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Harvard v. Cesnalis

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

December 4, 2019

CHRISTOPHER J. CESNALIS Individually and DANIEL L. BEATTY Individually, Defendants.



         I. Introduction

         This case arose from a bizarre incident in which the plaintiff, Dwayne Harvard (“Harvard”), drove for ten miles, at highway speed, with a man on the hood of his car. Pending before the court is a motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 34) filed by defendants Christopher J. Cesnalis (“Cesnalis”) and Daniel L. Beatty (“Beatty”), the Pennsylvania state troopers who arrested and pressed charges against Harvard. The concise statements of material fact (“CSMF”) are thoroughly developed and motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

         II. Factual Background

         At the summary judgment stage, the facts must be construed in the light most favorable to Harvard, the nonmoving party. The factual summary is taken largely verbatim from Harvard's proposed additional statement of material facts (see Parties' Joint CSMF, ECF No. 46 at ¶¶ 26-97). The court will provide citations to the record where it has modified or supplemented these facts.

         On April 19, 2015, the date of the incident, Harvard was acting as a good Samaritan. He was driving his vehicle in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, when he was flagged down by Anna Mazzetti (“Mazzetti”), who was outside a convenience store. That day was the first time Harvard met or encountered Mazzetti. Mazzetti was in distress and asked Harvard for a ride home. Harvard agreed to help Mazzetti and drove her straight to her residence in Springdale Township, Pennsylvania, located approximately 15 minutes from the convenience store. Harvard is an African-American male (CSMF ¶ 1) and Mazzetti is a white woman. (Police Report, ECF No. 37-4).

         Shortly after arriving at Mazzetti's residence, her boyfriend, Steven Sutton (“Sutton”), a white male (CSMF ¶ 6), exited the residence and approached Harvard's vehicle in a hostile manner. Sutton was yelling at Mazzetti, making threats and trying to get Mazzetti out of the vehicle. Sutton tried to open the passenger side door, but it was locked. Harvard rolled down his window slightly and attempted to talk to Sutton. Sutton called Harvard “nigger” multiple times. Sutton proceeded to pick up a cinder block, cocked his arm back and threatened to throw the cinder block through Harvard's vehicle's windshield. Because of Sutton's actions, Harvard was in fear of severe bodily harm for Mazzetti and himself. Harvard tried to calm Sutton by asking him to put the cinder block down.

         Despite Harvard's urgent pleadings, Sutton became more aggressive. Sutton told Mazzetti that he would “chop her up” and brandished a large kitchen knife approximately 12 inches long and 2 inches thick. Sutton threatened to kill Mazzetti and Harvard. Sutton said to Harvard, “you big black nigger, you stay right there I got something for you.” (ECF No. 46 ¶ 40). Sutton then told Harvard that he was going to shoot him. Sutton entered the residence, and Harvard, believing Sutton to be a threat, called 911. While Sutton walked toward the residence, Harvard drove forward out of Mazzetti's driveway in fear for Mazzetti's safety and his safety.

         Soon thereafter, Sutton reemerged from the residence and jumped on the hood of Harvard's vehicle. Harvard did not hit Sutton with his vehicle; rather, Sutton jumped onto the vehicle and held onto the hood of Harvard's vehicle.

         After traveling approximately 15 yards, Harvard slowed his vehicle to allow Sutton to safely remove himself off the hood. Sutton remained on the hood of Harvard's vehicle. While Sutton was on the hood of the vehicle, he continued to threaten to kill Harvard, yelling “I'm going to kill you, nigger.” (ECF No. 46 ¶ 45). Harvard responded by telling Sutton that he was going to slow his vehicle down to allow Sutton to remove himself off the hood. When Harvard slowed his vehicle to let Sutton off, Sutton began pounding on the hood of the vehicle. During this incident, Harvard noticed a bulge in Sutton's waistband, which Harvard believed to be a firearm and caused him further worry for Mazzetti's safety and his safety.

         Harvard remained on the phone with a female 911 operator throughout this incident. Harvard informed the 911 operator that Sutton was located on the hood of Harvard's vehicle, and that he was making threats of bodily harm to Harvard and Mazzetti. The 911 operator originally provided no instructions. Harvard Deposition at 37. Harvard drove through Springdale Township down to Freeport Road, into Harmar Township past the Harmar Township police station, and got onto Route 28 northbound at exit 11 (Harmarville).[1] (Incident Report, ECF No. 37-7). Sutton discarded his knife in Springdale, prior to entering the highway, and ripped the windshield wipers off Harvard's vehicle on Route 28. Harvard Deposition at 38.

