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Terence Jones v. Sean Dalton

April 3, 2012

TERENCE JONES
PLAINTIFF,
v.
SEAN DALTON, ET AL.
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joseph E. Irenas

OPINION

IRENAS , Senior District Judge:

Presently before the Court are three separate Motions for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. Nos. 117, 120, 124) Plaintiff's claims arise from an allegedly unlawful police stop and, when Plaintiff complained of the misconduct, a retaliatory criminal prosecution.

I.

Despite many of the pertinent facts of this case having been captured on video, the inferences drawn from those events are bitterly disputed. For the purposes of this Motion, the Court must resolve those disputes in favor of Plaintiff. See Pollock v. Am. Tel. & Tel. Long Lines , 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d Cir. 1986). After a Super Bowl party, late on February 4, 2007,

Plaintiff Terence Jones, an African American male, was returning from Philadelphia to his home in southern New Jersey. (Jones' Facts at ¶¶ 8, 15) *fn1 It was a windy night with sub-zero temperatures. Due to an accident blocking Plaintiff's customary route, Jones used his navigational system to find a detour. ( Id. at ¶ 29) Covering unfamiliar terrain, Jones accidentally missed a left-hand turn onto Swedesboro Pualsboro Road. ( See Map, Schaeffer's Facts, Ex. 11) *fn2 Jones quickly rectified the situation by making a U-turn in the parking lot of RTR Rentals. ( Id. at ¶ 20)

Upon witnessing Jones exit the parking lot late at night, Defendant Officer Michael Schaeffer became suspicious and followed Jones for several miles. ( Id. at ¶¶ 26-27, 29, Ex. 11) Schaeffer's suspicion was further aroused when Jones took a slightly indirect route from the parking lot to County Road 538. (Schaeffer's Facts at ¶ 37)

At 11:59 PM, Officer Schaeffer pulled Jones over. (Jones' Facts at ¶ 9) Once stopped, Officer Schaeffer quickly approached Jones' driver-side window and brashly questioned Jones regarding his presence at an "industrial area" late at night. ( Id. , Tr. Motor Vehicle Recording ("MVR"), Ex. 12 at 1; MVR, Ex. 15) *fn3

Before awaiting a response to his initial questions, Schaeffer also demanded to see Jones' license and registration. ( Id. at Ex. 15) Never having been to the area, Jones clearly did not understand that Schaeffer considered the parking lot of RTR Rentals to be an industrial area. ( Id. , Tr. MVR, Ex. 12 at 3) As Jones attempted to comply with Schaeffer's rudely delivered barrage of directives and questions, Schaeffer's frequent interruptions delivered with increasing irritation and condescension prevented any semblance of rational discourse. ( Id. , MVR, Ex. 15)

Jones, a twelve year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department, was clearly taken aback by Schaeffer's tone and demeanor. ( Id. ) When Schaeffer finally quieted long enough for Jones to properly explain the situation, Schaeffer quickly retorted, "Why didn't you say that the first time I asked you?" ( Id. , Tr. Video, Ex. 12 at 3) Despite Schaeffer's rudeness, Jones remained calm, collected and respectful at all times. ( Id.

Not satisfied with the specificity of Philadelphia as a city, Schaeffer pried into the details of Jones' journey. Jones responded in a firm yet respectful voice, "Where at in Philadelphia am I coming from? I don't feel as though I have to tell you." ( Id.

Schaeffer did not appreciate the response. "Alright, well, well, at this point I'm conducting an investigation!" ( Id.

As a result, Schaeffer began to repeatedly ask Jones whether he had been drinking alcohol. ( Id. at 4) Jones replied that he was not a drinker. ( Id. ) That answer prompted Schaeffer to conduct a fruitless plain view search of Jones' backseat. ( Id.

Approximately seven minutes after pulling Jones over, Schaeffer returned to his car and called for backup. ( Id. at 5) While waiting, Schaeffer used the loudspeaker to scream profanities at Jones for supposedly "reaching around." ( Id.

After several minutes, Schaeffer requested dispatch to run Jones' record. ( Id. ) When asked the suspect's name, Schaeffer reported, "Ahh... Terrence Jones, unfortunately." ( Id. ) As later became evident, Jones was known to Defendants because, approximately one week prior, Jones had filed a complaint alleging that a citizen had threatened him with a gun while yelling racial epithets. ( Id. at ¶ 114) The prosecutors, however, did not file criminal charges because Jones supposedly lacked credibility. ( Id. at ¶ 115)

Shortly thereafter, Schaeffer's superior officer, Sergeant Massing, arrived and Schaeffer explained the situation and intimated his desire to escalate the encounter. ( Id. , Tr. MVR, Ex. 12 at 6) Schaeffer declared, "I'm gonna get him out and test him, and ask him to confess." ( Id. ) Massing did not object to Schaeffer's proposed course of action.

Approximately 17 minutes after the stop, Schaeffer asked Jones for permission to search the vehicle several times. ( Id. at 9) Each time, Jones respectfully declined and asked to go home. ( Id. at 9)

Schaeffer next required Jones to submit to a sobriety field test. ( Id. at 10) Ironically though, when Massing first arrived, Schaeffer admitted that "I can't tell if he's been drinking cause it's too windy and too damn cold!" ( Id. at 6) Before complying, Jones asked Schaeffer if he could roll up his windows to secure his vehicle, but Schaeffer refused. ( Id. at 10)

Once outside, Schaeffer asked whether Jones possessed any weapons. ( Id. at 11) Although Jones replied in the negative, Schaeffer searched Jones - not by patting him down, but by inserting his hands into Jones' pockets. ( Id. , MVR, Ex. 15) The search revealed the keys to Jones' second vehicle - a BMW. ( Id. ) Shocked, Schaeffer asked if Jones really owned a BMW and the Lincoln Navigator he was currently driving. ( Id. , Tr. MVR at 11, Ex. 12) Jones respectfully replied affirmatively to Schaeffer's condescending question. ( Id.

