SAINTIL v. BOROUGH OF CARTERET et al
OPINION filed. Signed by Chief Judge Freda L. Wolfson on 9/15/2022. (mg)
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*NOT FOR PUBLICATION*
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 17-00433 (FLW)
BOROUGH OF CARTERET, BOROUGH
OF CARTERET POLICE DEPARTMENT,
TOWNSHIP OF HAMILTON, TOWNSHIP
OF HAMILTON POLICE DEPARTMENT,
Plaintiff Ronald Saintil (“Plaintiff”) filed this suit against various municipalities and
individual law enforcement officers for alleged violations of his constitutional and civil rights
under 42 U.S.C § 1983 and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (N.J.S.A. 10:6-1 et seq.), and for
alleged violations of state tort laws under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act (N.J.S.A. 59:8-1, et
seq.), from January 30, 2015 to February 9, 2015, in connection with a homicide investigation that
occurred. Pending before the Court are three motions for summary judgment, filed by three
separate groups of defendants (collectively “Defendants”): (i) the “Carteret Defendants,” including
the Borough of Carteret, the Borough of Carteret Police Department, Carteret Police Chief John
Pieczyski, Det. Thomas O’Connor, Det. Lt. Robert Wargocki, and Borough of Carteret Police
Officers 1-10; (ii) the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office (or “MCPO”) Defendants, including
Sgt. James Napp, Det. Gregory Morris, Sgt. Scott Crocco; and MCPO Detectives John Does 110; and (iii) the “Hamilton Defendants,” including the Township of Hamilton, the Township of
Hamilton Police Department, Hamilton Police Chief James Collins, Sgt. Kyle Thornton, Sgt. Terry
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King, Det. Lt. Joseph Mastropolo, Officer Christopher DiMeo, Officer Jonathan Woodhead,
Officer Christopher Schuster, Officer David DeLeon, Officer Chester Embley, Officer David H.
Leonard, Officer Mark Horan, Officer Patrick R. Guido, Officer William P. Murphy, Officer James
M. Stevens, Officer Sean B. Mattis, Officer Leonard J. Gadsby, and Hamilton Township Police
Officers John Does 1-10.
For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS the motions for summary judgment
in full. Plaintiff’s claims are dismissed.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
To resolve these motions for summary judgment, the facts recounted here are largely
undisputed. Disputes as to the timing, circumstances, or characterizations of certain events are
noted for clarity where necessary and appropriate.
A. The Murder of Anthony Mocci and the Initial Homicide Investigation
On the morning of January 30, 2015, the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office (“MCPO”)
and the Carteret Police Department responded to 76 Essex Street in Carteret, New Jersey after
having received a call from Adison Trigueno explaining that he had discovered his employer,
Anthony Mocci, unresponsive at the location. ECF No. 116-1, Carteret Defendants’ Statement of
Material Facts (“Carteret Facts”) ¶ 1. When law enforcement arrived, Mocci was found face down
in a pool of blood and pronounced dead at the scene. ECF No. 122-2, MCPO Defendants’
Statement of Material Facts (“MCPO Facts”) ¶ 2. A murder investigation ensued in which Det.
Andreea Capraru (formerly “Zebib”) served as the lead investigator from the MCPO, with the
assistance of Det. Greg Morris, and Det. Thomas O’Connor, who served as the lead investigator
for the Borough of Carteret. MCPO Sgt. Scott Crocco supervised the investigation. Carteret Facts
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That same day, the investigative team conducted interviews of certain individuals deemed
to have potentially relevant information, including Adison Trigueno, Jacklyn Cruz, Ronald
Ozechowski, and Lisa Mocci. Carteret Facts ¶ 4. Adison Trigueno, who had been employed by
Mocci, gave a formal statement to Det. Zebib and Det. O’Connor at the Carteret Police
Department, which stated, among other things, that Mocci owed money to a man named Ronald
(later confirmed to be Ronald Saintil by the detectives) who had previously worked for him. Id.
¶¶ 7–8. Trigueno explained that any relationship between the two had soured, and that Mocci had
once mentioned that if Ronald showed up to his house he would “leave in a body bag.” Id.; MCPO
Facts ¶ 6, Ex. E. Trigueno further stated that Ronald was Haitian, provided the detectives with
his phone number, and stated that he drove a black Jeep Cherokee. Carteret Facts ¶ 8–10; MCPO
Facts ¶ 7, Ex. E. Jacklyn Cruz, who lived next door to the crime scene and a tenant of Mocci, told
the detectives in an interview that the previous evening, January 29, she noticed a black SUV that
looked like a Jeep Cherokee on Essex Street near the address at which Mocci’s body was found.
Carteret Facts ¶ 5; MCPO Facts ¶ 4.
Around 5:00 p.m., the detectives conducted a motor vehicle records check, which
confirmed that a 1999 black Jeep Grand Cherokee was registered to Ronald Saintil. Carteret Facts
¶ 12; MCPO Facts ¶ 8. With this information, Saintil became a person of interest in the homicide
investigation, and the investigative team, including Sgt. Crocco, Det. Zebib, Det. Morris, Det.
O’Connor, and Lt. Wargocki, drove to Saintil’s residence in Hamilton Township to conduct an
interview. Carteret Facts ¶ 13; MCPO Facts ¶ 9.
