United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage
O'HANLON LAW FIRM By: Stephen T. O'Hanlon, Esq.
Attorneys for Plaintiff
MAYFIELD TURNER O'MARA & DONNELLY, P.C. By: Francis
X. Donnelly, Esq. Robert J. Gillispie, Jr., Esq. Attorneys
RENÉE MARIE BUMB UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
§ 1983 suit, Plaintiff Kathleen Walker asserts that
Defendant Winslow Township police officers violated her
federal constitutional rights when they responded to a
domestic dispute call to Walker's home, and subsequently
arrested Walker on a disorderly persons charge.
move for summary judgment. For the reasons stated herein, the
motion will be granted in part and denied in part.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
evening of July 28, 2014, Defendant Winslow Township Police
Officers Heller, Saunders, and Mueller responded to Plaintiff
Walker's home, dispatched on a domestic dispute call.
(Gillispie Cert. Ex. A) It is undisputed that Walker lived in
the house with her long-term boyfriend, Dante Wilson, their
two young children (aged 10 and 5 years old at the time), and
Wilson's daughter, Chante Hitchens, who was approximately
20 years old at the time. (Gillispie Cert. Ex. A;
Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts,
“DSUF”, ¶ 2; Walker Dep. p. 6-7, 14-15, 34,
was the person who called the police (DSUF ¶ 8),
asserting that Plaintiff Walker was denying her access to the
home. (Gillispie Cert. Ex. A; Hitchens Dep. p. 13-15, 33)
Wilson, who serves in the New Jersey National Guard, was away
on a two-week training exercise. (Wilson Dep. p. 48; Walker
Dep. p. 33)
the officers arrived at the house, Hitchens was standing by
her car in the driveway. (Gillispie Cert. Ex. A; Hitchens
Dep. p. 16) The officers first spoke with Hitchens, who
explained that she wanted to get into the house to get her
belongings. (Hitchens Dep. p. 16-17) She also told the
officers that she had received “harassing” and
“threatening text messages” from Plaintiff, and
that different police officers had been called to the house
the day before because Plaintiff was not allowing Hitchens
into the house. (Saunders Dep. p. 10-11)
Saunders testified that he determined that Hitchens lived at
the house by looking at her driver's license (which
listed the address of the house as her address), and that the
officers were “invited onto the property” by
Hitchens. (Saunders Dep. p. 17, 13) Officers Saunders and
Heller then went to the front door of the house.
Mueller testified that while Saunders and Heller were
knocking on the front door, he “decided to walk around
back to see if I could see into the house and see if we could
have contact.” (Mueller Dep. p. 7) He further testified
that he had “no permission to go on the property,
” but he walked from the front yard, through the side
yard and into the backyard of the property in an
“attempt to make contact with the other party in a
domestic dispute.” (Id., p. 7-9) Mueller
[w]hen we arrived and we were told of the incident between
mother and daughter, we needed to speak to the mother.
So we went to the house to make contact with the mom, make
sure she was okay, there wasn't some kind of incident
where she was injured or hurt.
. . .
Due to the situation being heated, the way Hitchens was upset
about things, we just had to speak to both parties and make
sure everything was okay.
(Mueller Dep. p. 6-7) Officer Saunders' report similarly
stated, “Ptlm. Muller [sic] walked around back and
attempted to make contact at the back door with negative
results.” (Gillispie Cert. Ex. A)
Walker testified that she was upstairs in the house bathing
her daughter when she heard “pounding, ” or
“banging” on the front door. (Walker Dep. p. 56,
71) She answered the door, and Officer Saunders
“asked” if he and Officer Heller could
“come in[to the house] and talk.” (Id.,
p. 56) Walker undisputedly said yes, and allowed Officers
Saunders and Heller into the foyer of the house. (DSUF
¶¶ 11-12) Officer Saunders' Master Incident
Report states that “Walker answered the door and
invited all three (3) officers inside the residence.”
