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Wolford v. Quinn

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 24, 2014

MATTHEW QUINN, et al., Defendants.


MICHAEL A. SHIPP, District Judge.

On March 3, 2011, Todd Wolford ("Wolford") was shot and killed in his front yard by an officer of the Ocean Township Police Department. Plaintiff Henry Wolford ("Plaintiff'), Wolford's father, commenced this civil rights action on behalf of his deceased son. He asserts Fourth Amendment claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act against the officer who fired the fatal shot, Patrolman Matthew Quinn; Quinn's direct supervisor, Corporal Adam Mogul; the Township of Ocean; and the Township's Chief of Police, Gerhard Frenz.

Before the Court are Defendants' motions for summary judgment. Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions, the Court decides the motions without oral argument pursuant to Local Civil Rule 78.1. For the reasons stated below, and for other good cause shown, the motions are granted.

I. Background

A. The Events of March 3, 2011

The following is a summary of the facts relevant to the disposition of Plaintiffs claims. As it must on a motion for summary judgment, the Court construes the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the non-moving party in this case.

On the evening of March 3, 2011, Wolford spoke on the telephone with his friend Edward Kmieciak. According to Kmieciak's account, Wolford expressed dissatisfaction with his professional and personal life and seemed depressed. Kmieciak called the Ocean Township Police Department at approximately 9:44 p.m. to report that Wolford may be contemplating suicide. (Quinn Dep. 48, 61; Compl. ¶ 12.)

The Department dispatched a squad of three police officers commanded by Corporal Adam Mogul to check on Wolford. (Mogul Dep. 40.) Mogul, a veteran officer with well over ten years experience on patrol, supervised the two junior members of the squad, Patrolman Matthew Quinn, who joined the Department in 2007, and Special Officer Jeremy Samuels, then a recent graduate from the police academy. (Quinn Dep. 43; Mogul Dep. 15, 36-37.) All three officers were clad in standard police uniforms and driving marked police cruisers. (Mogul Dep. 63.)

Arriving at Wolford's residence at approximately 10:00 p.m., Quinn and Samuels parked their police cruisers on Maple Street in view of Wolford's front door. (Quinn Dep. 63-64, 68; Compl. ¶ 14.) Wolford's house was a low, one-story structure with a small front yard. On the night of March 3, the carriage lights on both sides of the front door were illuminated and a pickup truck sat in the driveway to the left of the house. Although curtains covered the windows, the officers saw light coming from inside the house. (Quinn Dep. 67.)

Quinn approached the left side of the house, where he found a side entrance that opened onto the driveway. (Quinn Dep. 71-72.) Samuels, meanwhile, proceeded to the front of the house and peered into a semi-circular window in the front door. (Samuels Dep. 24-25.) He saw a man, later identified as Wolford, sleeping shirtless on a couch. Samuels reported this to Quinn and Mogul, the latter having joined the other two officers in the front yard. (Quinn Dep. 74-75.)

After conferring with Samuels and Quinn, Mogul walked over to the front door, knocked, and commanded Wolford to "wake up" and open the door. (Samuels Dep. 27; Quinn Dep. 78-79; Mogul Dep. 62, 68.) Peering through the door's semi-circular window, Mogul saw Wolford rise and walk toward the rear of the house where he picked up a Glock handgun from a table. (Mogul Dep. 71-73.) Mogul continued to watch as Wolford "racked the slide" of the pistol, and turned back towards the front door. (Mogul Dep. 73-74.) Mogul knew from his experience with Glock handguns that the slide was used to move a bullet into the firing chamber, eject a bullet from the chamber, or confirm that the gun was unloaded. (Mogul Dep. 78-80.)

Mogul cried out "he's got a gun" to Quinn and Samuels, who were standing in the driveway and could not see what was happening inside the house. (Mogul Dep. 91.) As Wolford approached the door, Mogul retreated backwards across the front yard towards the street. (Mogul Dep. 91; Quinn Dep. 78; Samuels Dep. 28.) Quinn sought cover on the far side of the pickup truck in Wolford's driveway. (Quinn Dep. 84-85.) From there, Quinn could see both the house's front door and Mogul. (Quinn Dep. 86-88.)

Mogul was approximately 20 feet from the door when Wolford emerged with the pistol raised. (Mogul Dep. 82-86, 87-89; Quinn Dep. 88.) At this point, all three officers had their guns drawn and were yelling at Wolford to drop the weapon. (Mogul Dep. 89-90; Quinn Dep. 90-92.) Mogul, believing that Wolford was aiming the gun at him, stumbled and fell as he rushed for cover in the vicinity of a nearby tree. (Mogul Dep. 90-93; Quinn Dep. 99.) As Mogul struggled to recover his footing, he heard a click as Wolford pulled the trigger on his pistol. Mogul, who knew Wolford's weapon was a Glock, recognized the sound as a "dry fire." (Mogul Dep. 96.) From his position 10 to 20 feet from Wolford, Quinn heard the same sound but came to a different conclusion about its significance: Quinn thought that Wolford had disengaged his pistol's safety mechanism. (Quinn Dep. 95, 98.)

When Mogul regained his balance, he raised his weapon and issued a final command to Wolford to drop the gun. (Mogul Dep. 98.) At that instant, Quinn fired a single shot. Quinn's bullet struck Wolford in the chest, killing him. (Mogul Dep. 102-103, 106). Mogul ...

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