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B. Saintil’s Arrest and the Search of His Residence
Law Enforcement’s Initial Attempt to Interview Saintil
At approximately 7:30 p.m., on January 30, 2015, the Carteret and MCPO detectives
arrived at Plaintiff’s residence. Carteret Facts ¶ 14. The Hamilton Police Department had been
informed of the investigation and potential interview, and Hamilton officers arrived at Plaintiff’s
residence around the same time as the detectives. MCPO Facts ¶ 10. At some point shortly after
law enforcement arrived at the residence, all of the lights inside the residence were turned off.
Carteret Facts ¶ 16; MCPO Facts ¶ 11. A 1999 black Jeep Grand Cherokee was parked outside.
Carteret Facts ¶ 15. Sgt. Crocco knocked on the front door of the residence 1 and at least one officer
announced the presence of law enforcement. Carteret Facts ¶ 17, 18. Looking out his window,
Plaintiff saw several men outside the front door, 2 but did not answer. Pl Facts ¶ 32. At 7:35 p.m.,
Sgt. Crocco attempted to make contact with Plaintiff by calling his cell phone, but likewise
received no answer. Carteret Facts ¶ 27.
After receiving no response to the initial knock, Det. O’Connor and Lt. Wargocki walked
to the back of residence. Carteret Facts ¶ 20; MCPO Facts ¶ 12. Having heard voices toward the
rear of his apartment, Plaintiff proceeded to his bedroom window and observed Det. O’Connor
outside the window. Pl. Facts ¶ 34. Det. O’Connor similarly observed Plaintiff at the window
before Plaintiff ultimately retreated into the living room area of the apartment. Carteret Facts ¶
23; MCPO Facts ¶ 14.
Plaintiff asserts that the front door of the residence upon which Sgt. Crocco knocked is an outer,
common entry doorway to an apartment building. ECF No. 144-3, Plaintiff’s Amended Statement
of Undisputed Material Facts (“Pl. Facts”) ¶ 32.
Plaintiff maintains that the detectives and officers he saw were in plain clothes and arrived in
unmarked cars. Pl. Facts. ¶¶ 29–34. Defendants maintain that marked police vehicles and some
uniformed officers were present on the scene. McGuire Decl. Ex. H at 196:6–197:17.
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The parties’ version of events of what took place at Plaintiff’s back window differ. Plaintiff
maintains that he merely looked through the window shade, that the window remained shut and
locked, and that he never made any attempt to escape. Pl. Facts ¶¶ 34–35. On the other hand, Det.
O’Connor claims to have seen Plaintiff with his hands and body positioned in a way that would
indicate an effort to push out the window, which he believed evidenced a potential escape effort.
Carteret Facts ¶ 22; MCPO Facts ¶ 16.
Immediately following this encounter, Det. O’Connor informed officers in the front of the
residence, including Sgt. Crocco, that he had seen a black male seemingly attempt to exit the
apartment through the back window, before returning to the apartment’s interior. Carteret Facts ¶
22; MCPO Facts ¶¶ 15, 17. Officers had also heard Det. O’Connor yelling at someone in the back
of the residence. MCPO Facts ¶ 13. Once back in his living room, phone records indicate that
Plaintiff placed or received seven phone calls from his cellphone between 8:21 p.m. and 9:29 p.m.
Carteret Facts ¶ 28. Plaintiff remained unresponsive to the law enforcement officers’ efforts to
speak with him.
Sgt. Crocco Obtains Telephonic Warrant
At approximately 8:28 p.m., Sgt. Crocco called the Court Smart Phone Line to apply for a
warrant to search Plaintiff’s residence. Pl. Facts ¶ 37; Certification of David A. Schwartz
(“Schwartz Cert.”), Ex. 16. Present on the line with Sgt. Crocco were Middlesex County Superior
Court Judge John Jorgensen and Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Scott LaMountain, who
is not named as a defendant in this suit. Id. Prior to the call, Sgt. Crocco had communicated with
LaMountain about the homicide investigation, evidence gathered up to that point, and the situation
at Plaintiff’s residence. MCPO Facts ¶ 18; McGuire Decl. Ex. A at 5.
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Sgt. Crocco provided sworn testimony in support of the warrant, explaining the context of
the homicide investigation and the preceding effort to make contact with Plaintiff. Sgt. Crocco
stated that Carteret Police had responded to 76 Essex Street that morning and discovered a
deceased male, identified as Anthony Mocci. See Schwartz Cert. Ex. 16. He further explained
that police had spoken to one of Mocci’s employees, Adison Trigueno, who had found Mocci
unresponsive at the residence. Id. Sgt. Crocco testified that Trigueno had given a sworn statement
in which Trigueno said that the victim had an “ongoing dispute with an individual by the name of
Ronald who had a heavy Haitian accent,” and who was later identified as Ronald Saintil. Id. Sgt.
Crocco further stated that law enforcement ascertained from Trigueno and Mocci’s wife, Lisa
Mocci, that Saintil was a former employee of Mocci who had been “fired 2 months ago.” Id. Sgt.
