 20). Lastly, Carter testified that the Defendants did not participate in the development of the SERT plan and did not arrive until after Shiloh had been secured. (Doc. 197, at 21).

         Next, Shiloh herself took the stand. During her testimony, Shiloh stated that Hassinger and O'Shea did not commit the specific acts of force, but permitted it to happen and provided false information leading to execution of the warrant. (Doc. 197, at 37-38). In support, Shiloh testified that Hassinger and O'Shea clocked in around 3 a.m. and she remembers seeing them in her bedroom before the gas had cleared. (Doc. 197).

         Upon conclusion of Shiloh's testimony, the Defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law. (Doc. 197, at 58). Counsel argued that Shiloh's testimony demonstrated that Hassinger and O'Shea did not deploy the gas, knock down the door, or participate in the tactical entry in any way. (Doc. 197, at 58). Further, citing the testimony of Lieutenant Carter, counsel averred that the Defendants did not participate in the creation of the plan. (Doc. 197, at 58). Counsel argued the information provided to SERT demonstrated a need for use of force tactics that was not excessive under the circumstances. (Doc. 197, at 59). Counsel stated that evidence of being on the clock was insufficient to find that either Hassinger or O'Shea used excessive force against Shiloh. (Doc. 197, at 60). Shiloh responded that her claim was predicated upon the Defendants responsibility for the planning of the search and that they failed to step in to stop it. (Doc. 197, at 60). The Court then granted the Defendants' motion and entered judgment. (Doc. 197, at 61).

         II. Fin ...

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