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Igwe v. Smith

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 26, 2018

SALAHUDDIN IGWE formerly known as MICHAEL A. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
DETECTIVE TAWAND SMITH, CAMDEN COUNTY, DETECTIVE SHAYQUIRA WILLIAMS, OFFICER MICHAEL PANTALON, and SERGEANT BRANDON KERSEY, Defendants.

          OPINION

          JOSEPH H. RODRIGUEZ U.S.D.J.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 [Doc. 32]. The Court heard oral argument on the motion on March 13, 2018 and the record of that proceeding is incorporated here. For the reasons expressed on the record that day, as well as those set forth below, the motion will be granted.

         Background

         On November the 19, 2014 at approximately 11:17 p.m. Officer G. Lewis of the Camden County Police Department was in the City of Camden patrolling when a woman approached the officer and advised him she had just been subject to rape. He immediately called for ambulance and she was taken to the hospital.

         Shortly thereafter, officers from the Camden County Police Department (“CCPD”) went to the hospital and obtained a preliminary identification from the victim for her alleged attacker. CCPD Detectives Shyquira Williams and Tawand Smith responded and took a recorded statement from the victim. She indicated that the individual had met her at the AM/PM mini market at the corner of Mt. Ephraim and Kaighn Avenues and they then proceeded to 1327 Lansdowne Avenue to smoke crack. Instead, once they entered the abandoned building where the man claimed to live, he brutally raped her for 27 minutes while wielding a broom as a weapon. The woman remembered it was 37 minutes because she counted to 60, 37 times during the ordeal. She described this individual as a tall black male, thin, dressed all in black, bearded, and wearing a black hat. She also indicated that he had crooked teeth, appeared dirty, and spoke “ghetto.”

         At or about the same time, that information was communicated to officers in the area where the victim had reported the crime. Sergeant Brandon Kersey of the CCPD saw one individual matching the description he had received of a black male wearing all black with a black baseball cap; that individual was the Plaintiff. He was walking up Lansdowne Avenue from the direction where the crime had been committed and proceeded directly in front of Kersey to go into the AM/PM mini market.

         Kersey stopped Plaintiff and Officer Pantaleon detained him in his patrol vehicle. Plaintiff was taken to the police station for questioning. Upon arriving at the station, Plaintiff exercised his Fifth Amendment right and refused to give a statement. Plaintiff was then photographed. Smith ordered a photo array from the sheriff's department to be presented to the victim.

         CCPD Officer Lucas Murray, who was not involved in the investigation and was unaware which one of the eight photographs he was carrying depicted the suspect, presented the photo array to the victim in the hospital. Murray noted that the victim looked through the photographs one at a time. She saw the first photograph and said she thought that was her attacker. Murray then asked the victim to continue to look through the rest of the photographs, and when she got to number 8, which was the Plaintiff, she changed her mind and identified Plaintiff as her attacker. She then compared the two photographs, 1 and 8, said, “I don't think it's number 1, I think it's number 8.” The officer then asked her to give him a percentage of which she was comfortable with the identification; in other words, what percent she was committed that this was the individual who raped her about an hour prior. She identified Plaintiff as her attacker with a 75% degree of certainty.

         Murray then communicated that information to Detective Smith. No charges had been officially filed at that point, but Plaintiff was being held for questioning. Detective Smith consulted with the Camden County Prosecutor's Office assistant prosecutor who was on duty that night and informed him of the situation. She gave him the description, where Plaintiff was apprehended, and the other information that had been given by the victim and then the details of the photo array. The assistant prosecutor advised Smith that there was probable cause to arrest Plaintiff and instructed her to charge Plaintiff with aggravated sexual assault and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. Detective Smith filed those two charges against the Plaintiff in accordance with the Prosecutor's Office recommendation and instruction.

         Unable to post bail, Plaintiff was transported to the Camden County Correctional Facility on November 20, 2014 and remained there until his March 7, 2015 release from custody because his charges were dismissed. It was subsequently determined that the victim did not wish to cooperate with maintaining the investigation. Plaintiff has filed claims of unreasonable search and seizure and malicious prosecution. Through briefing on the instant summary judgment motion, he has conceded his claims against Defendant Camden County, and proceeds only against the individual Defendants.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         “Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue of material fact and if, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Pearson v. Component Tech. Corp., 247 F.3d 471, 482 n.1 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)); accord Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (a). Thus, the Court will enter summary judgment in favor of a movant who shows that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and supports the showing that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (c)(1)(A).

         An issue is “genuine” if supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is “material” if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn from those facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.; Maidenbaum v. Bally'sPark Place, Inc., 870 F.Supp. 1254, 1258 (D.N.J. 1994). Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Andersen, 477 U.S. at 256-57. “A nonmoving party may not ‘rest upon mere allegations, general denials or . . . vague statements . . . ...


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