United States District Court, D. New Jersey
JENNIFER ANN BONJEAN ASHLEY BLAIR COHEN BONJEAN LAW GROUP
PLLC On behalf of Plaintiff
MICHAEL BARKER TODD J. GELFAND BARKER, GELFAND & JAMES
LINWOOD GREENE On behalf of Defendant City of Atlantic City
CHRISTINE P. O'HEARN WILLIAM F. COOK SHAWN C. HUBER BROWN
& CONNERY, LLP On behalf of the individual officer
L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.
case involves claims of excessive force by City of Atlantic
City police officers, and claims of municipal liability
against Atlantic City for its practices and customs which
allegedly foster a culture that permits use of excessive
force. Presently before the Court are the motions of
Defendants for summary judgment in their favor. For the
reasons expressed below, Defendants' motions will be
denied in part and continued in part.
Charlie Harrison, alleges the following events that serve as
the basis for his Fourth Amendment violation claims against
the Defendant police officers and the City of Atlantic
the early morning hours of November 14, 2012, Plaintiff was
evicted from the Atlantic Club Casino where he had been
playing craps. It is undisputed that Plaintiff was
intoxicated when he was escorted from the premises. Atlantic
Club Casino security called the Atlantic City Police
Department (“ACPD”) to report that Plaintiff was
intoxicated and had left the property driving a black
to Defendant Oldroyd, at approximately 2:07 a.m., he spotted
Plaintiff's black Mercedes mini-van which matched the
description given out by police communications minutes
earlier. After following Plaintiff's car for a period of
time with his emergency lights activated, Defendant Oldroyd
effectuated a so-called “high risk” stop of
Plaintiff's car at Virginia and Pacific Avenues. What
transpired after Plaintiff stopped his vehicle is hotly
testified that he was traveling east after turning off
Pacific Avenue and was forced to make a U-turn when he
reached the boardwalk. After turning around and driving back
toward Pacific Avenue, Plaintiff noticed that he was being
followed by police vehicles with their emergency lights on.
Plaintiff did not hear any sirens and the officers gave
conflicting testimony about whether their sirens were on
(e.g., Defendant Oldroyd testified that he activated his
siren while Defendant Alosi testified that no sirens were
activated). According to Plaintiff, after stopping his car at
a red light, a male officer walked up to the window and
ordered him out of the car. Plaintiff complied with the order
and began to walk with his hands up toward the male officer
who was standing in front of his police vehicle parked behind
Plaintiff's car. According to Plaintiff, when he reached
the male officer, he was punched in the face multiple times
by the officer. Plaintiff testified that he was then pulled
to the ground by Defendant Clark's K-9 partner who bit
him on the back of the knee. When he fell to the ground, a
gang of officers assaulted him. Plaintiff testified that he
did not resist and did not even defend himself: “When I
walked to them, my hands was up. I think they told me to put
my hands up. And when I got to them. It was just a punch.
Then it was another, and another punch, and I just stood
there like a speed bag, and I took punches, and then the dog
came, and the dog grabbed me behind the leg and then I fell.
And when I fell, the officer fell, and then it was, like, my
arm was bent all the way up. And then it was like a knee in
my shoulder or something like that. And then it was like a
headlock, and then it was, like, more punches. And then I
blacked out.” Plaintiff recalls regaining consciousness
when he was thrown into the backseat of a police car.
Plaintiff recalled hearing some of the officers laughing
before he blacked out.
medical reports and photographs reveal that he suffered
significant physical injuries during his arrest. Plaintiff
received medical care at the AtlantiCare Regional Medical
Center immediately after his arrest. The treating emergency
room physician noted that Plaintiff “sustained injury
to the head, contusion, hematoma, pain, swelling, tenderness,
lateral aspect of left and posterior aspect of left knee,
abrasion, laceration.” The physician further noted deep
lacerations to the posterior aspect of Plaintiff's left
leg and that contusions to his right eye and right side of
his face were “deep” and “severe.”
The swelling to Plaintiff's face was so pronounced that
the doctor was unable to assess his eyesight. In his Atlantic
County Justice Facility booking photo, Plaintiff's face
reveals pronounced swelling, bruising, and a significant
abrasion to the right side of his face. Both of
Plaintiff's eyes are completely shut in his booking
photo. (See Docket No. 146 at 3-5.)
relate a different version of events. Defendants contend that
Plaintiff failed to adhere to their signals and continued
driving ignoring the clear direction to pull his care over.
When Plaintiff's vehicle eventually came to a stop,
Defendant Clark, who had also responded to the scene, pulled
alongside Plaintiff's vehicle and ordered him to exit.
After responding in a verbally assaultive and aggressive
manner, Plaintiff exited his vehicle and approached Defendant
Oldroyd attempted to handcuff Plaintiff, but Plaintiff pulled
away causing both men to fall to the ground. Immediately
after hitting the ground, Defendant Oldroyd became
incapacitated when he temporarily lost feeling in his right
arm. Plaintiff continued to resist and ignored commands of
Defendant Oldroyd and additional officers who had arrived to
assist. With an incapacitated officer on the ground and a
resisting arrestee, Defendant Clark made the split-second
decision to utilize her K-9 partner to apprehend Plaintiff.
(See Docket No. 133-19 at 2.)
was charged and subsequently indicted for aggravated assault
in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(5), resisting arrest
through physical force or violence in violation of N.J.S.A.
2C:29-2(a)(3)(a), and eluding in violation of N.J.S.A.
2C:29-2(b). Pursuant to a negotiated settlement with the
Atlantic County prosecutor, Plaintiff pled guilty to and was
convicted of eluding. All other charges were dismissed.
alleges that the defendant officers used excessive force in
his arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Plaintiff
also contends that Atlantic City is liable under Monell
v. New York City Dep't of Social Services, 436 U.S.
658, 690 (1978) because Atlantic City has a widespread
practice or custom of permitting its officers, including the
individual defendants here, to employ excessive force without
fear of discipline.
have moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims.
The individual Defendants argue that they are entitled to
qualified immunity on Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claims
because no reasonable jury would conclude that their use of
force was not objectively reasonable. Atlantic City argues
that it cannot be held liable under Monell because
no material disputed facts support Plaintiff's claim that
a policy or custom of Atlantic City caused Plaintiff harm.
Plaintiff has opposed both motions.