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Araromi v. Middle Township Police Department

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 31, 2014

OLUTOYIN A. ARAROMI, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MIDDLE TOWNSHIP POLICE DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants.

OPINION

JOSEPH H. RODRIGUEZ, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on motions of Defendant Detective Robert Harkins [82] and Defendants Cape May County Regional SWAT Team, Cape May County, John Clemons, Joe Murphy, Luke Donahue, Roger Lillo, Brian Harkins, Mark Tomlin, Tom Hegarty, Pat Conte, and Ken Super [84] for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.[1] The Court has considered the submissions of the parties and has decided the motions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78(b). For the reasons set forth below, both motions will be granted.

Jurisdiction

This case is a civil action over which the district court has original jurisdiction based on a question "arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." See 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Plaintiff Olutoyin Araromi asserts a violation of her civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. With respect to Plaintiff's state law claims, this Court has supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).

Background

This matter arises out of a police investigation at the Esplanade Suites Hotel Resort in Wildwood, New Jersey. On February 29, 2008, Plaintiff Olutoyin Araromi checked into the hotel and was assigned Room 206. At approximately 2:00 a.m. on March 1, 2008, Plaintiff awoke when Defendants entered her hotel room pursuant to a no knock warrant for a drug related investigation. Apparently, the Defendants had the wrong hotel room. Nonetheless, Defendants allegedly "violently grabbed [Plaintiff] out of the bed, slammed her on the floor, handcuffed her, got on top of her, pointed guns at her head and face and yelled at her." (Third Am. Compl., ¶ 6.)

In response to this incident, Plaintiff and her husband filed a twenty count Complaint in this Court. The Complaint alleges "civil rights violations, " "constitutional rights violations, " conspiracy, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, violations of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, and loss of consortium.

Discovery in this matter has revealed the following details about the raid on Plaintiff's hotel room, which have not been disputed. Beginning in November of 2007, Cape May County Prosecutor's Office Narcotics Task Force was actively engaged in a narcotics investigation involving the target Arthur "Skinny Man" Hoyle. See Ex. A to Behr Cert., Ex. E to Davenport Cert., Mar. 5, 2008 Inv. Rpt. of Det. Robert Harkins Jr. During the month of February 2008, Hoyle had distributed controlled dangerous substances in the City of Wildwood on numerous occasions. See Ex. D to Behr Cert., Ex. B to Barrett Cert., Request for Tactical Assistance. Detective Robert Harkins Jr., employed by the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office, testified that prior to February 21, 2008, "information was developed" that Hoyle was using both Room 206 and Room 305 of the Esplanade Motel in Wildwood, New Jersey to conduct drug related activities. See Ex. C to Behr Cert., Harkins Dep., 12:3-21.

Detective Omar Perez of the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office opened a search warrant, signed by a judge on February 21, 2008, to search the Esplanade Motel for Hoyle and evidence of his drug-related activities. See Ex. B to Behr Cert., Ex. D to Davenport Cert., Search Warrant. The search warrant authorized entry without first knocking and announcing identity and purpose, and specified that it had to be executed within ten days of February 21, 2008. See Ex. B to Behr Cert., Ex. D to Davenport Cert., Search Warrant. At the time the warrant was obtained, Perez was the lead case agent. See Ex. C to Behr Cert., Harkins Dep., 8:23-9:4.

