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Suchocki v. Gilcrest

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 30, 2013

THOMAS SUCHOCKI, Plaintiff,
v.
SERGEANT CHRIS GILCREST, PAULSBORO POLICE DEPARTMENT, and CITY OF PAULSBORO, Defendants.

Raymond J. Zane, Esq., ZANE & LOZUKE, Woodbury, New Jersey, Counsel for Plaintiff.

James R. Birchmeier, Esq. POWELL, BIRCHMEIER & POWELL, Tuckahoe, New Jersey, Counsel for Defendants.

OPINION

JOSEPH E. IRENAS, Senior District Judge.

This is a deprivation of rights case arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] Plaintiff Thomas Suchocki ("Suchocki") asserts that Defendants Sergeant Chris Gilcrest ("Gilcrest"), the Paulsboro Police Department, and the City of Paulsboro ("Paulsboro") violated his civil rights during a traffic stop and subsequent arrest. Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons stated below, this Motion will be granted.

I.

On May 28, 2010, Thomas Suchocki was traveling south in his pickup truck on Route 44 ("Broad Street") in Paulsboro, New Jersey. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 8) Sometime just before 3:30 p.m., Suchocki's truck approached the intersection of Broad and Delaware Streets. (T. Suchocki Dep. at 24-25) As he approached, Suchocki stopped his vehicle at the red traffic signal.[2] ( Id. at 32:24-33:2) Upon stopping at the light, Suchocki observed Sergeant Chris Gilcrest of the Paulsboro Police Department escorting schoolchildren across the intersection from Suchocki's right to left, while simultaneously directing traffic. ( Id. at 28:16-20) As he waited at the light, Suchocki's pickup truck windows were up, the radio on, and the air conditioner running. ( Id. at 34:16-21)

Once the traffic light changed to green, the vehicle in front of Suchocki made a left turn and Suchocki began to advance through the intersection. ( Id. at 35:18-21) As Suchocki accelerated from his stopped position, Gilcrest motioned for Suchocki to stop, and Suchocki stopped before entering into the crosswalk of the intersection.[3] ( Id. at 36:2-37:9; C. Gilcrest Dep. at 42:11, May 8, 2012) As he stopped, Suchocki rolled his driver-side window down. (Suchocki Dep. at 37:5-11) After a brief moment without any further direction from Gilcrest, Suchocki began proceeding through the intersection once again. (Suchocki Dep. at 37:13-15; Gilcrest Dep. at 53:11-13, May 8, 2012) Upon seeing Suchocki moving again, Gilcrest yelled for Suchocki to stop his vehicle, which had now proceeded out into the intersection. (Gilcrest Dep. at 54:17, May 8, 2012; Suchocki Dep. at 37:13-15)

During the course of these two stops, Suchocki and Gilcrest dispute Gilcrest's actions while he stood in the intersection. In Suchocki's recollection, Gilcrest was not crossing any schoolchildren when Gilcrest gave the two commands to stop. (Suchocki Dep. at 32:13-15) On the other hand, Gilcrest testified that schoolchildren were entering the intersection when he first asked Suchocki to stop, (Gilcrest Dep. at 49:4-6, May 8, 2012), and Gilcrest remained in the middle of the street as the children reached safety when he gave Suchocki the second directive to stop, ( Id. at 55:20-21).

Next, the undisputed record demonstrates that in response to Gilcrest's second directive to stop, Suchocki stopped his vehicle in the intersection and began an exchange with Gilcrest through the driver-side window. (Suchocki Dep. at 38:16-24; Gilcrest Dep. at 63:8-21, May 8, 2012) While Suchocki and Gilcrest dispute the substance of their exchange, they both agree that the discussion concluded with Gilcrest directing Suchocki to pull over, and Suchocki did so. (Suchocki Dep. at 38:22-24; Gilcrest Dep. at 63:20-22, May 8, 2012)

As Suchocki pulled over to the side, a second conversation between the two ensued. (Suchocki Dep. at 41-42; Gilcrest Dep. at 64-65, May 8, 2012) While the record contains some conflicts regarding the substance of this conversation, [4] the undisputed record ultimately demonstrates that Gilcrest requested Suchocki's license, registration, and insurance information. (Suchocki Dep. at 47:2-9; Gilcrest Dep. at 63-65, May 8, 2012) While Suchocki retrieved his driving credentials, he attempted to place two phone calls - one to his attorney and one to his office. (Suchocki Dep. at 52:17-22, 53:7-24; Gilcrest Dep. at 64-65, May 8, 2012) The parties dispute whether Gilcrest took Suchocki's telephone following these two calls; while Suchocki testified that he handed the phone to Gilcrest as he completed his calls, (Suchocki Dep. at 54:1-3), Gilcrest denied ever taking the telephone from Suchocki as part of the traffic stop, (C. Gilcrest Dep. at 10:5-9, June 29, 2012)

Following Suchocki's handover of his credentials, Suchocki ended up outside of his vehicle, ultimately under arrest. Suchocki and Gilcrest provide different accounts of precisely when and how Suchocki ended up outside of his truck. For example, Gilcrest testified that he handed Suchocki a traffic citation for failure to obey a traffic officer's signal while Suchocki remained seated in his vehicle. (Gilcrest Dep. at 3:24-4:2, June 29, 2012) Following the handover of the citation, Gilcrest explained that "I was walking back to complete my crossing guard post, at which time he got out of his vehicle, told me to lock him - as his words, lock him the fuck up, '" which prevented Gilcrest from returning to his traffic post duties. ( Id. at 4:2-8) Once Gilcrest was interacting with Suchocki out of his truck, arguing with him and preventing him from returning to directing traffic, Gilcrest felt he had no choice but to arrest Suchocki. ( Id. at 4:7-8, 5:20-23)

On the other hand, Suchocki testified that Gilcrest took his credentials and then asked Suchocki to step out of the truck and walk around to the rear of the vehicle. (Suchocki Dep. at 55:1-5) Once there, Suchocki told Gilcrest he wanted to see a supervisor, and waited while Gilcrest crossed a group of children until he returned to finish writing out the traffic ticket. ( Id. at 55-56) As Gilcrest wrote out a citation, Suchocki explained:

He [Gilcrest] told me that he didn't like my attitude. He was trying to do his job, and he would lock me up, and that's when I just said, if you are going to lock me up, and I believe I said if you are going to lock me the fuck up, lock me up. He said, you are under arrest. Put your hands behind your back, and he put handcuffs on me.

( Id. at 57:4-10) Thus, while Suchocki and Gilcrest provide divergent accounts as to why Suchocki got out of his vehicle, once Suchocki was out of his truck, there is no dispute that he and Gilcrest argued in the street prior to Suchocki's arrest.

Following Suchocki's arrest, Gilcrest called for backup and a second officer responded to escort Suchocki to the Paulsboro police station. ( Id. at 59:23-60:1) While he was processed over the course of an hour, Suchocki was fingerprinted, had his picture taken, and refused to answer any questions from Gilcrest. ( Id. at 65:24-65:12, 64:8-65:12, 66:6-9) Though he overheard that his attorney had arrived at the police station and saw him on a television monitor, Suchocki was not permitted to speak with his attorney until his processing was complete. ( Id. at 64:15-65:12) Ultimately, Suchocki was charged with two offenses: (1) harassment, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4C and (2) obstruction the administration of law, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1A. (Gilcrest Police ...


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