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Ramirez v. City of Camden

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 26, 2015

ALICE M. RAMIREZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY, CHIEF OF POLICE J. SCOTT THOMSON, POLICE OFFICER M.M. MATHEWS, POLICE OFFICER JAMES MELTON, CAMDEN POLICE OFFICERS JOHN DOE 1-6 Defendants.

Herbert McDuffy, Jr., Esq., Willingboro, NJ, Attorney for Plaintiff,

Brian E. Turner, Esq., Timothy J. Galanaugh, Esq., CITY OF CAMDEN ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Camden, NJ, Attorneys for Defendants City of Camden and Chief of Police J., Scott Thomson.

Timothy J. Galanaugh, Esq., CITY OF CAMDEN ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Camden, NJ, Attorney for Defendants Police Officer M.M. Mathews and Police, Officer James Melton.

OPINION

JEROME B. SIMANDLE, Chief District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This is a case involving Camden police officers who entered the home of Plaintiff Alice Ramirez over her objections in order to make a warrantless arrest of her son, Raymond, whom they claim they had pursued to Plaintiff's house. Defendants the City of Camden, the Chief of Police, and police officers M.M. Mathews and James Melton seek summary judgment on this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 case, arguing that the warrantless entry did not violate the Fourth Amendment because it was made in the course of a "hot pursuit." Because there is a genuine dispute of material fact on the present record whether Raymond was being pursued by the police before the officers entered, summary judgment will be denied as to the officers. Also, because neither party addresses the issues of the municipal liability of the City of Camden and of Chief of Police J. Scott Thomson, their motion for summary judgment must be dismissed without prejudice to renewal in a properly-briefed motion.

II. BACKGROUND

On March 12, 2012, Plaintiff Alice Ramirez was at home in Pennsauken, New Jersey with a large group of friends and family members preparing dinner when two police officers from the Camden Police Department knocked on her door. The two officers, Defendants M.M. Mathews and James Melton, were looking for her son, Raymond Ramirez ("Raymond"), in connection with a complaint lodged by his girlfriend, Alyssa Maldonado, earlier that day. Raymond lived with his mother and was at home when the officers arrived. (Def. Statement of Material Facts ("SMF") [Docket Item 19] ¶¶ 6, 16; Pl. Counterstatement of Material Facts ("Counter SMF") [Docket Item 21-1] ¶¶ 4.) According to a police report, Maldonado had stated to the police that Ramirez had gone to her residence "attempting to damage her vehicle." (Police Incident Report, Def. Ex. D [Docket Item 19-4].) The officers were looking for Ramirez and two other individuals, Dwayne Caldwell and Keon Skinner, who had threatened Maldonado's friend, Beatrize Campos.[1]

Alice Ramirez opened the door and asked the officers for a warrant. When they could not produce one, she refused to let them into her house. The officers nevertheless forced their way in to look for Raymond. (Alice Ramirez Dep. [Docket Item 19-3] 24:14-18; 49:1-9; SMF ¶¶ 9-12; Counter SMF ¶¶ 6-7.) Approximately 15 people, including six children, were present, and at some point Defendants called for backup. The officers caused an uproar in Plaintiff's home and broke several chairs and a glass table in the living room. During the chaos, Plaintiff's mother fainted and Defendants initially refused to call for help despite pleas from family members. (Alice Ramirez Dep. 13:10-17; Vargas Dep. 12:1-8; Counter SMF ¶ 8.) The officers eventually found Raymond inside the house and arrested him on a charge of harassment under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4. (Police Arrest Report, Def. Ex. D.)[2]

Defendants contend that the facts show the officers entering Plaintiff's home while pursuing Raymond Rodriguez. According to Defendant Mathews' Police Incident Report, Maldonado and Campos told the officers that Raymond, Skinner, and Caldwell were standing on a nearby street corner. (Police Incident Report [Docket Item 19-4], Ex. D to Def. Br.) Then, "[u]pon [the officers'] arrival, " the men "fled into" Plaintiff's house. (Id.) Mathews and Melton "followed the suspects at which time was greeted by an abundant amount of people screaming and surrounding myself and Officer Melton." (Police Incident Report.) Defendants' Police Arrest Report, however, which was filled out approximately twenty minutes before the Incident Report, did not provide this detail. The description of the incident stated only that

THIS UNIT WAS DISPATCHED TO 4001 MYRTLE (APT#H-2), IN REFERENCE TO DOMESTIC DISPUTE. THIS UNIT ALONG WITH OFC. MATHEWS (UNIT#234) AND THE TWO FEMALE COMPLAINANTS, WHEN[SIC] TO 4625 WOODLAND, PENNSAUKEN. UPON ARRIVAL THIS UNIT ALONG WITH SEVERAL OFFICERS PLACE[D] MR. RODRIGUEZ [] UNDER ARREST AND AND TRANSPORTED HIM TO PAB AND CHARGED ACCORDINGLY.

(Police Arrest Report, Ex. D to Def. Br.)

In contrast to the version of events described in the Police Incident Report, Plaintiff repeatedly testified that her son was at home the entire day and was inside the house for at least two hours before the officers came to her door. (Alice Ramirez Dep. 20:7-9; 52:5-22; 53:16-18.) When asked whether she knew whether Raymond, Skinner, and Caldwell might have been standing on the street corner named in in the police report, she stated, "I have no idea about that." (Id. 33:17-25.)

Plaintiff's sister, Marisol Babilonia, was also at Plaintiff's home that evening and testified that in the one and a half to two hours she was there before the police arrived, she did not see Raymond leave the house. ...


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