Crocco explained that as part of the “ongoing dispute” between Saintil and Mocci, “in the last
several weeks Mr. Ronald Saintil showed up at the victim’s residence in Colonia, New Jersey and
a verbal argument ensued where death threats were made by both parties.” Id. Sgt. Crocco also
noted that Trigueno had stated that Saintil drove a 1999 black Jeep Grand Cherokee. Id. Sgt.
Crocco continued by stating that law enforcement had taken a sworn statement from Mocci’s
friend Ron Ozechowski, who “confirmed of an ongoing dispute with the victim and this Mr.
Ronald Saintil and confirmed that he drove a black vehicle. Black SUV.” Id. Sgt. Crocco also
recounted the statement of Jacklyn Cruz, “the resident at 78 Essex Street right next door to where
the victim was murdered,” who said that the night prior she observed a “black SUV with tinted
windows,” which “appeared to be a Jeep Cherokee,” “pull up behind the victim’s vehicle” and
“park there for several minutes” before driving away “several minutes later.” Id. Sgt. Crocco
explained that based on this information “Ronald Saintil was a person of interest.” Id. He also
noted that law enforcement had confirmed that “Saintil owns a 1999 black Jeep Grand Cherokee”
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and that law enforcement had obtained his “employment records with the company of Mr. Mocci.”
Sgt. Crocco then explained that law enforcement had responded to Saintil’s residence that
evening. Id. He stated that “when we pulled up we observed an individual look out the window”
and that “[a]ll the lights were on in the residence.” Id. But when law enforcement “knocked on
the door” then “all the lights in the house went out.” Id. Sgt. Crocco stated that “[t]wo officers
went to the back of the residence and we continued to knock in the front with no answer.” Id. Sgt.
Crocco further testified that “the screen was pushed out the back window of that residence and
black male was observed was attempting to come out that window. When the officers yelled at
him, he immediately slammed the window down and pulled down the shade and went back inside
that apartment.” Id. Sgt. Crocco noted that law enforcement was “able to obtain a phone number
from Mr. Saintil at which time we called that number,” and that while they “could hear a phone
ringing inside the apartment,” ultimately “[t]here was no answer on that phone.” Id. Sgt. Crocco
summarized law enforcement’s maintenance of visual surveillance of the apartment, noting that
there was “a black male fitting the description of Ronald Saintil in that residence,” and that the
“1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee registered to Mr. Saintil was parked right in front of that residence.”
Id. Sgt. Crocco then requested a search warrant “for that entire apartment as well as the 1999
black Jeep Grand Cherokee.” Id.
Finally, Sgt. Crocco stated that he had “been speaking with Assistant Prosecutor
LaMountain,” who also wanted “to charge this individual with hindering apprehension in this
investigation.” Id. LaMountain explained that hindering apprehension, under N.J.S.A 2C:29-
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3b(2), 3 is a third-degree offense. Id. The Assistant Prosecutor further stated that while he did not
have Saintil’s criminal history in front of him, he believed that such history consisted of “just a
drug charge.” 4 Id. LaMountain also requested that Judge Jorgensen set bail at $100,000 “based
on the fact that” Saintil is “the prime suspect in the homicide.” Id. LaMountain noted that the bail
“could be reviewed quickly,” if the investigation did not lead any further with respect to Saintil.
Based on this information, Judge Jorgensen approved both the requested search warrant
and the charge for hindering apprehension, with bail set at $100,000. Id. Judge Jorgensen stated
that he found probable cause for the search warrant “on the basis of the Sergeant’s testimony”
which recounted “information” from the “witness statements.” Id. Judge Jorgensen also stated
that he believed hindering apprehension was “an appropriate charge” and that, “in light of the fact
there is an ongoing . . . homicide investigation” and Saintil was “the prime suspect,” bail set at
$100,000 was appropriate. Id.
Plaintiff disputes the veracity of certain details and statements made by Sgt. Crocco in
support of the search warrant and hindering charge. First, Plaintiff notes evidence in the record
indicating that his purported dispute with Mocci was not “ongoing,” and that Trigueno had actually
told law enforcement that the dispute “was quite a while ago, it really was a while ago.” Pl. Facts
¶ 55; Schwartz Cert. Ex. 5 at 34:3–8. Second, Plaintiff notes that there is nothing explicit in the
Saintil was ultimately charged under N.J.S.A 2C:29-3b(1), which prohibits hindering one’s own
apprehension through the destruction or concealment of evidence. Schwartz Cert. Ex. 17. N.J.S.A
2C:29-3b(2) prohibits hindering one’s own apprehension by means of force or intimidation. While
Assistant Prosecutor LaMountain offered to read Judge Jorgensen the precise elements of the
hindering charge, Judge Jorgensen declined. Schwartz Cert. Ex. 16 at 6.
Plaintiff’s criminal history consisted not of a drug charge, but rather several arrests for domestic
violence. Hamilton Facts ¶ 22; Schwartz Cert. Ex. 8 at 193:1-194:25.
