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Jacobs v. City of Bridgeton

December 4, 2006

ERIC JACOBS AND LUCRITA JACOBS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF BRIDGETON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter has come before the Court on the Defendants' motions for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' civil rights and state law claims against them. Plaintiffs have not opposed these motions. For the reasons expressed below, Defendants' motions will be granted.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs, Eric Jacobs and Lucretia Jacobs, filed a Complaint against Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that Defendants violated their rights under the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiffs also assert numerous state law claims.

According to their Complaint, on January 22, 2003, Defendants Officer Torres, Officer Stanton, and Sergeant Giamari came to the Jacbos's home located at 751 Irving Avenue, Bridgeton, New Jersey and arrested Mr. Jacobs for "eluding an officer with motor vehicle, and resisting arrest." As he was exiting his home, Plaintiffs claim that these Defendants "punched and interrogated" Mr. Jacobs, despite Mr. Jacobs' repeated denials regarding any knowledge of driving a vehicle. Plaintiffs claim that they informed the officers that Mr. Jacobs's family could confirm that he was sleeping in the house and not driving a vehicle. Plaintiffs also claim that another person was driving the vehicle, but the officers disregarded the information, continued the arrest, and placed Mr. Jacobs in jail.

Mr. Jacobs was transported to the Cumberland County Jail, where he remained until he was able to make bail. Criminal charges were filed against Mr. Jacobs by the Defendant Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office ("CCPO") and the Bridgeton Police Department. Plaintiffs claim that the CCPO and the Bridgeton Police Department refused to dismiss the charges "even after receiving conclusive evidence showing that Mr. Jacobs was not driving such vehicle." On January 27, 2003, Plaintiffs claim that Mrs. Jacobs spoke to Defendant Sergeant Flilpello to inform him that she had been in bed with Mr. Jacobs at the time when he was accused of driving the vehicle. Plaintiffs claim that Sgt. Flilpello told her that she was lying and "verbally abused her," telling her that he was going to prosecute her also. The charges against Mr. Jacobs were dismissed on July 1, 2004.

As a result of Defendants' conduct, Plaintiffs allege that they were subject to unreasonable search and seizure and they were not provided with equal protection. Plaintiffs also allege that the City of Bridgeton and the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office failed to properly train and supervise their employees. Plaintiffs also assert claims pursuant to New Jersey state law for negligence, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, false arrest, reckless disregard to the rights of Plaintiffs, loss of consortium, and a violation of New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination.

III. UNDISPUTED FACTS*fn1

Documents and deposition testimony obtained through the discovery process supplement the incidents described in Plaintiffs' Complaint. According to the police report filed by Officer Torres after Mr. Jacobs's arrest, on the evening of January 22, 2003 he and Officer Stanton were on patrol for the City of Bridgeton Police Department in a marked patrol vehicle. The officers observed a red vehicle, a Chevrolet Cavalier, make a left turn, and when the vehicle passed, they noticed that the left rear tail light was broken. Torres, who was driving the patrol car, followed the vehicle as it proceeded through two stop signs without stopping. Torres activated the emergency lights, and while he was notifying dispatch that he was attempting to stop the vehicle, the vehicle crossed the double yellow lines into the lane of oncoming traffic when turning a corner. Torres continued pursuit, traveling at 35 mph, and shone his spot lamp onto the vehicle. He observed that the driver was a thin build black male wearing a black winter cap and a red sweater. When the driver turned at another corner, he turned his head and Torres observed that the driver had a medium skin complexion. The driver then sped through another stop sign while making a turn, and increased his speed to 65 mph. During radio contact with dispatch, the officers were informed by Sergeant Branch to stop pursuit.

Earlier that day, Detective Sergeant (DSG) Giamari of the Bridgeton Police Department and DSG Parenti of the New Jersey State Police had received a tip from a confidential informant of a possible retaliatory gang shooting at a bar in Cumberland County. During Officers Torres and Stanton's pursuit of the red vehicle, the DSGs were on patrol in Giamari's unmarked, undercover vehicle taking part in the operation to prevent the gang shooting. A minute after Officers Torres and Stanton stopped their pursuit of the red car, Giamari radioed to them that he and Parenti had just observed a vehicle behind them turn off its headlights and turn into a residential driveway. They found a red vehicle abandoned at the rear of 715 Irving Avenue. Sergeant Branch permitted Officers Torres and Stanton to proceed to that location.

A man, later identified as Eric Jacobs, came out from the side of the house and inquired about what they were doing in his yard. According to Mr. Jacobs's deposition testimony, he had been getting ready for bed when he saw a light coming towards his bedroom window. He lifted the curtain, saw a car driving past his window going around the back of his house, and asked his wife why someone was driving in the backyard. Mr. Jacobs threw on a red shirt, jeans, and a pair of boots, and went out the side door of his house and observed two vehicles in his yard, which was only half illuminated by light. Mr. Jacobs walked out from the unlit side of the yard and observed a red car in front of a gray car. He also saw two people in plain clothes, one on either side of the red car, and immediately recognized them to be police officers. Mr. Jacobs spoke first and asked them why they were in his yard. According to Mr. Jacobs, the officers asked him who the red car belonged to, and he replied that he did not know.

According to the police reports, DSG Giamari identified himself as an officer and commanded Mr. Jacobs to stop and get onto the ground because he was unknown to the officers. Mr. Jacobs admitted in his deposition testimony that he did not comply with the order. The police reports confirm that Mr. Jacobs did not get onto the ground, and he ignored four or five additional commands to get on the ground. Mr. Jacobs testified that when Giamari then drew his weapon, he finally complied with the order, got on his knees on the ground, and was handcuffed by Giamari. Mr. Jacobs also related that Giamari, assisted by DSG Parenti, led him by his arm around to the front of the house, where he observed eight to ten police cars.

When Officers Torres and Stanton arrived at the scene, they found DSG Giamari holding Mr. Jacobs. Officer Torres identified Mr. Jacobs as the man he saw driving the red vehicle. According to both Mr. Jacobs's deposition testimony and Torres's police report, Mr. Jacobs became irate when he was identified as being the driver of the vehicle, began yelling at Torres, and ignored Torres's repeated commands to get into his police car. Both Mr. Jacobs and Officer Torres also acknowledge that Torres struck Mr. Jacobs once in the stomach with a closed fist and told him to sit down. Mr. Jacobs testified that he continued arguing with Torres and still refused ...


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