         When Harvard informed the 911 operator that he was near Exit 14, the operator instructed Harvard to drive to and get off at Exit 15, where law enforcement officers would be waiting for them. The 911 operator never instructed Harvard to stop while he was driving on State Route 28. While talking with the 911 operator, Harvard requested assistance from law enforcement officers before and after entering onto the highway. During this time, Harvard continued to inform the 911 operator about Sutton's verbal attacks and aggressive behavior, including, but not limited to, Sutton reaching into his waistband where Harvard believed that Sutton had a firearm. Harvard believed that the 911 operator informed law enforcement about Sutton's prolonged and violent attack on the Harvard.

         Harvard drove on State Route 28 for approximately ten miles, with Sutton on the hood of his car. CSMF ¶ 9. Harvard drove as fast as the speed limit allowed, if not faster. CSMF ¶ 10.

         Harrison Township police officer Justin Bouch (“Bouch”) was contacted by the dispatcher. (Police Report, ECF No. 37-3).[2] While on Burtner Road, heading toward exit 15 of Route 28, he observed a silver SUV heading toward him with a man on the hood, face down, holding onto the windshield wipers. He activated his lights and sirens.

         As instructed by the 911 operator, Harvard exited State Route 28 at exit 15. While exiting the highway, Harvard saw Sutton discard an item, which Harvard believed to be a firearm. Harvard exited the highway and followed the 911 operator's instructions to where he was to meet the law enforcement officers. Harvard stopped his vehicle in front of several law enforcement officers, who were blocking the road. The officers had their firearms drawn and pointed at Harvard's vehicle.

         Bouch ordered the male on the hood of the car (Sutton) to get on the ground. (Police Report, ECF No. 37-3). Harvard and Mazzetti were ordered out of the vehicle with their hands in the air. Id. At this time, Harvard was still on the phone with the 911 operator and was directed by one of the officers to put the phone down. All suspects were held at gunpoint until backup arrived. Id. When backup arrived a few seconds later, Bouch handcuffed Sutton and placed him in the back of his patrol car. Id. Harvard did not observe Sutton being handcuffed at any point. (ECF No. 46 ¶ 79).

         Cesnalis, a Pennsylvania state trooper, was contacted by the Pennsylvania State Police dispatcher and told that there was a man on the hood of a vehicle traveling north on Route 28. Cesnalis Deposition at 13. Cesnalis was informed by dispatch that Harvard had called 911 and reported that he feared for his safety. Cesnalis arrived on the scene after the car was stopped by the local police and Sutton was in the police car. Cesnalis Deposition at 27.

         After Harvard put his phone down, Cesnalis approached Harvard and asked him if he had been drinking. Cesnalis smelled alcohol and Harvard was talking in a rapid manner. Cesnalis Deposition at 32. Harvard informed Cesnalis that he had two beers approximately four hours before. Harvard tried to explain Sutton's hostile and violent conduct and the events previously described, but Cesnalis refused to listen to Harvard. Instead, Cesnalis kept repeating to Harvard that Harvard had been drinking. Harvard reiterated that he had only two beers and that he was fine.

         Cesnalis had Harvard perform a Breathalyzer test. (Incident Report, ECF No. 37-7). Cesnalis said to Harvard, “You understand me boy, I want you to blow into the Breathalyzer.” CSMF ¶ 70 (citing Harvard's Deposition at 54).[3] During Harvard's attempts at the Breathalyzer test, Cesnalis yelled at Harvard, called him “boy” and threatened to handcuff him. After six attempts, Harvard was able to perform and pass the Breathalyzer test. (Incident Report, ECF No. 37-7). Harvard's blood alcohol content, according to the Breathalyzer, was 0.64, which is below the legal limit of 0.8. Cesnalis believed that Harvard was under the influence of stimulants or narcotics because he was sweaty, speaking too rapidly and not directly answering questions, as well as the nature of the incident. Cesnalis Deposition at 65.