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record that the victim’s wife, Lisa Mocci, provided Plaintiff’s name to police in her statement
made on January 30, 2015. Pl. Facts ¶¶ 56–61. Third, Plaintiff disputes Sgt. Crocco’s statement
that “in the last several weeks Mr. Ronald Saintil showed up at the victim’s residence in Colonia,
New Jersey and a verbal argument ensued where death threats were made by both parties toward
each other,” noting that such an encounter is not wholly supported by Trigueno’s sworn statement
to the police on January 30, 2015. Pl. Facts ¶¶ 64–65. Fourth, Plaintiff highlights that the
investigative report summarizing Ron Ozechowski’s statement to police does not support Sgt.
Crocco’s assertion that he “confirmed an ongoing dispute with the victim” and confirmed that
Saintil “drove a black vehicle.” Pl. Facts ¶¶ 69–70; Schwarz Cert. Ex. 1 at 4, 14. Fifth, Plaintiff
points out that certain details as to Jacklyn Cruz’s description of the black SUV she had seen on
January 29 were not accurately relayed by Sgt. Crocco, including that on the vehicle she had seen
“everything was tinted,” unlike Saintil’s vehicle which is only tinted in the rear windows, and that
no one had come out of the vehicle she observed. Pl. Facts ¶¶ 71–78; Schwartz Cert. Ex. 20 at
3:12-13, 15. Sixth, Plaintiff notes that Sgt. Crocco had stated that he had obtained employment
records for Saintil, but that in discovery Sgt. Crocco acknowledged that he had not obtained
Plaintiff’s employment records prior to arrest and that the information had been obtained orally.
Pl. Facts ¶¶ 79–81; Schwartz Cert. Ex. 7 at 3.
Plaintiff also disputes the veracity of statements made by Sgt. Crocco regarding the
circumstances surrounding law enforcement’s arrival at his residence. First, Plaintiff argues that
the record does not necessarily support Sgt. Crocco’s statement that the lights to his apartment
were turned off upon law enforcement knocking on the door. Plaintiff points to a transcript of a
call between law enforcement officers that night which states that the lights were shut off as law
enforcement was “approaching.” Pl. Facts ¶ 88; Schwartz Cert. Ex. 26 at 2:9–13. Second, Plaintiff
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notes that Sgt. Crocco did not inform Judge Jorgensen that law enforcement knocked on an exterior
door, not the door leading directly to Plaintiff’s apartment. Pl. Facts ¶ 86; Schwartz Cert. Ex. 4 at
180:11–184:20. Third, as noted above, Plaintiff maintains that he did not attempt to escape through
the back window of his apartment. Pl. Facts ¶ 89. Fourth, Plaintiff disputes whether law
enforcement could have possibly heard a “phone ringing inside the apartment” while outside. Pl.
Facts ¶ 95. Finally, Plaintiff disputes the veracity of the statements of Assistant Prosecutor
LaMountain that Plaintiff had been previously charged with a drug offense and that he was a
“prime suspect in the homicide.” Pl. Facts ¶¶ 106–07.
Law Enforcement Arrest Saintil and Search His Residence
The developments at Plaintiff’s residence were relayed to Lt. Mastropolo of the Hamilton
Police by both Det. O’Connor and Sgt. Crocco. Specifically, Lt. Mastropolo learned that Plaintiff
was “a suspect in a homicide investigation,” that Plaintiff was inside his apartment and had refused
to answer his door, and that Plaintiff may have attempted to exit through the back window. ECF
No. 124-2, Hamilton Defendants’ Statement of Material Facts (“Hamilton Facts”) ¶¶ 13–14;
Certification of Charles F. Holmgren (“Holmgren Cert.”) Ex. C at 43:18–25, 65:20–23, 66:3–5.
Lt. Mastropolo conveyed this information to Hamilton Police Chief James Collins and Captain
James Stevens. Hamilton Facts ¶¶ 17–19. Once the Hamilton Police learned that Sgt. Crocco had
obtained a telephonic search warrant, the operation was turned over to Captain Stevens, who
commanded the Hamilton SWAT Team. Hamilton Facts ¶ 18; Pl. Facts ¶ 139. In addition to the
information given to the Hamilton Police by Det. O’Connor and Sgt. Crocco, a background check
performed by the Hamilton Police revealed a recent, prior arrest of Plaintiff in connection with a
domestic violence incident. Hamilton Facts ¶ 22. At the time of the breach of Plaintiff’s apartment
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in execution of the search warrant and arrest, Captain Stevens and the Hamilton SWAT Team did
not have any specific knowledge as to whether Plaintiff was armed. Hamilton Facts ¶ 23.
Approximately one minute before breaching Plaintiff’s apartment, Officer DeMeo of the
Hamilton Police called Plaintiff’s cellphone, again, in a call lasting four seconds. Pl. Facts ¶ 168.
At 9:30 p.m., the Hamilton SWAT Team made a “hold the air” request through the Hamilton
Police dispatch system in order to pause all radio traffic prior to entering Plaintiff’s residence.
Hamilton Facts ¶ 28; Carteret Facts ¶ 41. At Captain Stevens’ command, the Hamilton SWAT
Team forcibly entered Plaintiff’s apartment, with Officer Murphy using a 60-pound battering ram
to breach the front door of the premises. Carteret Facts ¶ 37; MCPO Facts ¶ 31; Pl. Facts ¶ 174.
