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Noah H. Thompson v. Township of East Brunswick

January 11, 2013

NOAH H. THOMPSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF EAST BRUNSWICK, EAST BRUNSWICK POLICE DEPARTMENT, FRANK LOSACCO, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, KEVIN BISHOP, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, RUSSELL MACARTHUR, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. L-7048-09.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued December 11, 2012

Before Judges Reisner, Yannotti and Harris.

Plaintiff Noah H. Thompson appeals from orders entered by the Law Division granting summary judgment to defendants. We affirm.

I.

On April 18, 2011, Duron Powell (Powell) asked plaintiff to drive him to the Township of East Brunswick's (Township) municipal building so that he could speak to the municipal court clerk. Plaintiff's was Powell's neighbor. Plaintiff agreed to drive Powell to the municipal building for a fee. After they arrived there, Powell entered the building. Plaintiff waited outside for Powell about thirty minutes and then went inside. His movements were recorded by closed circuit surveillance cameras.

At his deposition, plaintiff testified that he asked the municipal clerk what was taking so long, and she replied that the computer was down because the building was being renovated. According to plaintiff, the clerk said the old equipment was being taken out and new equipment brought in.

At around 11:38 a.m., plaintiff opened the door and appeared to be leaving the building. He then turned around and walked towards the office of the municipal prosecutor. Plaintiff looked around, apparently checking to see if anyone was around. Plaintiff entered the prosecutor's office, picked up a telephone and took it to his car. Plaintiff said he "figured it was garbage."

A short time later, plaintiff re-entered the building and walked to the municipal court's violations window where Powell was located. About fifteen minutes later, Powell finished with the clerk. Powell and plaintiff exited the building, got into plaintiff's car, and drove out of the parking lot. Plaintiff dropped off Powell on the highway, and he drove to Linden.

After it was discovered that the phone was missing from the prosecutor's office, Township police officer Frank LoSacco (LoSacco) observed police officer Russell MacArthur (MacArthur) and Bob Greco, the Township's maintenance supervisor, review the footage from the building's surveillance cameras. LoSacco testified that plaintiff was the only person who entered the prosecutor's office between the time the phone was last seen and the time it was found to be missing.

LoSacco endeavored to ascertain plaintiff's identity. He saw that plaintiff had been with Powell and obtained Powell's contact information. LoSacco called Powell and told him that he and plaintiff must return to the police station. Powell asked what this was about, and LoSacco told him they would discuss it when they got to the station. Powell stated that he would "get" plaintiff. Later, Powell called LoSacco. He said he had spoken to plaintiff and informed him that they had to return to the police station.

Plaintiff testified, however, that after he left the municipal building and dropped Powell off, he went directly to a funeral in Linden. He said he returned later to the Township's offices on his own. The surveillance footage shows that plaintiff arrived outside the municipal building around 4:45 p.m.

Plaintiff had a black plastic bag in his hand. He entered the building, spoke briefly to two people who were sitting outside the prosecutor's office. Plaintiff knocked on the door of the prosecutor's office, dropped the bag off, and left the building. He got into his car and drove away.

The following day, the police dispatcher issued an alert for plaintiff's vehicle and license plate. Township police officer Kevin Bishop (Bishop) observed plaintiff's car in a commercial parking lot and activated the lights on his police vehicle. According to Bishop, plaintiff tried to exit the parking lot. Bishop positioned his car to block him.

Bishop approached and asked plaintiff for his vehicle registration and insurance card. The registration had expired, and plaintiff did not present proof of insurance coverage. Bishop ascertained plaintiff's identity, and confirmed that he was the person who prompted the dispatcher's alert. Bishop spoke with Sergeant Csizmar (Csizmar) and learned that plaintiff had apparently stolen a phone from the prosecutor's office.

The dispatcher conducted a warrant check for plaintiff and learned that plaintiff had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. When questioned by Bishop, plaintiff denied that he had been at the prosecutor's office. Bishop told plaintiff to exit the car, and he arrested plaintiff based on the outstanding warrant and the information Csizmar provided to him. According to plaintiff, Bishop said, "You come into our house and take something. I'll tell you what we do to people who come into our house and take something."

Another officer who reported to the scene told plaintiff that he should not have taken the phone. Plaintiff admitted that he replied, "Yea well I'm guilty." Plaintiff said, however, that he was not provided with Miranda*fn1 warnings before he made that statement. Plaintiff was placed in a police vehicle, remained there for about fifteen or twenty minutes, and was then transported to police headquarters. His vehicle was towed away.

Plaintiff was brought into the police department's holding area and seated on a bench. His right wrist was handcuffed to the bench. After about ten minutes, LoSacco advised plaintiff he was under arrest for stealing. Plaintiff still had not been provided with Miranda warnings. Plaintiff did not deny that Powell had called ...


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