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Salaam v. Wolfe

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 19, 2019

AZIZ SALAAM, Plaintiff,
P/O TRAVIS WOLFE, et al., Defendants.


          SCHILLER, J.

         In the early-morning hours of June 5, 2012, the Philadelphia police radio broadcasted reports of a car accident and shots fired at police. When Officer Barry Delagol responded to the scene, he spotted Aziz Salaam holding a gun and followed him into an alleyway. Officer Travis Wolfe also responded to the scene and pursued Salaam through the alleyway. Although Salaam eventually stopped, he did not drop his gun or wait for instructions. Instead, he raised his arms and turned toward police with his gun-holding hand. Fearing for their safety, Delagol and Wolfe each shot Salaam.

         Salaam sued Delagol and Wolfe under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for excessive force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. He also asserted state law claims for battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Delagol and Wolfe moved for summary judgment. Because the Court concludes that Delagol and Wolfe acted reasonably, the Court grants their motion.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         In the evening prior to the shooting, Salaam smoked PCP. (Aziz Salaam Dep. at 88, June 18, 2019 [Salaam Dep.].) Later, in the early-morning hours, he drove around-without a valid driver's license-to “[s]ee who was out, still chasing.” (Id. at 85, 96.) He brought a handgun despite his prior criminal convictions making the possession unlawful. (Id. at 110-12.)

         When Salaam approached the intersection of 10th and Norris Streets, he rear-ended another car that pulled out from a parallel parking spot. (Id. at 97.) The airbags deployed, hitting Salaam's eye and somewhat impairing his vision. (Id. at 105, 110. But see Id. at 106, 108 (describing post-accident visual observations).) After the crash, the other car turned left onto 10th Street while Salaam continued driving westbound on Norris Street until his car died at the intersection of Norris and Alder Streets. (Id. at 101-04.)

         Then, the driver of the other car, Jamar McRae, parked next to Salaam, got out of the car, and yelled at him. (Id. at 104-08; Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 20 [Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' SUF].) Around that time, at least two Temple security guards arrived on bicycles. (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' SUF ¶ 21.) Also around that time, Salaam heard a popping noise. (Salaam Dep. at 109-10.)

         According to Salam, he suspected that McRae purposefully caused the accident. (Id. at 104.) Salaam testified that although he did not see McRae holding a weapon, Salaam believed he was under attack. (Id. at 110; Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' SUF ¶ 15.)

         Salaam exited his car, pulled out his gun, and fired ten shots in the air to scare potential attackers. (Salaam Dep. at 105, 113-15.) McRae and the security guards ran away when Salaam started shooting. (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' SUF ¶ 22.)

         Meanwhile, Philadelphia police responded to the scene. Some officers dispatched in response to the car accident. (Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. G at ¶ 2 Folder, Track 6 [Radio].) More officers dispatched when the police radio broadcasted, “Assist Temple Police. Shots fired at police. . . . Shots fired at Temple Police.” (Radio, CD 2 Folder, Track 21.)

         The responding officers included Delagol, Wolfe, and Eyleen Archie. Delagol and Wolfe each testified that they believed police officers were under fire. (Barry Delagol Dep. at 123, June 20, 2019 [Delagol Dep.]; Travis Wolfe Dep. at 65, July 9, 2019 [Wolfe Dep.].) When Delagol approached the area, he observed Temple police bent behind patrol cars and reasoned that they were taking cover. (Delagol Dep. at 142-43.) Moreover, Officer Archie heard gun shots when she approached the area. (Eyleen Archie Dep. at 14, July 9, 2019 [Archie Dep.].)

         Upon their arrival, Delagol and Archie observed Salaam holding a gun and walking away from the accident. (Delagol Dep. at 96-99; Archie Dep. at 19-20.) They each followed him. (Delagol Dep. at 99-100; Archie Dep. at 19-20.) Wolfe did not see Salaam upon arrival, but he saw other officers running into an alleyway. (Wolfe Dep. at 31-32.) Wolfe followed the officers and then observed Salaam holding the gun. (Id. at 33-34.)

         Delagol and Wolfe testified that they yelled at Salaam during the pursuit. (Delagol Dep. at 99-100, 109; Wolfe Dep. at 33, 40.) In fact, police radio recorded Delagol, whose call sign is K3, screaming, “K3 - Drop the gun!” (Radio, CD2 Folder, Track 21; Delagol Dep. at 141-42.) Yet Salaam did not hear anyone yelling. (Salaam Dep. at 120-21.)

         After Salaam entered the alleyway, he made two left turns. (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' SUF ¶¶ 42-43.) Eventually, Salaam heard someone command him to stop. (Salaam Dep. at 122-23.) Believing that police officers made the command, Salaam stopped and placed his hands above his head with the gun in his right hand. (Id. at 124.) Before receiving any other instructions or commands, he turned to his right side ...

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