The twelve SWAT Team members who gained entry to the residence wore tactical body armor
and carried a variety of high-powered assault weapons. Pl. Facts ¶ 166, 178–79. The SWAT Team
pointed their weapons at Plaintiff until he was placed in handcuffs. Hamilton Facts ¶ 41; MCPO
Facts ¶ 34. Within 15 to 30 seconds of the breach, the apartment was deemed secure. Hamilton
Facts ¶ 29. Plaintiff was taken into custody at 9:31 p.m. Hamilton Facts ¶ 29. Once Plaintiff was
handcuffed, Sgt. Crocco entered the residence, identified himself, told Plaintiff that officers had
come to his apartment to question him regarding a murder investigation, and explained that a
warrant had been executed following his refusal to make contact with law enforcement. MCPO
Facts ¶ 35.
At approximately 9:41 p.m., Plaintiff was transported to the Hamilton Police
Department in a patrol car by Officers Woodhead and Shuster. Carteret Facts ¶ 41; Pl. Facts ¶
At 10:13 p.m., Det. Zebib and Det. O’Connor took a formal statement from Plaintiff at the
Hamilton Police Department. Carteret Facts ¶ 45, Ex. A. The detectives explained to Plaintiff that
he was under arrest for hindering an investigation and read Plaintiff his Miranda rights. Schwartz
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Cert. Ex. 11. Plaintiff told the detectives he had been in Newtown, Pennsylvania for work earlier
that day and the day before. Id. Plaintiff also stated that he had been on the phone with his lawyer
when the police waited outside his residence. Id. After brief questioning as to the timing of when
Plaintiff arrived home from work the night prior, Plaintiff invoked his right to an attorney, ending
the interview. Id.
After taking Plaintiff’s statement, Det. O’Connor prepared an Affidavit of Probable Cause
and Complaint Warrant 1103-W-2015-000240, charging Plaintiff with hindering his own
apprehension. Carteret Facts ¶ 50. The Affidavit of Probable Cause states: “The facts and
circumstances which I believe establish probable cause are that the suspect was seen in his
apartment by officers and the suspect then retreated into his residence and refused to answer his
door to his residence or answer his phone. Both were tried numerous times.” Carteret Facts ¶ 52;
Schwartz Cert. Ex. 18. The Complaint Warrant states Plaintiff was “hiding in his apartment after
being seen by officers in the window of his residence and refusing to come to the door after
numerous attempts to contact the party.” Carteret Facts ¶ 51; Schwartz Cert. Ex. 17. In deposition
testimony, Det. O’Connor stated that at the time the charging documents were prepared he
understood that “there could have been potential evidence in the home that [Plaintiff] was trying
to conceal . . . and that evidence could have been destroyed in the house itself.” Carteret Facts ¶
55; Schwartz Cert. Ex. 4 at 252:12–17.
At approximately 10:25 p.m., Det. James Napp arrived at Plaintiff’s apartment and
proceeded to photograph the scene and seize Plaintiff’s driver’s license, cellphone, computer
tower, and his 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Carteret Facts ¶ 48. At 12:15 a.m., on January 31,
2015, Det. Napp cleared the scene at Plaintiff’s residence. Id. From 1:25 a.m. until 2:15 a.m.,
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Plaintiff’s vehicle was searched. Id. A duplicate original search warrant 5 notes the items to be
searched and seized, including “weapons” and “clothing, blood, biological fluids, DNA,
computers, paperwork, and any other item of evidentiary value in the murder investigation of Tony
Mocci.” ECF No. 158-2, Declaration of Andreea Zebib (“Zebib Decl.”) Ex. A. Ultimately, the
search of Plaintiff’s residence and vehicle did not reveal any evidence of criminality. Carteret
Facts ¶ 56; Pl. Facts ¶¶ 47–52.
C. Saintil’s Detention and the Dismissal of the Charge Against Him
Following his statement to the detectives late at night on January 30, 2015, Plaintiff was
placed in a holding cell at the Hamilton Police Department on $100,000 bail. Pl. Facts ¶ 189;
Schwartz Cert. Ex. 40. Plaintiff was transferred to the Mercer County Jail on February 2, 2015.
Id. Plaintiff was released from jail on February 9, 2015, on his own recognizance, 10 days after
his arrest. Pl. Facts ¶ 118; Schwartz Cert. Ex. 29.
During this time, law enforcement continued the homicide investigation. On February 1,
2015, MCPO and Carteret detectives were advised that Adison Trigueno had forged a check, dated
January 29, 2015, from Mocci’s business checking account in the amount of $4,300. Carteret
Facts ¶ 59; Pl. Facts ¶¶ 5–6. Law enforcement confirmed that Trigueno had deposited the
fraudulent check, and, on February 3, 2015, he was charged with forgery, uttering, and theft by
Carteret Facts ¶ 62.
On February 5, 2015, Det. Zebib applied for
Communications Data Warrants (“CDW”) for Plaintiff’s and Adison Trigeuno’s phone numbers.
Carteret Facts ¶ 64, Ex. A. On February 9, 2015, the day that Plaintiff was released from jail, the
The MCPO Defendants attached the duplicate original search warrant as Exhibit A to the
unsigned Declaration of Det. Andreea Zebib, submitted in support of their Reply brief. See ECF
No. 158-2. In his surreply, Plaintiff challenges the authenticity and validity of the duplicate
original. ECF No. 162.
