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Milton v. City of Camden

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

August 24, 2018

KAZAR MILTON, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CAMDEN, COUNTY OF CAMDEN, STATE OF NEW JERSEY, CAMDEN COUNTY PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE, IRA SLOVIN, CHIEF GREGORY SMITH, INVESTIGATOR JAMES BRUNO, STEVEN SETTLES, and OFFICER WILLIAM BENJAMIN, Defendants.

          DANIEL J. MCCRACKEN LAW OFFICES OF CONRAD J. BENEDETTO On behalf of Plaintiff

          SURINDER K. AGGARWAL On behalf of Plaintiff.

          THOMAS GERARD MASCIOCCHI KEAVENEY LEGAL GROUP, LLC. On behalf of Plaintiff.

          ROBERT J. MCGUIRE NEW JERSEY ATTORNEY GENERAL On behalf of Defendant James Bruno.

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         This matter concerns the alleged malicious prosecution of Plaintiff Kazar Milton by Defendant Investigator James Bruno. Plaintiff was charged with the murder of Luis Rolon. Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendant's motion.

         I.

         The Court takes its facts from Defendant's Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute, Plaintiff's Response, Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute, and Defendant's Response. Where the Court takes its facts from a different source, the Court so indicates.

         Luis Rolon was murdered at his residence on January 16, 2008. His girlfriend, Crystal Ford, witnessed the murder. Defendant, a Senior Investigator to the Camden County Prosecutor's Office Homicide Unit, was the lead investigator assigned to the Rolon case. As a Senior Investigator, his job responsibilities included conducting an investigation, interviewing witnesses, obtaining taped statements, and responding to and assessing crime scenes.

         Ford provided Defendant with an initial statement during the early morning hours of January 17, 2008, in which she described the murder. According to Ford, Rolon answered the door for someone he appeared to know, and the first person to enter “strong armed” his way in and “started tussling” with Rolon. Ford said the first person to enter asked “Where the shit at?” before shooting Rolon, after which two more men entered the residence.[1] They searched the house and Rolon's pockets before leaving. Ford called the Camden Police Department at 10:34 PM to report the shooting.

         Ford indicated that the person who shot Rolon was a black male between 5'9 and 6'0 and had a mustache and a beard. He was not wearing a mask. She said the shooter wore a black skully hat, black coat, blue and white striped shirt, and blue jeans. The shooter shot Rolon with his left hand.[2] Ford told investigators that the shooter was about five feet away from her when Rolon was shot and that “[i]f [she saw] him again [she] could tell [investigators] that's him.”

         As to the other two individuals who entered, Ford said one wore a black mask over his face from his eyes down and wore a grey hoodie. Ford at first said this person was wearing grey pants, but then said several times that the pants were tan. While Ford was unable to provide a description of the third person, she indicated he may have been wearing a black coat. (Pl. Ex. D at 12).

         Later in the morning on January 17, 2008, Defendant and Detective Cheryl Campbell of the Camden Police Department arrived at Ford's home. Ford accompanied them to the Prosecutor's Office. There, Investigator John Greer of the Camden County Prosecutor's Office Homicide Unit showed her a photo array that included Plaintiff's picture. Ford thereafter gave a videotaped statement identifying Plaintiff from the photo array as the person who shot Rolon. Ford stated she had known Plaintiff for about ten years, because she used to live across the street from Plaintiff's girlfriend.

         Ford testified at her deposition that she identified Plaintiff because she “felt pressured” by an individual who was not the Defendant. More specifically, she said the person who made her feel pressured was an “older white man” with white hair and a moustache, a person she recognized to be different from the person who interviewed her in the early morning hours of January 17th; in other words, someone other than Defendant, who had conducted that interview. At the time, Ford and the older unidentified man were the only people in the room. Other circumstances regarding Ford's identification of Plaintiff are also in dispute. Plaintiff recanted her identification in 2011.

         On the night of Rolon's murder, Defendant learned that local police had issued a request to stop a suspicious black pickup truck seen in the area. The vehicle was located and stopped by police. The occupants of the vehicle were Raheem Brittingham and Donte Simmons. One of the occupants was wearing tan pants. Defendant and other officers met with Brittingham and Simmons and interviewed them. Defendant stated there was “[n]o doubt in [his] mind those were the guys in the house.” (Pl. Ex. B at 27:13-18).

         Defendant asked about their whereabouts prior to the police stop, and Defendant testified he disbelieved their responses because they gave conflicting stories. Brittingham and Simmons thereafter both verbally consented to provide their clothing to the police to be tested for evidence. One of the individuals was detained because he had an outstanding warrant, but the police could not otherwise hold them. (Pl. Ex. B at 27:18-20). Defendant did not obtain a recorded statement from either Brittingham or Simmons. Final testing on the tan pants collected from Brittingham did not reveal the presence of blood. However, no trace evidence analysis was performed.

         Camden City Police Officer William Benjamin was Simmons's step-father. He was present at the scene when the police stopped Brittingham and Simmons. Defendant claims Benjamin recognized the vehicle and described its “frequent operator” as a black stocky male in his thirties with a beard and mustache. Benjamin spoke with Simmons and advised Defendant that the individual who regularly operated the truck was known as “Smack.” Defendant then learned from Richard Norcross of the Camden County Prosecutor's Office Intelligence Unit that the Prosecutor's Office had intelligence indicating Plaintiff supposedly used the nicknames “Smack” and “Fats.”

         On January 28, 2008, Defendant requested a search warrant for the vehicle in which Brittingham and Simmons had been riding the night of Rolon's murder. During the execution of the search warrant, the entire vehicle was processed and certain items were collected as evidence and tested for fingerprints. There was no match between the fingerprint lifts taken from the vehicle or the items and Plaintiff's fingerprints. During the search, several articles of clothing were found that were consistent with a description of the clothing worn by the perpetrators of the Rolon murder. These articles were photographed but not removed. Pursuant to another search warrant, these items were later collected.

         On January 18, 2008, Defendant consulted with Gregory Smith, the Section Chief for the Homicide Unit, about this case. Following the consultation, Defendant prepared the complaint charging Plaintiff with Rolon's murder. Plaintiff was arrested that day. That afternoon, Defendant interviewed Plaintiff. Plaintiff admitted knowing Rolon and ...


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