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William B. Johnson v. Officer Anthony De Prospo

December 30, 2010

WILLIAM B. JOHNSON PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICER ANTHONY DE PROSPO, PATERSON POLICE DEPARTMENT, OFFICER MIGUEL A. CRUZ,
PATERSON POLICE DEPARTMENT, OFFICER L. TORRES, PATERSON POLICE DEPARTMENT, OFFICER Q. MCELVEEN, PATERSON POLICE DEPARTMENT, SERGEANT S. ROONEY, PATERSON POLICE DEPARTMENT, DETECTIVE CLAUDIO MELLA PASSAIC COUNTY PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE, RACHEL KUGEL, ESQ., ATTORNEY-AT-LAW, AND JOHN AND JANE DOES 1--10
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Katharine S. Hayden, U.S.D.J.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

# 4483,

# 4522,

# 4537,

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OPINION

I. Introduction and Facts

William Johnson (―Johnson‖), the plaintiff in this case, suffered two lacerations to the head and numerous bruises and welts to his arms, chest, shoulders and back during the course of an arrest by Paterson, N.J., police officers for selling drugs outside the Alexander Hamilton housing development on the morning of June 19, 2006. After pleading guilty to possession of a controlled dangerous substance, Johnson brought numerous claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and New Jersey common law against the four officers involved in the incident-Quaema McElveen (―McElveen‖), Anthony De Prospo (―De Prospo‖), Luis Torres (―Torres‖), and Miguel A. Cruz (―Cruz‖)-as well as Sgt. S. Rooney (―Rooney‖), Detective Claudio Mella (―Mella‖), and Rachel Kugel, Esq. (―Kugel‖), who defended Johnson against the criminal charges [D.E. 1]. The claims against Rooney, Mella, and Kugel were dismissed [D.E. 6, 55]. Now before the Court are summary judgment motions by McElveen, De Prospo, and Torres [D.E. 74, 76, 79].

The facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the Johnson, are as follows: At approximately 8 a.m. on June 19, 2006, De Prospo and McElveen were in a marked police car conducting drug surveillance outside the Alexander Hamilton housing development, which is known to Paterson police officers as a high crime area. (Narrative Report, attached to Miklacki Certif. as Ex. D.) They saw a man later identified as Johnson approach an individual later identified as Christopher Berkely (―Berkely‖), and exchange what appeared to be money for small unidentified objects. (Id.) Berkely then got in an SUV and left the development's parking lot; De Prospo and McElveen stopped him and saw him clutching several glassine envelopes, which the officers believed to contain heroin. (Id.) They arrested Berkely for possession of CDS (Id.), and McElveen stayed with him in the squad car while De Prospo searched for Johnson (De Prospo Report, attached to Miklacki Certif. as Ex. F). When Johnson saw De Prospo, he ran (Opp'n Br. Statement of Facts); De Prospo chased Johnson down on foot, apprehending him on the second floor of one of the housing development buildings. (Narrative Report, attached to Miklacki Certif. as Ex. D.)

At this point, the two sides' versions of the events diverge. Johnson states that De Prospo hit him over the head with a baton, causing him to partially lose consciousness (Johnson Certif., attached to Opp'n Br. as Ex. 41, at 2.), while De Prospo claims that Johnson lunged at him in an attempt to get to the exit and then tried to grab his service weapon (Narrative Report, attached to Miklacki Certif. as Ex. D). In any event, a struggle ensued, during which De Prospo hit Johnson about the upper body with his baton (Id.; Johnson Certif., attached to Opp'n Br. as Ex. 41, at 2). Torres and Cruz arrived to assist in subduing and handcuffing Johnson, after which Johnson claims the officers continued to beat, punch, and kick him. (Narrative Report, attached to Miklacki Certif. as Ex. D; Johnson Certif., attached to Opp'n Br. as Ex. 41, at 2--3.) The officers searched Johnson and found 48 baggies of what appeared to be crack cocaine, four envelopes containing heroin, and $215. (Narrative Report, attached to Miklacki Certif. as Ex. D.) Johnson was transported to Barnert Hospital (De Prospo Report, attached to Miklacki Certif as Ex. F.), where he was treated for approximately three days for his injuries (ER Nursing Note, attached to Opp'n Br. as Ex. 45; Personal History, attached to Opp'n Br. as Ex. 54; Admitting Form, attached to Opp'n Br. as Ex. 59), which included a two-inch laceration on the top of his head, a one-inch laceration on the back of his head (ER Nursing Note, attached to Opp'n Br. as Ex. 45; Emergency Department Physician Record, Page 2 of 3, attached to Opp'n Br. as Ex. 50; Photo Exhibits, attached to Compl.), a possible concussion (Physical Examination, attached to Opp'n Br. as Exs. 52, 53; Consultation Record, attached to Opp'n Br. as Ex. 58). The photo exhibits also show several welts and bruises on his upper body.

On September 5, 2006, a state grand jury handed up a 17 count indictment against Johnson. (Indictment, attached to Miklacki Certif. as Ex. G.) He pled guilty to one count of possession of CDS, and on January 9, 2009, he was sentenced to a term of three years. (N.J. Department of Corrections Offender Details, attached to Miklacki Certif. as Ex. H.) On April 14, 2008, he filed the complaint in this action, alleging the excessive use of force, false arrest and imprisonment, and malicious prosecution under § 1983, as well as the following claims under New Jersey common law: (1) conspiracy, (2) excessive use of force, (3) assault and battery, (4) police brutality, (5) false arrest, (6) false imprisonment, (7) malicious prosecution, (8) misuse of legal procedures, (9) willful misconduct, (10) official misconduct, (11) false swearing, (12) perjury, (13) extreme outrage, (14) gross negligence, (15) intentional infliction of emotional distress, and (16) willful blindness. The claims against Rooney and Kugel were dismissed on October 20, 2008, and the claims against Mella were dismissed on December 22, 2009. McElveen, De Prospo, and Torres then moved for summary judgment.

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment will be granted if ―the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.‖ Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). If the moving party carries its burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, who must show more than some metaphysical doubt about the material facts. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). ―In determining whether there are disputes of material fact, the Court must view the record in the light most favorable to the ...


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