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MCPO received the results of the CDWs, which indicated that Plaintiff had not recently
communicated with Anthony Mocci and was not located in the relevant area at the time of the
murder. Carteret Facts ¶ 67; MCPO Facts ¶ 40. On February 18, 2015, Trigueno was charged
with the murder of Anthony Mocci. Pl. Facts ¶ 10.
Without citation to record evidence, the Carteret and MCPO Defendants maintain that the
decision to dismiss charges against Plaintiff was made on February 9, 2015, after receiving the
CDW results. Carteret Facts ¶ 68; MCPO Facts ¶ 40. Although Plaintiff was released on his own
recognizance on February 9, 2015, the charges against Saintil for hindering his own apprehension
were not officially dismissed until November 2, 2015, when Det. O’Connor failed to appear for
the scheduled court hearing. Pl. Facts ¶¶ 120–21; Schwartz Cert. Ex. 30, 45.
Plaintiff testified that he experienced severe stress and anxiety as a result of the forcible
entry into his home. 6 Pl. Facts ¶ 192. Following his release from jail, he attended one therapy
session with Dr. Cledicianne Dorvil, Ph.D., in Trenton, New Jersey to address these issues. Pl.
Facts ¶ 192. Additionally, Plaintiff’s primary care physician diagnosed him with anxiety and
prescribed him Xanax. Schwartz Cert. Ex. 46. At the time of his arrest, Saintil was employed as
a painter by Makortiz & Sons Inc. He was terminated from his employment for failure to report
to work because of his detention. Pl. Facts ¶ 193. On February 10, 2015, Plaintiff received a letter
from his landlord stating that as a result of the “search and seizure” of the apartment any “offer to
renew your lease is hereby revoked” and instructing Plaintiff “to make arrangements for an
immediate move-out.” Schwartz Cert. Ex. 44.
Plaintiff has not produced any expert reports as to any physical injuries or as to any mental or
emotional harm suffered as a result of the incident.
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D. Procedural History
On July 28, 2018, Plaintiff filed the Second Amended Complaint. ECF No. 59 (“SAC”).
The SAC asserts the following federal and state law claims against Defendants: unlawful search
and seizure in violation of 42 U.S.C § 1983 and the Fourth Amendment (Count 1), and in violation
of the New Jersey State Constitution, the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (“NJCRA”), and the New
Jersey Tort Claims Act (“NJTCA”) (Count 8); use of excessive force in violation of 42 U.S.C. §
1983 and the Fourth Amendment (Count 2), and in violation of the New Jersey State Constitution,
the NJCRA, and the NJTCA (Count 9); false arrest and false imprisonment in violation of 42
U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth Amendment (Count 3), and in violation of the New Jersey State
Constitution, the NJCRA, and the NJTCA (Count 10); malicious prosecution in violation of 42
U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth Amendment (Count 4), and in violation of the New Jersey State
Constitution, the NJCRA, and the NJTCA (Count 11); conspiracy to violate civil rights contrary
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth Amendment (Count 5), and in violation of the New Jersey
State Constitution, the NJCRA, and the NJTCA (Count 12); supervisory liability under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 for failure to train (Count 6), and in violation of the New Jersey State Constitution, the
NJCRA, and the NJTCA (Count 13); municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count 7), and in
violation of the New Jersey State Constitution, the NJCRA, and the NJTCA (Count 14); negligence
(Count 15); intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count 16); punitive damages (Count 17);
vicarious liability (Count 18); joint and several liability (Count 19); and attorneys’ fees and costs
under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and the NJCRA (Count 20).
On February 10, 2022, following a period of discovery, the Carteret Defendants, including
Defendants O’Connor and Wargocki, filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R.
Civ. P. 56. ECF No. 116, 118, 121, (“Carteret Mot.”). That same day, the MCPO Defendants also
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filed for summary judgment. ECF No. 122, (“MCPO Mot.”). On February 14, 2022, the Hamilton
Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, as well. ECF No. 124, (“Hamilton Mot.”). On
June 3, 2022, Plaintiff opposed Defendants’ three dispositive motions. ECF No. 143, (“Pl.
Opp’n”). Subsequently, on June 7, 2022, Plaintiff advised the Court that he does not oppose
summary judgment as to Defendants Piecsyski, Mastropolo, Wargocki, Morris, and Collins.
Additionally, Plaintiff stated that he did not oppose summary judgment as to Counts 5, 6, 7, 12,
13, 14, 15, and 16. ECF No. 144.
On July 11, 2022, the Carteret Defendants, Defendant O’Connor, separately, and the
Hamilton Defendants filed replies. ECF No. 152, 153, 155. The MCPO Defendants filed their
reply on July 15, 2022. ECF No. 158.
The claims enumerated in Plaintiff’s June 7, 2022 letter to the Court, along with Defendants
named therein, are deemed dismissed. Specifically, the Court dismisses Plaintiff’s claims as to
conspiracy (Counts 5 & 12), supervisory liability (Counts 5 & 13), municipal liability (Counts 7
& 14), negligence (Count 15), and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count 16) as to all,
as well as all claims against Defendants Piecsyski, Mastropolo, Wargocki, Morris, and Collins.