         Harvard told Cesnalis that he feared for his safety and thought Sutton had a weapon. Harvard stated to Cesnalis: “[Sutton] got on the hood of my car. I was scared for my life.” CSMF 66. Harvard informed Cesnalis that Sutton had a large knife and that he kept reaching for his waistband where Harvard believed he kept a firearm. There was no effort made by law enforcement to attempt to find the knife described by Harvard. Cesnalis asked Harvard whether it was a windshield wiper rather than a knife, which Harvard denied. (Incident Report, ECF No. 37-7). Without an explanation as to why, Cesnalis chose not to believe Harvard regarding Sutton's knife.

         Cesnalis interviewed Sutton at the scene regarding the incident. Sutton told Cesnalis that he was hit by Harvard's vehicle and that he had landed on top of the car. At the time, Cesnalis found that Sutton's statement did not make sense, but Cesnalis did not question Sutton further as to how he landed on top of the vehicle. Sutton was transported to the station in a police cruiser, but was not arrested or charged. (Police Report, ECF No. 37-3). Cesnalis spoke with Beatty about charging Sutton. Cesnalis Deposition at 72. Cesnalis did not consider Sutton's rap sheet, but was aware of him from past police incidents. Cesnalis Deposition at 41.

         Cesnalis interviewed Mazzetti at the scene regarding the incident. Mazzetti informed Cesnalis that Sutton was crazy, he had a cinder block and came toward the vehicle, she was afraid to get out of the vehicle and Harvard slowed his vehicle down a few times to give Sutton the opportunity to get off, but Sutton refused to get off. Prior to talking to Mazzetti, Cesnalis had already decided that he was going to charge Harvard with crimes. Cesnalis concluded that he was going to charge Harvard with crimes because Harvard drove through a whole bunch of different towns and Route 28 with a man on the hood of his vehicle. Cesnalis Deposition at 77.

         Harvard was handcuffed and told that he was being taken to the barracks “for safety reasons.” CSMF ¶ 74. Cesnalis intended to have a drug evaluation performed. Harvard was transported to the state police barracks where he was further interrogated by Cesnalis, who was joined by Beatty, a Pennsylvania state trooper who was a Drug Recognition Expert (“DRE”). CSMF ¶¶ 3, 84. Harvard again tried to explain the incident to Cesnalis, i.e., that Sutton had a weapon and was threatening Harvard and Mazzetti, but Cesnalis refused to listen to Harvard.

         Beatty ran a series of tests to determine whether Harvard was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Harvard's blood alcohol level at the time of the examination was 0.51. (ECF No. 37-7 at 15). In his “Drug Influence Evaluation, ” Beatty reported that Sutton told Cesnalis he witnessed Harvard smoking crack cocaine in his vehicle during the incident. (ECF No. 37-7 at 15). There is no evidence in the record, besides this report, corroborating this statement attributed to Sutton. During the examination, Beatty accused Harvard of being on cocaine.

         Beatty recorded the following observations of Harvard: his attitude was cooperative, his coordination seemed poor, no distinct odors were observed, his face was sweaty, he was very talkative, his eyes were bloodshot and watery, his pulse was substantially higher than normal, and there was a lack of smooth pursuit during the horizontal gaze nystagmus. (ECF No. 37-7 at 17). Harvard had some problems with the walk and turn test and one leg stand. (ECF No. 37-7 at 18). Beatty opined in the report: “As an IACP certified Drug Recognition Expert it is my opinion that HARVARD is under the influence of CNS Depressants and CNS Stimulants. Furthermore it is my opinion that he is under the influence to a degree that has impaired his ability to safely drive, operate or be in actual physical control of a motor vehicle.” (ECF No. 37- 7 at 20-21). Based on Beatty's opinion, Cesnalis included a driving under the influence (“DUI”) charge in the criminal complaint he was drafting. Cesnalis Deposition at 70.

         Beatty requested that Harvard consent to a blood test. Harvard complied and was transported to the hospital. CSMF ¶ 90. In a comment on the evidence submission form for Harvard's blood test, it was noted that Harvard was under the influence of crack cocaine. (ECF No. 37-7 at 14). The officers requested that the crime lab perform an analysis for stimulant suspected crack cocaine and analysis BAC%.

         After the hospital, Harvard was returned to the barracks for a short period of time and was transported to the Allegheny County Jail. Cesnalis completed the Affidavit of Probable Cause on April 20, 2015, in which Harvard was charged with aggravated assault, disorderly conduct, reckless driving, driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, simple assault and reckless driving. In the Affidavit of Probable Cause, Cesnalis failed to include any ...

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