On February 25, 2008, Harkins was conducting surveillance at the Esplanade Motel. See Ex. A to Behr Cert., Ex. E to Davenport Cert., Mar. 5, 2008 Inv. Rpt. of Det. Robert Harkins Jr.; Ex. C to Behr Cert., Harkins Dep., 12:14-21. While conducting the surveillance, he observed Hoyle arrive at the motel in a cab. See Ex. A to Behr Cert., Ex. E to Davenport Cert., Mar. 5, 2008 Inv. Rpt. of Det. Robert Harkins Jr. Harkins also observed a Wildwood City official conducting what appeared to be a routine fire inspection of the property. See Ex. A to Behr Cert., Ex. E to Davenport Cert., Mar. 5, 2008 Inv. Rpt. of Det. Robert Harkins Jr.; Ex. C to Behr Cert., Harkins Dep., 12:18-13:6. Harkins talked to the official, Inspector Brian Neil, who informed Harkins that he had visited Rooms 205, 207, 303, and 305, which were occupied.[2] See Ex. A to Behr Cert., Ex. E to Davenport Cert., Mar. 5, 2008 Inv. Rpt. of Det. Robert Harkins Jr.; Ex. C to Behr Cert., Harkins Dep., 12:18-22:20-24:2. Indeed, Neil reported that Room 305 was occupied in that a large framed black male, unshaven, with various tattoos was in the room. See Ex. A to Behr Cert., Ex. E to Davenport Cert., Mar. 5, 2008 Inv. Rpt. of Det. Robert Harkins Jr.; Ex. C to Behr Cert., Harkins Dep., 12:3-22:19. Harkins obtained a color photograph of Hoyle and Inspector Neil identified the individual he saw in Room 305 as Hoyle with facial hair. See Ex. A to Behr Cert., Ex. E to Davenport Cert., Mar. 5, 2008 Inv. Rpt. of Det. Robert Harkins Jr.; Ex. C to Behr Cert., Harkins Dep., 39:1-6. Based on his experience, Harkins believed that the individual encountered by Neil in Room 305 was Hoyle. See Ex. A to Behr Cert., Ex. E to Davenport Cert., Mar. 5, 2008 Inv. Rpt. of Det. Robert Harkins Jr.; Ex. C to Behr Cert., Harkins Dep., 12:3-28:24. Neil also reported that he had visited Room 206 which was "unoccupied, "[3] but also unkempt, appearing recently used as of February 25, but "currently unoccupied." See Ex. A to Behr Cert., Ex. E to Davenport Cert., Mar. 5, 2008 Inv. Rpt. of Det. Robert Harkins Jr.; Ex. C to Behr Cert., Ex. C to Davenport Cert., Harkins Dep., 14:6-13; 19:4-22:10.

On February 26, 2008, Perez requested tactical assistance for the "February 27, 2008 - Approximately Unknown" execution of a warrant on Rooms 206 and 305 of the Esplanade Motel. See Ex. D to Behr Cert., Ex. B to Barrett Cert., Request for Tactical Assistance. The SWAT Team members that provide such tactical assistance are officers with different police departments and the sheriff's department who work under the umbrella of the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office. See Ex. E to Behr Cert., Ex. D to Barrett Cert., Super Dep., 33:9-34:1; Ex. G to Behr Cert., Clemons Dep., 8:4-19. The Prosecutor's Office utilized law enforcement officers from Narcotics Task Force, the SWAT team, and City of Wildwood Police Department. See Ex. E to Behr Cert., Ex. D to Barrett Cert., Ex. B to Davenport Cert., Super Dep., 7:20-8:3; 33:9-34:1; Ex. G t0 Behr Cert., Clemons Dep., 8:4-19.

On February 29, 2008, Neil contacted Harkins and informed him that he had occasion to again contact the management of the Esplanade Motel in his capacity as Fire Inspector; Neil asked Harkins whether he needed any follow-up information. See Ex. A to Behr Cert., Ex. E to Davenport Cert., Mar. 5, 2008 Inv. Rpt. of Det. Robert Harkins Jr. In response to Harkins' request, Neil provided photographs of the entry areas to Rooms 206 and 305. See Ex. C to Behr Cert., Harkins Dep., 29:6-25. Neil also stated that the motel's registration cards listed both rooms as unoccupied. See Ex. C to Behr Cert., Harkins Dep., 31:2-22. When Neil questioned the manager about the man he had encountered in Room 305, she revealed that he had checked out of his room the day before, February 28.[4] See Ex. A to Behr Cert., Ex. E to Davenport Cert., Mar. 5, 2008 Inv. Rpt. of Det. Robert Harkins Jr.; Ex. C to Behr Cert., Harkins Dep., 32:6-18. Finally, Neil informed Harkins that a maintenance man remarked that there were two black males staying in Room 305. See Ex. A to Behr Cert., Ex. E to Davenport Cert., Mar. 5, 2008 Inv. Rpt. of Det. Robert Harkins Jr.

The search operation was controlled by Lieutenant Ken Super of the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office who, at the time, was in charge of the Narcotics Division. See Ex. G to Behr Cert., Clemons Dep., 10:6-12; 11:19-21; Ex. E to Behr Cert., Ex. D to Barrett Cert., Super Dep., 12:11-16. Super oversaw the Hoyle investigation, see Ex. C to Behr Cert., Harkins Dep., 10:24-11:24; Ex. E to Behr Cert., Ex. D to Barrett Cert., Super Dep., 13:2-13, and had received information from Harkins that Hoyle was utilizing Room 206 of the motel. See Ex. E to Behr Cert., Ex. D to Barrett Cert., Ex. B to Davenport Cert., Super Dep., 15:1-17:5; 22:21-23:13. Super summoned the SWAT team to execute the warrants, see Ex. E to Behr Cert., Ex. D to Barrett Cert., Ex. B to Davenport Cert., Super Dep., 6:1-7:19; that is, the execution of the warrant by the SWAT Team to search Room 206 was based on Super's authorization, see Ex. E to Behr Cert., Ex. D to Barrett Cert., Ex. B to Davenport Cert., Super Dep., 8:4-15; 13:14-20, although Super was not a member of the SWAT Team, see Ex. E to Behr Cert., Ex. D to Barrett Cert., Ex. B to Davenport Cert., Super Dep., 7:3-19.

