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Mitchell v. Township of Pemberton

June 17, 2010

ROBERT MITCHELL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF PEMBERTON, DAVID A. PATRIARCA, RICHARD PRICKETTE, KENNETH C. CARTER, THOMAS INGE, DIANNE P. STINNEY, SHERRY L. SCULL, CHRISTOPHER J. VAZ, TOWNSHIP OF PEMBERTON POLICE DEPARTMENT, LT. DAVID H. JANTAS, DANEILLE D. HANN, ANDREA BYRD, JOHN DOE PATROLMAN-1, DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

Pending before the Court is the motion of several of the Defendants*fn1 to dismiss Plaintiff's claims against them. Also pending before the Court is Plaintiff's motion requesting permission to file an appeal out-of-time regarding a previous order of the Court. For the reasons expressed below, Defendants' motion will be granted, and Plaintiff's motion will be denied.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is an African American male who resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During the afternoon of February 27, 2007 Plaintiff was parked in an apartment complex in Pemberton, New Jersey in his full size Chevy Silverado Extended Cab Pickup Truck. He describes his vehicle as "very fancy, distinctive and identifiable" which included custom oversized wheels, thirty-five percent (35%) grade window tint, and an out-of-state license plate. Plaintiff had dropped off his friend, identified only as "Dave," and was waiting for him to return to the vehicle. Plaintiff alleges that the apartment complex is comprised of predominantly low income minorities, and that it is known to the Pemberton Township police officers as a high profile area for domestic violence, drug trafficking, and gangs.

At some point during the afternoon, Plaintiff alleges that Pemberton Township Police Officer Danielle Hann ("Hann"), who is a Caucasian female, was patrolling around the apartment complex in a marked patrol car. Plaintiff alleges that Hann identified his vehicle as "out-of-place" because it is a nice truck in a poor neighborhood occupied at the time by two black males. Hann surveyed Plaintiff's vehicle, which he alleges was with discriminatory purpose. While waiting for Dave to return, Plaintiff stepped out of his vehicle to speak with someone he recognized. Plaintiff gave his friend a handshake, embraced him, and returned to his vehicle. From where Hann was watching, Plaintiff alleges that she did not see any exchange of money or drugs. Plaintiff's friend Dave returned to the vehicle and they proceeded to exit the apartment complex, and Hann began to follow them.

At approximately 4:30 p.m., Plaintiff alleges that Hann conducted a wrongful vehicle stop motivated by racial profiling. Hann explained to Plaintiff that she pulled him over because of a broken taillight, the tint on his windows was too dark, and that a hanging air freshener on his rearview mirror was obstructing the driver's view. According to Plaintiff's Complaint, although he was pulled over for a simple traffic violation, he alleges that the actual purpose was to investigate illegal criminal activity not related to the simple traffic violation.

Hann then asked Plaintiff for his drivers license, and insurance and registration cards. Plaintiff produced his driver's license and insurance card, but did not have his vehicle registration card. Instead, Plaintiff offered his pink bill of sale from the car dealership in Philadelphia which included the registration number.

Thereafter, Hann asked Plaintiff some questions in regard to what he was doing, where he was coming from, and where he was going. Plaintiff considered these questions "inappropriate and groundless" and believes they deprived him of his liberty. Hann returned to her car, and did not return to Plaintiff's vehicle for a period of time he alleges was "impermissibly prolonged."

Shortly thereafter, additional police officers, Andre Byrd ("Byrd"), who is African American, and John Does 1 and 2, were called to the scene. Hann informed Plaintiff that his vehicle was going to be towed because he did not have a registration card. In response, Plaintiff called the dealership which informed Byrd how Pennsylvania's vehicle registration process works.

Plaintiff alleges that the three Caucasian officers, Hann and John Does 1 and 2, then drew their weapons as a "show of force" and conspired to act inappropriately. Plaintiff believes that he and his passengers were put at great risk of harm. No arrests were made and Plaintiff was issued a non-moving traffic citation for having an obstruction in his rear view mirror.

Plaintiff claims that the officers failed to treat Plaintiff and his passengers fairly, did not explain why it was necessary to stop them or why it was necessary to draw and aim loaded weapons at them.

Prior to seeking redress from this Court, Plaintiff filed an Administrative Complaint with the Pemberton Township Police Department. The incident was investigated by Internal Affairs which found that Officers Hann and Byrd did not commit any wrongdoing and that they followed the proper procedures.

Plaintiff, who is appearing pro se, then filed his Complaint with this Court. In addition to bringing this action against Officers Byrd and Hann, Plaintiff names as Defendants the mayor of Pemberton, David Patriarca; Township Council members Richard Prickett, Kenneth Cartier, Thomas Inge, Diane Stinney, and Sherry Scull; Township Administrator Christopher Vaz; and Police Chief David Jantas (collectively "Supervisory Defendants"). Plaintiff also names Pemberton Township and the Pemberton Township Police Department as Defendants.*fn2 On November 19, 2009, Defendants Byrd and Hann answered the ...


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