The issues remaining for adjudication on these motions for summary judgment are set forth and
discussed in detail infra.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment is appropriate where “there is no genuine dispute as to any material
fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A dispute
is “genuine” when “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, (1986). And a fact is “material” only if it has the ability
to “affect the outcome of the suit under governing law.” Kaucher v. Cty. of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418,
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423 (3d Cir. 2006) (citation omitted.) Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not
preclude a grant of summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
The moving party bears the burden of showing that no “genuine issue” exists such that
summary judgment is warranted. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322–23 (1986).
Once the movant adequately supports its motion, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to “go
beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories,
and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id.
“In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility
determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence.” Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358
F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004). Rather, “[a]ll facts and inferences are construed in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party.” Boyle v. Cty. of Allegheny Pa., 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir.
1998). Credibility determinations are the province of the factfinder. Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW
of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992). The court’s role is “to determine whether
there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. There can be “no genuine issue as
to any material fact,” however, if a party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the
existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden
of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322–23.
Plaintiff’s remaining claims hinge on four main theories of liability under federal and state
law: (1) false arrest and false imprisonment (Counts 3 & 10); (2) unlawful search and seizure
(Counts 1 & 8); (3) malicious prosecution (Counts 4 & 11); and (4) excessive force (Counts 2 &
9). In their motions for summary judgment, the Carteret, MCPO, and Hamilton Defendants all
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contend that Plaintiff fails to state a claim with regard to their respective conduct. In addition,
each of the three groups of Defendants raise the defense of qualified immunity.
“To recover under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, [a plaintiff] must establish that a state actor engaged
in conduct that deprived him of ‘rights, privileges, or immunities’ secured by the constitution or
laws of the United States.” Wilson v. Russo, 212 F.3d 781, 786 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Kneipp v.
Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996)). Modeled after 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the NJCRA “creates
a private cause of action for violations of civil rights secured under the New Jersey Constitutions.”
Trafton v. City of Woodbury, 799 F. Supp. 2d 417, 443 (D.N.J. 2011). Courts in this district have
consistently construed the NJCRA in terms nearly identical to § 1983. See Samoles v. Lacey Twp.,
No. 12-3066, 2014 WL 2602251, at *15 (D.N.J. June 11, 2014) (“courts in New Jersey have
consistently looked at claims under the NJCRA through the lens of § 1983”); Chapman v. New
Jersey, No. 08-4130, 2009 WL 2634888, at *3 (D.N.J. Aug. 25, 2009).
Where state actors invoke the qualified immunity defense, courts engage in a two-step
analysis. See Williams v. Secretary Pennsylvania Dep’t of Corrections, 848 F.3d 549, 557 (3d Cir.
2017). First, the court must “determine whether the plaintiff has alleged the deprivation of an
actual constitutional right at all.” Wilson, 212 F.3d at 786 (quoting Conn v. Gabbert, 526 U.S.
286, 290 (1999)). If so, then the court will “proceed to determine whether that right was clearly
established at the time of the alleged violation.” Id. “Summary judgment is appropriate if no
reasonable juror could conclude that [the plaintiff’s] clearly established rights were violated.” Id.
(citing Orsatti v. New Jersey State Police, 71 F.3d 480, 482 (3d Cir. 1995)).
A. The False Arrest and False Imprisonment Claims (Counts 3 & 10)
To state a claim for false arrest under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that he was arrested
by a state actor without probable cause. See Palma v. Atlantic County, 53 F. Supp. 2d 743, 755
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(D.N.J. 1999) (citing Sharrar v. Felsing, 128 F.3d 810, 817–18 (3d Cir. 1997)). “[W]here the
police lack probable cause to make an arrest, the arrestee [also] has a claim under § 1983 for false
imprisonment based on a detention pursuant to that arrest.” Groman v. Township of Manalapan,
47 F.3d 628, 636 (3d Cir. 1995). Conversely, “an arrest based on probable cause [can] not become
the source of a claim for false imprisonment [or unlawful arrest].” Palma, 53 F. Supp. 2d at 755
(quoting Groman, 47 F.3d at 636).
“[P]robable cause to arrest exists when the facts and circumstances within the arresting
officer’s knowledge are sufficient in themselves to warrant a reasonable person to believe that an
offense has been or is being committed by the person to be arrested.” Estate of Smith v. Marasco,
318 F.3d 497, 514 (3d Cir. 2003) (quoting Orsatti, 71 F.3d at 482)). Typically, “the question of
probable cause in a section 1983 damage suit is one for the jury.” Montgomery v. De Simone, 159
F.3d 120, 124 (3d Cir. 1998). However, “a district court may conclude ‘that probable cause did
exist as a matter of law if the evidence, viewed most favorably to Plaintiff, reasonably would not
support a contrary factual finding,’ and may enter summary judgment accordingly.” Estate of
Smith, 318 F.3d at 514 (quoting Sherwood v. Mulvihill, 113 F.3d 396, 401 (3d Cir. 1997)).
Here, Plaintiff alleges he was arrested without probable cause on the charge of hindering
his own apprehension under N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b(1). SAC ¶¶ 78–82, 114–115; Pl. Opp’n 15–33.
