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Davis v. Township of Paulsboro

March 27, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irenas, Senior District Judge

(Docket Nos. 206, 209, 214)


This case arises out of an altercation outside a nightclub, in which Ernest Davis was struck in the head with a bottle, and the events that followed. Five summary judgment motions, all by various groups of Defendants, are pending. This opinion addresses the summary judgment motions of Defendants (1) Paulsboro Police Officers Suter, Ranton, Kappre, Davis and Marino; (2) County of Gloucester, Gloucester County Sheriff Gill, Gloucester County Sheriff Officers Crank, DeMarzio, Galloway, and Hatton; and (3) Borough of Paulsboro, Borough of Paulsboro Police Department, and Paulsboro Police Chief Ridinger.*fn1

In their twelve count, 61 page, Fourth Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs assert against the law enforcement defendants: federal claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985, 1986, and 1988; and state law claims for false arrest / false imprisonment, assault and battery, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy, negligence, gross negligence, wrongful death, and a survivorship claim.*fn2

For the reasons explained below, we will grant summary judgment to the law enforcement defendants.


In the early morning hours of August 13, 2000, Paulsboro Police Officers Timothy Suter, Leroy Ranton, and Michael Kappre (individually "Officer Suter," "Officer Ranton" and "Officer Kappre") responded to a call from someone at the 1048 Club, a nightclub in Paulsboro. When Officers Suter and Kappre arrived at approximately 1:55 a.m., they observed an African American man (later identified as Ernest Davis) being placed in the back seat of a car. Officer Suter observed that Davis was "covered in blood," with blood on his face and head, and blood coming from his right ear. (Pls. Ex. 23.1) The car drove away with Davis in it.

All three officers cleared the scene and began their investigation. They learned that Davis had been hit over the head with a glass bottle. Officer Suter observed drops of blood on the sidewalk and street as well as a small pool of blood close to where the car had been. (Id.) He also saw blood spattered on the wall next to the club entrance and broken pieces of a glass beer bottle at the base of the wall. (Id.)

At approximately 2:30 a.m., the three officers, each in their own cars, were dispatched to 27 West Buck Street in response to a complaint of an African American man banging at the door. Upon arriving at 27 West Buck Street, Officer Ranton learned from the woman complainant who lived there that an African American man with blood on his shirt had been banging on her door. Officer Ranton radioed the information to the other officers. Officers Ranton and Kappre began to search the area when Officer Suter advised them that he heard yelling nearby on West Washington Street and was going there to investigate.

Officer Suter arrived alone at 19 West Washington Street where he saw at least five people outside in front of the house. (Pls. Ex. 32 at pp. 36-37) From his patrol car he observed Davis standing in the doorway of the house*fn3 with blood on his shirt, "yelling and screaming" at the women who were there, one of whom was Davis' girlfriend, Lashana Carlson. (Pls. Ex. 23.1) Officer Suter immediately exited his car, at which point Davis walked out to the curb directly towards Officer Suter, pushing past the women. (Pls. Exs. 23.1 and 32 at p. 44) Officer Suter could see that Davis was still bleeding from his head, and asked Davis what had happened and if he needed an ambulance. (Pls. Exs. 23.1 and 32 at p. 45) Davis responded "antagonistically," yelling that "nothing was going on" and Officer Suter should "mind [his] own fucking business." (Pls. Ex. 23.1 and 32 at p. 49) Officer Suter continued his attempts to investigate how Davis had been injured and what the current disturbance was about, but Davis refused to cooperate, repeatedly yelling that he was going to "fuck somebody up." (Id.)

While Officer Suter and Davis were standing on the sidewalk, Davis shoved Officer Suter with both hands in an attempt to make his way back towards the front door. (Pls. Ex. 32 at p. 49) Officer Suter noticed that Davis' eyes were bulging and bloodshot. (Id. at p. 49; see also Pls. Ex. 23.1) After pushing past Officer Suter, Davis pushed Lashana Carlson and another woman out of the way. (Pls. Ex. 23.1) Officer Suter followed after him.

At this point Officer Ranton arrived at the scene. He observed the group of people outside the house at 19 West Washington Street and saw Davis and Officer Suter at the front door. (Pls. Ex. 23.3) Davis pushed Officer Suter again and unsuccessfully attempted to shut the front door on Officer Suter. (Pls. Exs. 23.1, 23.3, and 32 at pp. 46, 51) Officer Suter then entered the house and followed Davis into the kitchen. Immediately after watching Officer Suter and Davis enter the house, Officer Ranton also went into the house.

