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Fraticelli v. Stretel

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

November 30, 2017

PHYLLIS R. STRETEL, et al. Defendants


          JONES, J.

         Plaintiff Geronimo Rosado Fraticelli, Jr., [1] brings this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, predominately based on a series of arrests and convictions that occurred between 2010 and 2013. Plaintiff seeks to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following reasons, the Court will grant plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis and dismiss his complaint.

         I. FACTS[2]

         The complaint is lengthy, difficult to understand at times, and includes numerous exhibits. Plaintiff primarily raises claims based on a series of arrests, convictions, and run-ins with police officers going back to 2010. Although plaintiff repeatedly admits to selling drugs, he believes that his run-ins with law enforcement stem from a conspiracy among judges, police officers, and prosecutors to retaliate against him for refusing to testify in two criminal cases in November of 2010 and March of 2011.

         Plaintiff alleges that, after he failed to testify at a March 2011 hearing in a criminal case, the prosecutor pointed out that plaintiff was scheduled to see his probation officer, Renna Menna, the next week, and threatened that his refusal to testify could lead to a probation violation. At his March 17, 2011 appointment with Menna, plaintiff was required to take a urine test, asked why he did not cooperate with the district attorney, and told that he was working on a probation violation because he had not been paying court costs or fines. It does not appear that plaintiff was charged with a violation at that time.

         In July of 2011, plaintiff was arrested and charged criminally after drugs were found in his car following a traffic stop.[3] Plaintiff believes that the stop was illegal. He ultimately pled guilty to use or possession of drug paraphernalia in exchange for a sentence of six months of probation. See Commonwealth v. Rosado, Docket No. CP-15-CR-0004302-2011 (Chester Cty. Ct. of Common Pleas). He was also required to participate in a drug or alcohol treatment program. For clarity, the Court will refer to this criminal proceeding as "Case 4302-2011."

         Plaintiff was next arrested on April 17, 2012-approximately three months after his plea- pursuant to an arrest warrant based on three drug transactions that took place in March and April. The complaint describes how police informants arranged drug transactions with plaintiff and a friend, Richard Mack, and appears to acknowledge that plaintiff participated in the transactions. Plaintiff believes the controlled buys were illegal because the police used an informant, because a minor was in the car when the transaction occurred, because the wire worn by the informant was allegedly tampered with, and for other reasons.[4]

         According to plaintiff, the officers who arrested him in 2012, Detective McFarlane and Officer DiBattista, grabbed him in an aggressive manner and refused to show him the warrant for his arrest. When plaintiff was strip searched at the police station, officers found seven bags of crack tied around the base of plaintiff s penis. The officers attempted to process plaintiff by getting his fingerprints, but plaintiff refused to comply.

         After some time, during which plaintiff claims he was hungry and stressed, plaintiff indicated that he would agree to be processed if the officers disclosed the warrant. Detective McFarlane agreed, but then refused to disclose the arrest warrant after processing plaintiff. Plaintiff was taken to an interrogation room and asked to cooperate with the drug task force. Plaintiff refused and was taken to a holding cell. He alleges that McFarlane harassed him by telling him he was going back to jail and calling him an idiot.

         Plaintiff was charged in Chester County with various drug offenses in a proceeding that the Court will refer to as "Case 1666-2012." See Commonwealth v. Rosado, Docket No. CP-15-CR-0001666-2012 (Chester Cty. Ct. of Common Pleas). He was also charged with violating probation in Case 4302-2011. Commonwealth v. Rosado, Docket No. CP-15-CR-0004302-2011 (Chester Cty. Ct. of Common Pleas). Plaintiff alleges that during his arraignment in Case 1666-2012, the judge accepted Detective McFarlane's recommendation that plaintiff should not be granted bail. Plaintiff was transported to a holding cell for four hours, and transferred to the Chester County Prison.

         Plaintiff unsuccessfully challenged the arrest warrant on several grounds in a preliminary hearing before Magistrate Judge Mark A. Bruno in Case 1666-2012, including on the grounds mentioned in the complaint. (Comp. at 11 & 16.) It is apparent that plaintiff believes the warrant-and entire criminal proceeding-was illegal and that Judge Bruno erroneously allowed it to proceed. Plaintiff also takes issue with Detective McFarlane's testimony and his public defender, who he claims "ignored all relevant facts" in an effort to secure a judgment against him. (Id. at 11.) He is also dissatisfied for various reasons with how Judge Phyllis R. Streitel, who presided over both cases, handled those cases.

         On November 9, 2012, Judge Streitel found plaintiff guilty of violating probation in Case 4302-2011 and sentenced him to six to twelve months with credit for time-served. On the same day, Judge Streitel set nominal bail for plaintiff in Case 1666-2012, which plaintiff paid. He was apparently released on house arrest at that time.

         Plaintiff claims that he was followed by police officers and stopped on old warrants or for illegitimate reasons after his release and, more generally, during the times when he was not incarcerated from 2010 through May 5, 2013. One such stop occurred in April of 2013, after which Officer James Gordon cited plaintiff for driving while his license was suspended or revoked.[5] See Commonwealth v. Rosado, Docket No. MJ-15104-TR-0001613-2013. Plaintiff was given counsel in connection with the case. Although plaintiff informed counsel that he would prefer to represent himself, he claims he was coerced to undergo trial with counsel's representation. Detective Gordon testified against plaintiff and Magisterial District Judge Gwenn S. Knapp found plaintiff guilty.

