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Kwanzaa v. Tell

United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage

October 28, 2019

CHAKA KWANZAA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
GIRARD TELL, et al., Defendants.

          CHAKA KWANZAA, pro se

          OPINION

          RENÉE MARIE BUMB, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE:

         This matter comes before the Court upon pro se Plaintiff Chaka Kwanzaa's third attempt to successfully plead violations of his federal constitutional rights at the hands of various Pleasantville, New Jersey police officers. The alleged constitutional violations primarily occurred during an arrest of Plaintiff in January, 2019.[1] This Court has granted Plaintiff's IFP application, and therefore screens the Second Amended Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). For the reasons stated herein, the Court holds that all but one of Plaintiff's claims[2] fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The Court will, with great reluctance, allow the one sufficiently pled claim-- the Fourth Amendment claim based on the allegation that, during the search of the car in which Plaintiff was found, Defendant Tell improperly seized Plaintiff's diamond ring-- to proceed.

         I. FACTS

         The following facts are drawn from Plaintiff's somewhat disjointed 19-page Second Amended Complaint and the 38 pages of exhibits attached thereto, or incorporated therein by reference.[3]As discussed infra, several material differences exist between Plaintiff's allegations and the facts contained in the documents Plaintiff has attached to the Second Amended Complaint. Where the facts as stated in the exhibits cannot be reconciled with the facts alleged in the pleading, the exhibit controls.[4');">4" name="FN4');">4" id= "FN4');">4">4');">4]

         At approximately 10:00 a.m. on January 4');">4, 2019, Plaintiff was seated in the driver's seat of a parked car owned by his wife, Peggy Boler Kwanzaa. [Second Amended Complaint, “S.A.C.” p. 15; Investigation Report, Docket No. 5 at p. 30 of 57 and 39 of 57[5] Defendant Tell approached the parked vehicle. [S.A.C. p. 10] Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Tell had no reason to even approach the vehicle, suggesting that the sole fact that Plaintiff is African American was the reason Defendant Tell approached the vehicle. The Investigation Report tells a different story. The report states the vehicle looked “suspicious” because:

earlier in [Defendant Tell's] patrol shift [Tell] observed this same vehicle parked on Linden Avenue between the properties of 730 Linden Avenue and 21 West Reading Avenue. The area where the vehicle was parked [was located] across from 619 Church Street between the properties of 624');">4 and 618 Street. Both locations [where] the vehicle was parked were distant from residences on either side. I travel these roads nearly every patrol shift day / night and know that these areas are not commonly used for parking.

         [Investigation Report][6]

         The video recording of the incident begins at this point. The video shows a police car, with its lights flashing, pull-up behind the car in which Plaintiff is sitting. Defendant Tell approaches the passenger side of the car, which appears to be next to the sidewalk. He identifies himself by name to the Plaintiff through the window which Plaintiff had opened to speak with the officer. Defendant Tell then sees marijuana on the center console of the car. He walks around the back of the car, to the drivers' side. Plaintiff asks, “What happened?” Defendant Tell directs Plaintiff to “get out of the vehicle.” Rather than comply with Defendant Tell's command, Plaintiff asks “what happened sir?” Defendant Tell responds, “I can see the blunt on the center console.” Plaintiff becomes agitated and yells, “I have a license!” while simultaneously shifting in his seat in an apparent attempt to pull something out of his back pocket. Defendant Tell responds, “You're getting out of the car, ” and Plaintiff yells again, “I have a license. I'm getting ready to show you the license, ” as he begins to exit the car.

         At this point, the video continuously displays the empty vehicle as the words exchanged by Defendant Tell and Plaintiff outside the car are somewhat difficult to decipher. Plaintiff, however, can be heard yelling something about having “a license for it” and a “medical” reason for having the marijuana. Defendant Tell responds “well, we'll figure that out, ” while Plaintiff continues to yell agitatedly about something or someone being “arbitrary.” The next clear statement that can be heard is Defendant Tell saying in a raised voice, “I don't have to ask questions! It's right in plain view!” Plaintiff continues to yell, and Defendant Tell directs Plaintiff to “shut your mouth.” Plaintiff continues yelling and Defendant Tell directs him to “put your hands together.” Plaintiff yells, “my hands are together! Marijuana! Marijuana! I have a license!” While Plaintiff continues to yell, Defendant Tell yells, “you're not allowed to smoke and drive, ” to which Plaintiff responds “I'm not driving!”

         Defendant Tell then commands Plaintiff three consecutive times to “face the car, ” while Plaintiff continues to yell that he's “a paralegal. Camera's on. I'm about to show you my ID card.” Next, the sound of handcuffs can be heard on the video and Plaintiff says “put me in cuffs.” Plaintiff continues to yell about his “ID card” to which Defendant Tell yells back, “I don't care!” Plaintiff continues to yell.

         At this point the voices on the recording become more faint, as if the people are moving further away from the car, and Plaintiff can be heard saying, “what'd you have to do this for man?” and Defendant Tell responds, “I told you, you had marijuana in plain view. That's the problem.” More muffled conversation continues and then Defendant Tell can be heard yelling, “I'm glad the camera's on! Because you know what? It has everything on video. That's perfect.”

         Later on, Defendant Tell yells, “Well you know what? That's fine if you have an ID card. That's fine but what you're doing is illegal.” Plaintiff yells, “What am I doing? I'm on the phone! I'm sitting in the car on the phone, ” to which Defendant Tell responds, “and then you wanted to get all extra.” Plaintiff responds, “You had to know man, I'm no threat. I'm no threat. I told you I'm a paralegal.” Defendant Tell responds calmly, “Spread your legs. Just hang right here.”

         Shortly thereafter, another police car arrives, and a male officer who Plaintiff alleges is Defendant Van Syckle, says to Plaintiff, “Why don't you calm down?” Plaintiff then recounts his version of events to the newly arrived officer, repeatedly saying “Look at the video! Look at the video!” Later on, Defendant Tell can be heard on the video saying, “you keep using the word ‘arbitrary.' You know what the charge is? Possession of marijuana. Possession of prescription pills, whatever you got in there. Probably fentanyl. Probably fentanyl pills.”

         Plaintiff vaguely alleges that it was around this time that “he was assaulted by [D]efendants Tell and Van Syckle causing injury to plaintiff.” [S.A.C. p. 11] The alleged “assault” cannot be heard on the cell phone recording. Plaintiff also alleges that he suffered chest pains and “injury to his low back” as a result of the alleged “assault, ” but Plaintiff's discharge report from AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center only references “chest pain, ” not any injury to any other part of Plaintiff's body. [Dkt. No. 5, p. 31 of 57]

         At 4');">4 minutes and 20 seconds into the recording, a uniformed officer appears in the video, reaching into the center console of the car through the open driver's side door. The officer proceeds to conduct a search of the contents of the center console. Plaintiff can be heard in the background speaking with a raised voice the entire time. At 5 minutes and ...


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