Officer Kappre was the last to arrive.*fn4 He was aware that Officer Suter had gone to the address but did not see him outside. He heard screaming coming from inside the house and went in. He found both Officer Suter and Officer Ranton struggling to subdue Davis on the kitchen floor. (Pls. Ex. 23.0)

Once Officer Suter and Davis reached the kitchen, Davis began banging on the walls and continued to yell. (Pls. Exs. 23.1 and 32 at p. 55-56) Officer Suter again asked Davis what happened to him. (Pls. Exs. 23.1 and 32 at p. 53, 55-56) Davis shoved Officer Suter while yelling "get the fuck out of here. You aint [sic] allowed in here." (Id.) Officer Suter then told Davis he was under arrest. (Id.) Swinging his arms, Davis yelled "I aint [sic] going nowhere. Get the fuck off me." (Id.) Then Officer Suter sprayed Davis in the face with pepper spray. (Pls. Exs. 23.1 and 32 at p. 57) As Officer Suter did so, Davis poked Officer Suter in the eye.*fn5 (Id.) Davis put his hands up to his face and bent over in reaction to the spray. (Id.) Officer Suter "wrestled" Davis to the ground, face down. (Pls. Ex. 23.1)

Officer Ranton arrived in the kitchen at this time. (Id.; Pls. Ex. 23.3) Davis was "squirming" on the floor, resisting Officer Suter's attempts to handcuff him by placing his hands under his body. (Pls. Exs. 23.1, 23.3, 32 at p. 57-58, 38 at p. 64-65) Officer Ranton came to Officer Suter's assistance and through their combined efforts, they were able to get one handcuff on Davis.*fn6 (Id.) Davis was still yelling and kicking his legs so both officers "sat" on Davis "to keep him from kicking."*fn7 (Id.)

Officer Kappre arrived in the kitchen at this time and immediately helped the two other officers place the second handcuff on Davis so that Davis' arms were held behind his back. (Pls. Ex. 23.1, 23.3) Davis continued yelling profanities after he was handcuffed, complaining several times that the pepper spray was bothering him and that the handcuffs were too tight. (Id.) After "several minutes" one of the officers helped him to sit up as he continued to yell "get the fuck off me." (Id.) Because Davis continued to complain that the handcuffs were hurting him, Officer Ranton attempted to loosen them.*fn8 (Id.) Officers Suter and Kappre then lifted Davis off the floor and carried him to Officer Suter's patrol car. (Pls. Ex. 23.0)

At the patrol car Davis was still uncooperative, refusing to get into the car. (Pls. Exs. 23.0, 23.1, 23.3) Because Davis was not cooperating with them, the officers allowed Lashana Carlson and Artese Ruffin to place Davis in the back of the patrol car. (Id.) Carlson and Ruffin talked to Davis while placing him in the car, in an attempt to calm him down. (Id.)

Officer Suter transported Davis to police headquarters where they were met by Carlson and Officer Kappre. (Pls. Exs. 23.0 and 23.1) The officers and Carlson anticipated that they would meet an ambulance at police headquarters. (Id.) Upon arriving at headquarters, Carlson met the officers and talked to Davis, attempting to calm him while the officers removed him from the car. (Id.) Davis was still bothered by the pepper spray and the handcuffs. (Id.) Officer Suter helped Davis steady himself as he exited the car. (Id.) The two officers then escorted Davis to a holding cell while Carlson went to the lobby to wait for the ambulance. (Id.) Once in the holding cell, Davis flushed his face at the water fountain to relieve the effects of the pepper spray.*fn9 (Pls. Ex. 23.1) Davis stayed in the holding cell for approximately five minutes before the ambulance arrived. (Id.)

Officers Suter and Kappre escorted Davis to the ambulance and placed him inside. (Pls. Ex. 23.0 and 23.1) Carlson was present but did not ride in the ambulance. (Id.) The ambulance records indicate that Davis was "very argumentative" and the ambulance personnel were unable to obtain vital signs or medical history from him. (Pls. Ex. 3) Officer Kappre rode in the ambulance with Davis to Underwood Memorial Hospital ("UMH").

The ambulance arrived at the UMH Emergency Room at 3:06 a.m. Dr. Arriviello examined Davis at approximately 3:30 a.m. (Pls. Ex. 4) Determining that Davis was "fit for incarceration," Dr. Arriviello discharged him from the Emergency Department.*fn10 (Pls. Ex. 5) The discharge instructions directed that Davis take 600 milligrams of Advil every 6 hours and apply an ice pack to "the affected area" every 2-3 hours for the next 48 hours. (Id.)

Officer Ranton picked up Davis and Officer Kappre at UMH to transport them back to Paulsboro police headquarters. Davis was placed in a holding cell at 4:08 a.m. (Pls. Ex. 6) Officer Kappre observed that Davis appeared to fall asleep immediately. (Pls. Ex. 23.0) The Paulsboro Police Cell Block Prisoner Log indicates that officers checked on Davis at 5:50 a.m. and 6:20 a.m. (Pls. Ex. 6) Both times Davis appeared to be sleeping. (Id.) Officer Kappre at one time observed Davis vomiting on the cell floor. (Pls. Ex. 23.0) When Officer Kappre told Davis he should vomit in the toilet Davis responded "O.K." (Id.)

