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Odise Carr v. City of Camden

September 13, 2012

ODISE CARR,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CAMDEN, CITY OF CAMDEN POLICE DEPARTMENT, JOHN SOSINAVAGE, SCOTT THOMPSON*FN1 AND MARIO ORTIZ, DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

Presently before the Court are the motions of defendants for summary judgment on plaintiff's claims that defendants violated his federal and state constitutional rights by retaliating against him for exercising his right to free speech. For the reasons expressed below, defendants' motions will be granted.

BACKGROUND

On July 29, 2008, plaintiff, Odise Carr, a police officer with the Camden City Police Department since August 1999, testified pursuant to a subpoena in a disciplinary hearing of two fellow officers. The officers were being investigated for leaving early from their shifts on the telephone reporting unit, an infraction referred to by the parties as "time-stealing." At the hearing, held by the Office of Internal Affairs, plaintiff testified that when he was assigned to the telephone reporting unit his supervisors allowed him to leave early from his shift on a regular basis. According to plaintiff, the supervisors had denied that they allowed the officers to leave early.

A year prior to the hearing, plaintiff had provided a statement similar in substance,*fn2 and apparently sworn to, to the officers' attorney, who shared plaintiff's statement with the internal affairs unit at that time. Even though the internal affairs unit had known the content of plaintiff's proffered testimony prior to the hearing, plaintiff claims that after the hearing defendant Mario Ortiz, a sergeant in the internal affairs unit who attended the hearing that day, remarked to plaintiff, "Do you know what you've just done?", and ordered plaintiff to appear in his office the next day. Plaintiff came to Ortiz's office on July 30, 2008, and Plaintiff secretly recorded the conversation in order to "protect himself." Plaintiff claims that Ortiz intimidated and threatened him because he had testified against his superiors in support of his fellow officers.

Approximately two and a half months later, on October 15, 2008, plaintiff was charged administratively with improper conduct arising from an arrest of a juvenile in October 2005. After the arrest of the juvenile during a "buy/bust" operation in a high intensity drug trafficking area, the juvenile, A.F., claimed that the arresting officers, including plaintiff, assaulted him. The Camden County prosecutor's office started an investigation, and on January 30, 2006, it issued a letter of stay prohibiting any administrative investigation until the completion of the criminal proceedings. Plaintiff was temporarily placed on administrative duty.

On June 4, 2008, a little less than two months before the disciplinary hearing and approximately ten months after plaintiff proffered his testimony to the attorney for his fellow officers, the prosecutor's office sent a letter to the Camden Police internal affairs unit informing them that the criminal case was closed, and that it could proceed with any administrative action. No criminal charges were filed against plaintiff.

Sometime thereafter, and roughly contemporaneously with plaintiff's testimony in the time-stealing case, defendant John Sosinavage, a lieutenant in the internal affairs unit, decided to further pursue an investigation of the A.F. incident. On July 21, 2008, a little over a week before the disciplinary hearing and therefore before plaintiff's testimony at that hearing, Sosinavage obtained a written statement from one of the officers at the scene that day. He also interviewed plaintiff on October 6, 2008, and two other involved officers on October 15, 2008. On October 16, 2008, Sosinavage reported his findings to the business administrator, who signed charges against plaintiff and the other three officers.*fn3

On July 8, 2009, plaintiff was removed as a police officer. He appealed. A hearing was held before an administrative law judge who found that the Camden City police department had not met its burden of proof by a preponderance of credible evidence that plaintiff assaulted A.F. or in any other way conducted himself in a manner that was unbecoming an public employee. Plaintiff as was reinstated with back pay and seniority.

On September 14, 2009, plaintiff filed the instant suit against the City of Camden and its police department,*fn4 the police chief, Scott Thomson, and Ortiz and Sosinavage, claiming that the investigation into the A.F. matter and his ultimate termination were in retaliation for his testimony at the time-stealing disciplinary hearing.*fn5 Defendants have moved for summary judgment on plaintiff's claim, and plaintiff has opposed defendants' motions.

DISCUSSION

A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Plaintiff has brought federal constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as claims under New Jersey law. This Court has jurisdiction over plaintiff's federal claims under

28 U.S.C. ยง 1331, and may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's related state law claims ...


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