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Ebuzor-Onayemi v. Union County Police Department

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 12, 2017




         Plaintiff Joy Ebuzor-Onayemi brought this action under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Union County Prosecutor's Office (the “UCPO”), prosecutors Meghan Tomlinson and Shawn Barnes, Union County police officer Daniel Gallagher, and Union County employee Moshood Olushekun (collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiff principally alleges that Defendants violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by fabricating evidence and using it to wrongfully convict her in state court of burglary and falsification of records. The UCPO and Defendants Tomlinson, Barnes and Gallagher (the “moving Defendants”) move to dismiss all claims. Because the claims against pro se Defendant Moshood Olushekun are indistinguishable from the claims against the other Defendants, the Court considers Olushekun to have joined the motion. For the reasons explained below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED as follows.

         All Counts against the UCPO are DISMISSED with prejudice. As to all other Defendants, the Complaint is DISMISSED without prejudice as to claims 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7, while Count 6 is DISMISSED with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts have been drawn from the Complaint unless otherwise indicated. On April 2, 2014, Plaintiff was convicted in Union County, New Jersey, of burglary and falsification of records. Events giving rise to the prosecution began on April 8, 2011, when Plaintiff was terminated from her position as assistant manager of Windsor Way, a group home for individuals with developmental disabilities.[1] The purported basis for her firing was that Plaintiff had falsified residents' medical records. The termination led to a confrontation and police were called to the scene. Before leaving, Plaintiff handed over to police what she represented to be the key to Windsor Way.

         A. The prosecution's theory of the case

         According to prosecutors, Plaintiff intentionally handed in the wrong key and withheld a second key to an office inside the Windsor Way building. Later that day, prosecutors alleged, she used the actual keys to enter Windsor Way and remove certain medical records. Plaintiff then gave a bag containing the stolen documents and two keys to her boyfriend, Defendant Moshood Olushekun, then a Union County employee working at the county courthouse. ECF No. 21. A state appeals court, which recently upheld the conviction, described the following sequence of events:

[Olushekun] testified that defendant[2] told him that she had turned over the wrong key and she had then gone to the group home and taken some documents. Defendant then handed [Olushekun] a black nylon shopping bag that contained documents and asked [Olushekun] to hold the bag for her.
Several months later, defendant asked [Olushekun] to get rid of the bag. Although [Olushekun] told defendant he had discarded the bag, he actually continued to hold it. In June 2011, [Olushekun] and defendant ended their romantic relationship, but they continued to live together. Thereafter, their relationship became contentious . . .
In 2013, a detective with the Union County Prosecutor's Office came to see [Olushekun] and asked if he had any information relating to the criminal charges that had been filed against defendant. [Olushekun] initially told the detective that he had no such information, but several months later he disclosed that he had the bag that defendant had given him on April 8, 2011. [Olushekun] then turned over the bag to the detective. The bag contained medical records taken from Windsor Way and two keys to that home. The bag and its contents were introduced as evidence at defendant's criminal trial.

State v. Ebuzor-Onayemi, 2016 WL 3563190, at *1 ( N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. July 1, 2016). The stolen documents and the keys allegedly produced by Olushekun were evidence necessary for prosecuting Plaintiff. At trial, Plaintiff denied taking the medical records and denied that she entered Windsor Way. The jury nonetheless found her guilty of burglary and falsification of records, and she was sentenced to three years of probation.[3]An appeal was denied on July 1, 2016 by the Superior Court, Appellate Division. Id.

         B. Plaintiff's account of the events leading to her conviction

         Plaintiff maintains that her conviction was the result of a conspiracy to “secure a conviction at all costs, ” and that the keys and medical records were fabricated evidence. ECF No. 26, at 15. She alleges that Olushekun never had possession of the keys, so could not have provided them to police; that Officer Gallagher's Property Receipt of June 6, 2013, which describes the bag's contents, did not refer to a key, Compl., Ex. 1; and that an Investigation Report also drafted on June 6, 2013 similarly failed to mention a key. See id.

         The earliest documentation of the keys is Officer Gallagher's September 9, 2013 report describing a “marble notebook” containing a single brass key, apparently included in the bag of evidence provided by Olushekun. Compl. ¶ 38. On March 4, 2014, shortly before trial, Prosecutor Meghan Tomlinson discovered the second key, also inside the marble notebook. Id. at ¶ 46. This finding was significant because Plaintiff would have needed both keys to commit the burglary. Id. Plaintiff characterizes the discovery of the second key as “implausible”; she argues that the notebook allegedly containing the keys had already been handled and photocopied months earlier, such that “the second key would have fallen” long before the notebook ...

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