Because Davis could not post bail, he was transferred to the Gloucester County Sheriff's Department for holding in the county jail. Accordingly, at approximately 7:12 a.m.*fn11 Gloucester County Sheriff's Officer Kimberly Reichert*fn12 arrived at Paulsboro Police headquarters to transport Davis to the county jail. (Pls. Ex. 17.0) Officer Reichert, along with Paulsboro Officers Vernon Marino and Bernard Davis, effected the transfer.*fn13

Officer Marino opened the holding cell but remained outside looking in on Davis. (Pls. Ex. 27) Davis was sitting on the cell bench, hunched over with his head in his hands. (Id.) He did not respond at all when the cell door opened. (Id.) Officer Marino then stepped into the cell, and while standing approximately two feet away from Davis, stuck out his foot to nudge Davis in the lower left leg.*fn14 (Id.) Officer Marino testified that he "nudged" Davis to get his attention and reported that he did this with his shoe because he was not wearing protective latex gloves and Davis was covered in blood.

(Pls. Ex. 23.2 and 37 at p. 37-39) When Davis did not respond, Officer Marino stepped out of the cell.

Officer Reichert then slid Davis' boots into the cell, placing them a few inches away from his feet. (Pls. Ex. 27) Davis again was not responsive after Officer Marino told him several times to put his boots on. (Pls. Ex. 37 at p. 36-37) Officer Marino stepped into the cell to nudge Davis but Davis continued sitting on the bench with his head in his hands. (Pls. Ex. 27) Officer Marino nudged Davis twice more to no avail. (Id.) At that time Officer Marino obtained latex gloves and stepped into the cell. (Id.) He grabbed Davis' left wrist with his left hand and grabbed under Davis' armpit with his right hand. (Id.) In a smooth motion, he pulled Davis from the bench in the direction of the cell door. (Id.) Davis fell to his knees and placed his right hand on the floor while Officer Marino held Davis' left arm. (Id.) Davis was not responding. (Id.) Officer Marino continued to pull Davis out of the cell by his left arm. (Id.) Davis did not actively resist Officer Marino but he did not attempt to cooperate with the officer either. (Id.)

While on the floor, Officer Marino pulled Davis a few feet until Davis was just outside the cell door in the hallway. (Id.) Davis was on his back at this time but rolled onto his stomach.*fn15

(Id.) Officer Marino stood over Davis, straddling him. (Id.) He placed handcuffs on Davis.*fn16 Then with some assistance, Davis stood up by his own volition and walked down the hall with Officer Marino and another officer holding his arms. (Id.) Davis was escorted into Officer Reichert's car. (Pls. Ex. 17.0) Davis was conscious at that time. (Pls. Ex. 37 at p. 47)

The trip to the Gloucester County jail lasted approximately ten minutes. (Pls. Ex. 17.0) Davis was assisted into the booking area where Officer Reichert gave the booking officers Davis' fit for incarceration slip. (Id.) Davis was booked at approximately 7:40 a.m. (Pls. Ex. 17.3)

Upon Davis' arrival at the Gloucester County Jail, Sergeant Robert DeMarzio observed, "Davis look [sic] intoxicated*fn17 and he was snoring upon arrival and had to be carried in by assisting officers."*fn18 (Gloucester Ex. W) Because of Davis' condition, he was placed in a holding cell and Medic Walker was called to attend to him. (Id., see also Gloucester Ex. V at p. 33-36) Sergeant DeMarzio ordered an officer to stay with Davis until the medic arrived. (Gloucester Ex. V at p. 47) The parties do not dispute that Medic Walker*fn19 found Davis face down on the cell floor with blood "oozing" from his right ear, nose and scalp and that Davis was unresponsive to Walker's various attempts to rouse Davis. (Pls. Ex. 17.4) Medic Walker advised Defendant Lieutenant William Crank to call an ambulance. (Pls. Ex. 17.3, 17.4) The entries in the Gloucester County Sheriff's Lieutenant's Log Book recount the timing of these events:

7:40 [a.m.] (2) Booked inmate Ernest C. Davis. He had medical clearance from Paulsboro P.D. and U.M.H. 8:15 [a.m.] (3) Had Medic Jim Walker check above inmate and read medical clearance sheet. 8:30 [a.m.] (4) Medic Walker asked me to call a [sic] ambulance and R/P to transport inmate Davis to U.M.H. 8:43 [a.m.] (5) Ambulance and R/P arrived at [Gloucester County Jail] 9:00 [a.m.] (6) Informed by EMT's [sic] that they are transporting the above inmate to Cooper Hospital in Camden (Pls. Ex. 17.3)

After being admitted to Cooper Hospital, Davis underwent several surgeries, including brain surgery for a subdural hematoma and a subarachnoid hemorrhage. He spent several months at Cooper Hospital, including over two months in intensive care. On November 21, 2000, Davis was transferred out of Cooper Hospital into rehabilitative care.

Davis died on October 15, 2004. His death certificate lists the causes of death as "acute myelogenous leukemia," "ureteral obstruction-- bilateral," ...

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