After searching Jones, Schaeffer and Massing conducted the sobriety test. ( Id. , MVR, Ex. 15) Although Schaeffer accused Jones of having watery eyes, Massing suggested that sub-zero temperatures could have that effect. ( Id.

Approximately twenty minutes into the stop, Schaeffer left Massing and Jones at the rear of the vehicle and approached Jones' front passenger-side door. ( Id. ) Due to the angle of the video camera, the MVR did not capture Schaeffer's actions; however, Schaeffer remained in that position for approximately thirty seconds. ( Id. ) The angle of Schaeffer's toes, which are the only visible part of Schaeffer's body, indicate that Schaeffer was leaning forward into the cabin of the vehicle. ( Id. ) Because Schaeffer refused to allow Jones to roll up his windows, a reasonable inference can be drawn that Schaeffer leaned into the car to conduct a search without consent.

Furthermore, once Schaeffer walked around the car to inspect the vehicle from the driver-side, Schaeffer conducted a "plain view search" by sticking his head through the open window. *fn4

( Id. ) Despite conducting these two searches without consent, Schaeffer again asked Jones for permission to search the entire vehicle. ( Id. , Tr. MVR, Ex. 15 at 12) Jones respectfully refused. ( Id. at 13) Finally, after approximately twenty-one minutes, Schaeffer and Massing allowed Jones to leave. ( Id.

On February 12, 2007, Jones wrote a letter to Woolwich Township Chief of Police, Defendant Russell Marino, complaining of the incident. ( Id. at ¶ 38) Jones described the alleged police misconduct, but did not allege a racial motivation. ( Id. at Ex. 13) When Jones did not receive a response, he called Marino who promptly came to Jones' house to pick up the letter. ( Id. at ¶¶ 40-41)

Once there, Marino marveled at the size of Jones' house. ( Id. at ¶ 42) Marino "asked me if I played football, which is -- you know, which is insulting." ( Id.

In response to Jones' complaints, Marino contacted Defendant Captain John Porter of the Investigative Division of the Glouster County Prosecutors's Office to conduct an internal investigation. ( Id. at ¶¶ 47-48) On February 28, 2007, Porter videotaped an interview with Jones. (Porter & Dalton's Facts at ¶ 18) Jones repeated many of the allegations in the February 12 complaint, but now alleged the stop to be racially motivated. ( Id. at ¶¶ 19-20)

Porter never interviewed Schaeffer in response to the incident. Although the documentation states that Schaeffer was only charged administratively - as opposed to criminally - and thus had no basis to plead the Fifth Amendment, Porter testified that he verbally advised Schaeffer that the investigation was criminal. (Jones' Facts at ¶¶ 68-69) As a result, Porter testified that Schaeffer exercised his right to remain silent and Porter and Defendant Sean Dalton, the Glouster County Prosecutor, honored Schaeffer's decision. ( Id. at ¶¶ 51, 69) At trial, however, Schaeffer testified that he was never advised of any criminal investigation, he never invoked his right to remain silent and nobody ever even asked him to give a statement. ( Id. at ¶ 96)

On March 18, 2007, Jones had further trouble with the Woolwich police. (Jones' Facts at Ex. 14) A then unidentified police officer - now suspected to be Officer Daniels - tailgated Jones for several miles. ( Id. ) To avoid a confrontation, Jones pulled into a gas station. ( Id. ) To Jones' consternation, however, the police officer waited for Jones to leave and then resumed tailgating within inches of Jones' rear bumper. ( Id.

Shortly after this incident, Jones sent Marino another letter complaining of police harassment. ( Id. ) In this letter, Jones reiterated his belief that these incidents were racially motivated. ( Id. ) As time elapsed, it appears that Jones became increasingly convinced that his troubles with the Woolwich Police Department were due to racial animus.

On March 21, 2007, Porter required Jones to give a sworn statement. ( Id. at ¶ 76) By contrast, Porter did not require any police officer to give a sworn statement or, in the case of Schaeffer, give any statement whatsoever. ( Id. at ¶¶ 77-78)

Astonishingly, based on Jones' complaints and interviews, Porter decided to file a criminal complaint against Jones, charging him with two counts of giving false information and one count of false statements under oath in violation of New Jersey law. ( Id. at ¶ 52) Dalton authorized the complaint. ( Id. , Dep. Dalton, Ex. 9 at 67:11-21)

The supposed justification behind the criminal complaint were certain discrepancies between the February 4, 2007 MVR and Jones' subsequent complaints and interviews. ( Id. at ¶¶ 54, 58- 62) With the benefit of full video and audio hindsight, Porter meticulously compared the MVR to Jones' letters and decided to charge the victim despite clear violations of police procedure and the Constitution.

At the Grand Jury, Porter was the only witness against Jones. ( Id. at ¶ 54) He first testified that none of Jones' assertions in the letter of February 12, 2007 were true. ( Id. at ¶ 55) Porter later qualified his statement inasmuch as only fourteen to fifteen points in the complaint were untrue. ( Id. , Tr. Grand Jury, Ex. 8 at 7) Based on ...


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