(Gillispie Cert. Ex. A; see also Saunders Dep. p. 46)
Plaintiff Walker disputes that she invited the third officer,
Officer Mueller, into the house. (See Hitchens Dep. p. 18;
Walker Dep. p. 56)
Walker testified that “about a minute after [Officers
Saunders and Heller] entered my house and shut the door,
about a minute later Officer Mueller entered. So at that time
all three officers were standing right in the foyer
area.” (Walker Dep. p. 57)
Walker further testified, '[t]he only officer that spoke
to me at all was Officer Saunders. I [told him] . . . Chante
[Hitchens] made an agreement . . . that she wasn't going
to return [to the house] until her father got home. . . . And
[Saunders] said I don't care. She changed her mind. She
has that right. This is her residence. . . . And he said . .
. she can come in and out of here whenever she wants and . .
. there's nothing you can do about it. And I said okay.
(Walker Dep. p. 56-57)
parties agree that the situation escalated
quickly.According to Officer Mueller, “[o]nce
we [spoke] to [Walker], we don't get a word in edgewise.
. . . [A]sking questions and no response and we're not
getting anywhere with our conversation and she's
continuing to get louder and point and get closer.”
(Mueller Dep. p. 15-16)
Saunders similarly testified, “[w]e tried to talk to
Ms. Walker but she was being aggressive towards us,
belligerent, yelling, invading my personal space, pointing
her finger, waving her arms.” (Saunders Dep. p. 24)
also testified that, from where she was standing outside of
the house, she could hear Walker “yelling and
screaming.” (Hitchens Dep. p. 18)
testified that after Officer Saunders told her that she
“didn't have any right to forbid [Hitchens] from
coming in, ” she “said, then get the hell out of
my house because he kept saying I don't care. I said get
the hell out of my house.” (Walker Dep. p. 57)
asked at her deposition whether she “raised her
voice” at this time, Walker testified, “I might
talk loud and somebody might interpret that in a different
way. I did not believe I was raising my voice but [the
officers] may have.” (Id. p. 62) Walker
unequivocally testified, however, that she did not point in
the officers' direction, nor walk towards them, nor
invade their personal space. (Id. p. 63-64)
[f]inally I said, get the hell out of my house. And when I
said get out of my house . . . Officer Mueller charged me and
pushed me up against the wall and then turned me around and
put handcuffs on me. And I said what are you doing. He told
me to shut up. He told me he was going to take me . . . to
jail. . . . And I said you can't take me to jail. I
didn't do anything. He said, I'm sick of your mouth.
I'm going to teach you a lesson. Then he took me out [of
(Walker Dep. p. 72-73) Walker also testified that she
“was moving her hand away” as Mueller was
attempting to handcuff her. (Id. p. 57) She
explained, “I pulled my arms -- he caught me off guard.
I was like what are you doing.” (Id. p. 75)
she's continuing to get louder and point and get closer,
[I made the] determination  she should be put under arrest.
. . . I stepped toward Ms. Walker and with my left hand
reached out to grab around to her left hand which she turned
away. . . . She pulled away again, as she continued her turn.
As I had control of her left arm, Officer Saunders stepped up
and we were able to control her.
(Mueller Dep. p. 16)
report states that “Ptlm. Muller [sic] placed her hands
behind her back. Walker did attempt to pull away, however, I
was able to place handcuffs on her without incident.”
(Gillispie Cert. Ex. A)
undisputed that after Walker was placed in handcuffs, she was
escorted outside the house and into the back of a patrol car.
(DSUF ¶ 17) Hitchens testified that Walker's
“children were looking out the window and they were
crying” as Walker was being put into the police car.
(Hitchens Dep. p. 20-21)
time Hitchens was speaking to her father, Dante Wilson, on
her cell phone. Wilson testified that he asked to speak to
“an officer” who told Wilson that Walker was
being arrested “to teach her a lesson.” (Wilson
Dep. p. 51) Wilson and Hitchens agreed that Hitchens
would stay with the children while Walker was taken to the
station for processing. (Wilson Dep. p. 51; Hitchens Dep. p.
the officers received another call for a burglary in progress
and Saunders' lieutenant directed Saunders “to just
issue [Walker a] Special Complaint and process her at the
scene, ” rather than take her to the station. (Saunders
Dep. p. 34; Mueller Dep. p. 24-25) The Special Complaint
charged Walker with disorderly conduct in violation of
N.J.S.A. 2C:3-2A(1). It is ...