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Baskerville v. City of Harrisburg

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 9, 2020

CITY OF HARRISBURG et al., Defendants


          Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge

         Plaintiff Ronsheek Baskerville filed this pro se civil rights lawsuit against three police officers and the City of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (the “City”). In his amended complaint, Baskerville alleges that the officers violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and that the City maintains a policy that likewise runs afoul of the Constitution. Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson reviewed Baskerville's amended complaint and recommends dismissing all claims with prejudice. Baskerville objects to Judge Carlson's report and recommendations.

         I. Factual Background & Procedural History[1]

         On January 27, 2018, Penbrook Borough Police Officer Brant Maley attempted to stop Baskerville's vehicle for a sunscreen tint violation. Officer Maley alleged in his police report that, while following Baskerville to effect a stop for the tint violation, he smelled the odor of marijuana emanating from Baskerville's vehicle. According to Baskerville, when he stopped his car and exited the vehicle in response to Officer Maley's traffic stop, Officer Maley interpreted these movements as flight and proceeded to tase and arrest Baskerville. Baskerville asserts that the taser deployment and arrest took place on a parking area behind a residence at 3027 Locust Street, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, not in the yard of that residence as reported by Officer Maley.

         Officer Maley searched Baskerville and found a baggie of marijuana. Officer Maley then performed a warrantless probable-cause search of the vehicle and reportedly discovered additional marijuana, drug paraphernalia, cell phones, and a box of 9mm ammunition. Officer Maley also noted that responding officers recovered a cell phone “in Baskerville's flight path” approximately 20 feet from the vehicle but did not discover any additional contraband. (Doc. 13 ¶ 15). No. pictures were taken during the January 27 searches and seizures. Baskerville was subsequently charged with the events underlying his arrest and was detained in Dauphin County Prison.

         Several weeks later, on February 16, 2018, Susquehanna Township Police Officer Kevin M. Scott responded to a “good Samaritan” call regarding discovery of a handgun. The caller, who lived at 3025 Locust Street, reported that her brother had discovered a handgun in her backyard and had brought it into her house so that she could contact the police. Officer Scott reported that he took 20 digital photographs of the gun and the area in the yard where the firearm had been found. The recovered firearm was reported to be a “Smith & Wesson” Victor model .38 caliber handgun.[2]

         Baskerville appeared before a magisterial district judge for the drug charges on February 22, 2018. At that hearing, Officer Maley charged Baskerville with two additional firearm offenses related to the .38 caliber handgun found on February 16 at 3025 Locust Street. Officer Maley also testified that, on the night of the January 27 arrest, he searched Baskerville's vehicle and discovered a box of matching .38 caliber ammunition. Baskerville was then bound over to county court on the gun and drug charges and was returned to prison.

         Officer Maley's January 28 police report concerning the January 27 incident indicates that it was revised on February 23, 2018, to reflect that the bullets found in Baskerville's vehicle were .38 caliber, rather than 9mm. In a separate police-record entry from February 22, 2018, Officer Maley states that he “made a mistake with the initial report and labeled the bullets as 9mm.” (Doc. 13 at 17). That same entry explains that, according to a map provided by Officer Scott, “the [.38 caliber] gun was located approximately 20-25 [feet] from where Baskerville was apprehended.” (Id.) The Penbrook Borough police records also reflect that on February 22 and 23, Officer Maley signed out the ammunition at issue from the evidence room and “verified they were .38 caliber bullets.” (Id.) Penbrook Borough Police Officer Stephen Mowery was the evidence room supervisor, and his entries in the police record confirm that Officer Maley signed out and returned the same piece of evidence on these days.

         Baskerville's state gun-possession charges were eventually federalized. He currently faces indictment under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) for being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. See United States v. Baskerville, No. 1:19-CR-33, Doc. 24 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 22, 2019). It appears that the state charges were dropped. Baskerville remains in pretrial custody at this time. See id., Doc. 12.

         In March 2019, Baskerville filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He amended that complaint a month later after Judge Carlson screened the initial complaint and found its claims insufficiently pled. The gravamen of Baskerville's amended Section 1983 claims is that Officer Maley, with the knowing assistance of Officer Scott and Officer Mowery, falsified evidence to accuse Baskerville of possessing the later-discovered .38 caliber handgun. Baskerville alleges that Officer Maley intentionally altered his initial report to reflect ammunition that would match the handgun discovered on February 16 and testified falsely at the preliminary hearing about the type of ammunition recovered from Baskerville's vehicle. He further asserts that Officer Scott and Officer Mowery conspired with Officer Maley and took certain actions to effectuate the false charges. Lastly, Baskerville avers that the City has an unconstitutional policy known as “flight path, ” by which police officers illegally charge suspects with crimes related to contraband recovered near arrest locations.

         Judge Carlson screened Baskerville's pro se amended complaint and recommends that all claims be dismissed with prejudice, opining that amendment would be futile. Judge Carlson found that Baskerville's claims against the police officers sound in malicious prosecution. Relying primarily on Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), he concluded that Baskerville fails to state a claim for relief because there has been no favorable termination of the pending federal felon-in-possession charge. Judge Carlson also determined that Baskerville's pleading does not establish any Fourth Amendment violations. Finally, Judge Carlson recommends dismissing the claim against the City because Baskerville has not alleged any facts identifying a constitutionally infirm policy or custom. Baskerville timely objected to Judge Carlson's recommendations.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Review of a Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation

         When a party objects to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the district court must review de novo the challenged portions of the report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Brown v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2011); Local Rule of Court 72.3. Uncontested portions of the report are reviewed for “clear error on the face of the record.” Clouser v. Johnson, 40 F.Supp.3d 425, 430 (M.D. Pa. 2014) (quoting Cruz v. ...

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