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Harmon v. City of Camden

November 4, 2010

KAMERON HARMON AND PATRICIA HASSAN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF CAMDEN, G. CARLIN, JEFFREY FRAMPTON, THOMAS GRIECO, AND ANGEL RAMOS, DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

(Dkt. Nos. 28 and 29)

This action arises out of an attempted undercover drug buy and subsequent arrest. Kameron Harmon ("Plaintiff") initiated this action against the City of Camden and the law enforcement officers involved in the undercover drug buy, G. Carlin, Jeffrey Frampton, Thomas Grieco, and Angel Ramos (collectively "Defendants").*fn1 Pending before the Court are the Summary Judgment Motions of (1) Defendants Ramos and Frampton and (2) Defendant Grieco.*fn2 For the reasons set forth below, the motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

I.

The High Intensive Drug Trafficking Areas Task Force ("HIDTA") is a federally-funded narcotics program run by the Camden County Prosecutor's Office. (Ramos and Frampton Br. in Support of Sum. J. ("Ramos") ¶ 2) Defendants Ramos, Frampton, and Carlin were all employees of the Camden City Police Department assigned to HIDTA. (Ramos ¶¶ 1, 3, 5) Defendant Grieco was employed by the Camden County Prosecutor's Office and assigned to HIDTA. (Grieco Dep. at 6, 11)

On January 18, 2005, Defendants were engaged in an undercover HIDTA operation in the area of 6th and Berkeley Streets in Camden, New Jersey. (Ramos ¶¶ 6-7) Defendants Frampton and Carlin, as supervisors of the operation, waited in a nearby vehicle and maintained radio contact with Defendants Grieco and Ramos, who posed as drug purchasers in a separate vehicle. (Id.) Plaintiff, who was 15 years old at the time, was lawfully walking with another minor near the intersection of 6th and Berkeley Streets. (Grieco Br. in Support of Sum. J. ("Grieco") ¶ 1) Defendant Ramos pulled the vehicle over when he saw Plaintiff.*fn3 (Ramos ¶ 10) Defendant Grieco exited the vehicle and attempted to buy drugs from Plaintiff and his friend. (Grieco ¶ 2)

Plaintiff and Defendants' accounts of the attempted drug buy vastly differ. According to Defendant Grieco, Plaintiff asked him, "What you need, readies?"*fn4 To which, he replied, "Yeah." (Grieco Report at 1) Plaintiff then asked, "Nick or dimes?" and Defendant Grieco answered, "I'll take two dimes if you got 'em." (Id.) At this point, Plaintiff's friend said, "I don't feel like going to the stash spot right now." (Id.) Plaintiff's friend asked Defendant Grieco to step back while Plaintiff and his friend had a brief conversation. (Id.) Plaintiff then told Defendant Grieco, "I'm goin' to the spot. Give him the money." (Id.) Plaintiff ran around the corner while Defendant Grieco waited with a twenty dollar bill in his right hand. (Id.) When Plaintiff returned approximately one minute later, he handed Defendant Grieco two small rocks and snatched the money out of his hand.*fn5 (Id.) Plaintiff immediately began running, and his friend, after pushing Defendant Grieco, followed. (Id.) Before Plaintiff and his friend turned the corner, Defendant Grieco shouted, "Stop. Police." (Id.)

Plaintiff's version differs from Defendants' version in three important ways. First, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Grieco asked him for drugs and that he handed Defendant Grieco actual rocks because he did not understand what Defendant Grieco meant by "rocks." (Pl's Stat. of Facts ¶¶ 7-8) Second, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Grieco did not have a twenty dollar bill and he therefore did not steal it from Defendant Grieco. (Pl's Dep. at 32) Instead, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Grieco had a gun and pointed it at Plaintiff's friend when he received the actual rocks.*fn6 (Pl's Stat. of Facts ¶ 8) Third, according to Plaintiff, Defendant Grieco was not identified as a police officer. (Id. ¶ 5)

The parties' accounts of Plaintiff's arrest also differs greatly. According to Defendants, Defendant Ramos radioed to Defendants Frampton and Carlin that Plaintiff had just robbed Defendant Grieco and was fleeing. (Frampton Report at 1) Defendant Carlin immediately drove in the direction of the fleeing Plaintiff. (Id. at 2) When he spotted Plaintiff, Defendant Frampton began chasing him on foot. (Id.) Defendant Frampton tackled Plaintiff to the ground. (Id.) When Plaintiff tried to get back to his feet, Defendant Frampton wrestled him to the ground. (Id.) At this point, Defendant Frampton gained control over Plaintiff, arrested him, and secured him in a vehicle. (Id.) Defendant Grieco then arrived on the scene and identified Plaintiff as the person who stole his twenty dollar bill. (Id.)

Plaintiff's account of the arrest is vastly different. According to Plaintiff, he did not realize he was fleeing from police officers until he ran two blocks and saw a truck with a police badge in the window. (Pl's Stat. of Facts ¶ 10) At this point, he attempted to comply with an order to get down, but lost consciousness when he was hit in the back of the head. (Id. ¶ 11) Plaintiff is unable to clearly identify the person who hit him in the back of the head with "something metal and hard that can knock me out."*fn7 (Pl's Dep. at 28-29, 62-63) After blacking out, while on the ground, Plaintiff states that Defendant Frampton then exited his vehicle and began punching Plaintiff repeatedly in his face. (Id. at 61) According to Plaintiff, five or six other officers that Plaintiff cannot specifically identify also kicked and punched him in the face and stomach.*fn8 (Id. 63)

The events following Plaintiff's arrest are not in dispute. Plaintiff was taken to Virtua hospital where he received three staples in his head, then to the police department, then to the Camden County jail in Lakeland, New Jersey. (Pl's Dep. at 40-41) Plaintiff stayed in the jail for a couple of hours and then was taken to court in the morning and released to his mother. (Id. at 41-42)

Immediately following the January 18, 2005 incident, Plaintiff was charged with robbery, aggravated assault, resisting arrest, and possession and distribution of controlled dangerous substances. (Pl's Stat. of Facts ¶ 16) However, on May 19, 2005, these charges were withdrawn by the Camden County Prosecutor's office and dismissed by the Court. (Id.) Then, according to Plaintiff's confused deposition testimony, he pled guilty to charges of theft by deception and disorderly conduct.*fn9

Plaintiff filed his Complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County on September 24, 2008. The case was removed to this Court on October 15, 2008. As previously noted, Defendants Frampton, Ramos and Grieco ...


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