         Plaintiff appealed and was given new counsel on appeal, even though he did not want counsel. On November 19, 2013, after a trial de novo during which Officer Gordon testified against plaintiff, Judge Charles Smith found plaintiff guilty, sentenced him to ninety days of imprisonment, and fined him. See Commonwealth v, Rosado, Docket No. CP-15-SA-0000292-2013 (Chester Cty. Ct. of Common Pleas). Plaintiff believes he was wrongfully convicted based on false testimony and that his fine is excessive.

         On April 19, 2013, shortly after the traffic stop but prior to the resolution of his traffic case, plaintiff was charged with violating probation in 4302-2011 because he failed to pay fines and court costs, and failed to complete outpatient treatment. Ten days later, he pled guilty to possession with the intent to deliver in 1666-2012, and received a sentence of eighteen months to three years of imprisonment followed by two years of special probation. Plaintiff alleges that his plea was coerced and that his sentence is unconstitutional; he claims that he wanted to proceed to trial but his attorney advised him to take a plea.

         Plaintiff was taken to Chester County Prison and transferred to the State Correctional Institution at Graterford on May 29, 2013. In the course of his transfer, an individual identified as "John Doe (Vehicle Lock Box Srgnt)" stated that inmates were only allowed ten letters and threw out plaintiffs legal materials. When plaintiff objected, the officer ordered plaintiff to "shut up" or he would be sent to the R.H.U. Plaintiff filed a grievance but his grievance was denied. At some point, he was transferred to the State Correctional Institution at Dallas to serve his sentence.

         Plaintiff claims that he had served his maximum sentence by April 29, 2016, but that he remained incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Dallas for approximately three months beyond that date. He alleges that since his release, officers have been driving by his home, watching him, and following him. Plaintiff filed a motion in state court following his release in which he sought the return of a blackberry torch phone that he believes contained exculpatory evidence related to his cases. At some point after filing the motion, he was driving with a friend when they were almost run off the road by an unmarked truck travelling in the opposite direction, which they believed was driven by a police officer.

         Plaintiff was subsequently contacted by Detective DeShullo, who arranged a meeting with District Attorney Walchberger and plaintiff about plaintiffs motion for the return of the phone. At the meeting, Detective DeShullo informed plaintiff that the police department did not have the phone, offered him $50, told him to "be careful and avoid accidents, " and pressured plaintiff to cooperate by advising him that he could sell "his drugs as [long as] you help me out but there [is] no guarantee [because] as I told you there [is] no more loyalty in business." Walchberger added that he was sent by Judge Streitel to resolve the matter but that he was unable to compensate plaintiff for the phone. Based on the meeting, plaintiff believes the traffic incident in which he narrowly avoided an accident was, in fact, a hit ordered on him by the Judge in his case. Based on that belief, he withdrew his motion.

         On July 26, 2017, plaintiff filed the instant civil action against: (1) Judge Streitel, spelled Stretel in the caption; (2) DiBattista (the officer who arrested plaintiff in 2012); (3) Charles B. Smith (the Judge who convicted plaintiff of a traffic violation); (4) the Chester County Commissioner; (5) Andrew McFarlene (the other officer who arrested plaintiff in 2012); (6) Lawrence Harmelin (a public defender who represented plaintiff); (7) Heather Kelly (the public defender who represented plaintiff in his traffic case); (8) the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; (9) Christopher De Barrena-Sarobe (an assistant district attorney who prosecuted plaintiff); (10) Thomas P. Hogan (the Chester County District Attorney); (11) James Gordon (the officer who arrested and cited plaintiff for a traffic violation in 2013); (12) the United States; (13) Mitchel Baylarian (another public defender assigned to represent plaintiff); (14) Erik T. Walschburger, spelled Walchburger in the caption (another assistant district attorney assigned to plaintiffs cases); (15) Louis Deshullo (police officer); (16) Gwenn Knapp (a Magistrate Judge who presided over hearings in plaintiffs cases); (17) Joshua Scarpello (defense counsel retained by plaintiff); (18) the Chester County Sheriffs Department; (19) Mark A. Bruno (a Magistrate Judge who presided over hearings in plaintiffs cases); (20) the Chester County Police Department; (21) Vehicle Lock Box Sargent (apparently an employee who worked at SCI-Graterford during plaintiffs incarceration there in 2013); (22) Graterford Facility Manager/Warden John Doe; (23) Renna Menna (plaintiffs probation officer); (24) Nikki Kerns; (25) Jodi Kerns; (26) Richard Allen Mack; (27) State Attorney General; and (28) various John and Jane Doe defendants, including an arraignment judge and a public defender. The complaint indicates that plaintiff is raising claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985 & 1986, 18 U.S.C. §§ 241 & 242, and 28 U.S.C. § 1361, based primarily on his arrests, prosecutions, convictions, and incarcerations. He seeks monetary damages, expungement of his convictions, vacatur of his sentences, return of his blackberry torch phone, and other miscellaneous relief. Although plaintiff has filed numerous motions in state court challenging his several convictions, his motions have not been successful. He also filed an unsuccessful habeas petition in this Court prior to filing this case. See Rosado v. Mahally, E.D. Pa. Civ. A. No. 16-1270.

         II. ...

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