On February 29, 2008, Sergeant John Clemons of the Wildwood Police Department completed a warrant service plan as part of his duties as SWAT team commander. See Ex. F to Behr Cert., Ex. C to Barrett Cert., Warrant Svc. Plan; Ex. G to Behr Cert., Clemons Dep., 5:13-20; Ex. E to Behr Cert., Ex. D to Barrett Cert., Ex. B to Davenport Cert., Super Dep., 12:17-13:1. The deployment commander for the SWAT Team that entered Room 206 was Sergeant Joseph Murphy of the Wildwood Police Department. See Ex. G to Behr Cert., Clemons Dep., 7:3-10; Ex. E to Behr Cert., Ex. D to Jr. Barrett Cert., Ex. B to Davenport Cert., Super Dep., 8:16-19.

Detective Landis and Harkins took up surveillance positions at approximately 10 p.m. on February 29, and remained in the surveillance positions while the search warrant was executed. See Ex. A to Behr Cert., Ex. E to Davenport Cert., Mar. 5, 2008 Inv. Rpt. of Det. Robert Harkins Jr.; Ex. C to Behr Cert., Harkins Dep., 38:4-39:18. At approximately 11:15 p.m., Harkins observed a Black male enter Room 305. See Ex. C to Behr Cert., Harkins Dep., 39:1-6.

The search warrants for Rooms 206 and 305 were executed simultaneously at approximately 1:45 a.m. on Saturday, March 1, 2008, see Ex. A to Behr Cert., Ex. E to Davenport Cert., Mar. 5, 2008 Inv. Rpt. of Det. Robert Harkins Jr., with both rooms utilizing a six SWAT Team stack with the law enforcement personnel lined up in a row in executing the No Knock Warrant. See Ex. G to Behr Cert., Clemons Dep., 17:9-25:24. See also Ex. F to Behr Cert., Ex. C to Barrett Cert., Warrant Service Plan.

For Room 206, Officer Roger Lillo of the Wildwood Crest Police Department was point, first in line. See Ex. G to Behr Cert., Clemons Dep., 17:9-21. As Lillo entered Room 206, he encountered a person lying on the bed; he testified that the person appeared to be a bald "Black male, large frame." See Ex. I to Behr Cert., Ex. E to Barrett Cert., Ex. G to Davenport Cert., Lillo Dep., 11:13-12:3. Lillo verbalized commands, "Police, Search Warrant, Show me your hands." See Ex. I to Behr Cert., Ex. E to Barrett Cert., Ex. G to Davenport Cert., Lillo Dep., 11:13-20. Lillo testified that it was his responsibility to cover the person in the bed with his weapon as two other officers moved the person from the bed to the floor and handcuffed her. See Ex. I to Behr Cert., Ex. E to Barrett Cert., Ex. G to Davenport Cert., Lillo Dep., 13:18-22. Other officers, however, recalled Lillo involved in handcuffing Plaintiff. See Ex. F to Barrett Cert., Donahue Dep., 25:1-18; Ex. I to Barrett Cert., Brian Harkins Dep., 23:1-17. In any event, Plaintiff was forced to the ground and handcuffed. See Ex. I to Behr Cert., Ex. E to Barrett Cert., Ex. G to Davenport Cert., Lillo Dep., 12:4-13:22.

Officer Tom Hegarty of the Cape May County Sheriff's Department was the second person in the stack; he was in charge of using the battering ram to break down the door. See Ex. G to Behr Cert., Clemons Dep., 19:18-20:14; Ex. G to Barrett Cert., Hegarty Dep., 20:6-23. In his capacity as the "breacher, " Hegarty entered the room but had no physical contact with Plaintiff and did not make any observations of her. See Ex. G to Barrett Cert., Hegarty Dep., 20:5-21:8. To be clear, Lillo moved out of the way for the ram to be used and Lillo then was the first officer to enter Room 206. See Ex. G to Behr Cert., Clemons Dep., 19:18-23:3.

Officer Luke Donahue of the Wildwood Crest Police Department was the second to enter Room 206; he does not recall how plaintiff got from the bed to the floor, but does recall assisting in handcuffing her and then helping her back onto ...


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