Plaintiff acknowledges, for summary judgment purposes, that he was arrested pursuant to a
warrant, but contends that the warrant was not supported by probable cause. Pl. Opp’n 17. In
particular, Plaintiff argues that Det. O’Connor and Sgt. Crocco recklessly disregarded the truth in
the context of the telephonic warrant application, and that a truthful warrant application would
have been found to lack probable cause. Pl. Opp’n 18–21. Additionally, Plaintiff asserts that no
reasonable officer would have concluded that the warrant should issue. Pl. Opp’n 21–22.
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“[A] plaintiff may succeed in a § 1983 action for false arrest made pursuant to a warrant if
the plaintiff shows, by a preponderance of the evidence: (1) that the police officer ‘knowingly and
deliberately, or with a reckless disregard for the truth, made false statements or omissions that
create a falsehood in applying for a warrant;’ and (2) that ‘such statements or omissions are
material, or necessary, to the finding of probable cause.’” Wilson, 212 F.3d at 786–87 (quoting
Sherwood v. Mulvihill, 113 F.3d 396, 399 (3d Cir. 1997)). As such, “an arrest warrant issued by
a magistrate or judge does not, in itself, shelter an officer from liability for false arrest.” Id.
Courts must first consider “whether [the plaintiff] adduced sufficient evidence that a
reasonable jury could conclude that [the defendant(s)] made statements or omissions that he ‘knew
[were] false, or would have known [were] false except for his reckless disregard for the truth.’”
Wilson, 212 F.3d at 787 (quoting United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 923 (1984). For purposes
of assessing whether assertions and omissions were made with a reckless disregard for the truth,
the Third Circuit has articulated separate standards.
With respect to omissions, courts must recognize that “[a]ll storytelling involves an
element of selectivity” and thus “cannot demand that police officers relate the entire history of
events leading up to a warrant application with every potentially evocative detail that would
interest a novelist or gossip.” Id. Still, “a police officer cannot make unilateral decisions about
the materiality of information, or, after satisfying him or herself that probable cause exists, merely
inform the magistrate or judge of inculpatory evidence.” Id. Balancing these considerations,
omissions are made with reckless disregard “if an officer withholds a fact that ‘[a]ny reasonable
person would have known . . . was the kind of thing the judge would wish to know.’” Id. (quoting
United States v. Jacobs, 986 F.2d 1231, 1235 (8th Cir. 1993)).
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Here, Plaintiff argues that Sgt. Crocco failed to disclose to Judge Jorgensen that the door
officers knocked upon was an exterior door leading to a common hallway, which ultimately led to
Plaintiff’s entryway door. Pl. Opp’n 19. The record is unclear, however, on which door the
officers were knocking. 7 In any event, the Court cannot engage in factfinding with respect to
whether this purported omission was made with reckless disregard for the truth as such credibility
determinations fall within the province of the jury. As set forth in further detail infra, assuming
the omission was made with reckless disregard, the Court finds that it is immaterial to the probable
cause determination, particularly considering that the officers had identified themselves, knocked
various times, and called Plaintiff on his cellphone. Importantly, the record indicates that Plaintiff,
based on these various attempts, which he has not disputed, was aware of law enforcement’s
presence. Schwartz Cert. Ex. 11 at 12:4–7 (“I heard a noise in the back and then, you know, I
lifted ah the blind and then, you know, looked to see what was going on. And then I went back to
the front, that’s when I saw-I saw the police cars.”).
With respect to assertions, “recklessness is measured not by the relevance of the
information, but the demonstration of willingness to affirmatively distort truth.” Wilson, 212 F.3d
at 788. “An assertion is made with reckless disregard when ‘viewing all the evidence, the affiant
must have entertained serious doubts as to the truth of his statements or had obvious reasons to
doubt the accuracy of the information he reported.’” Id. (quoting United States v. Clapp, 46 F.3d
795, 801 n.6 (8th Cir. 1995).
In this case, Plaintiff lists a series of purportedly false assertions made in relation to the
warrant application by Det. O’Connor and Sgt. Crocco, including: Plaintiff was observed
The Court notes that the record indicates that officers only required the use of a battering ram
upon a single door, which provided access to Plaintiff’s apartment. Thus, it is not clear what role
the purported exterior door played in the encounter.
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attempting to exit his apartment through the back window; Plaintiff had an “ongoing” dispute with
Mocci; Plaintiff had been “fired” by Mocci; Plaintiff and Mocci had made death threats toward
each other; police had obtained employment records from Lisa Mocci confirming Plaintiff’s
employment with Mocci; Plaintiff’s car matched the car described by Jacklyn Cruz; Plaintiff
turned off the lights in his apartment when officers knocked on the door to the residence; officers
could hear Plaintiff’s cellphone ringing; and Plaintiff had a prior drug charge. Pl. Opp’n 18–20.
To determine whether either Det. O’Connor or Sgt. Crocco made such representations with
reckless disregard for the truth would require the Court to engage in inappropriate factfinding. For
example, with respect to Plaintiff’s potential escape effort, a fact that Plaintiff vehemently
disputes, the Court notes that Det. O’Connor reported such an attempt at the time, and maintained
that same belief in his deposition testimony. Pl. Opp’n 20; Pl. Facts ¶ 94. The detective’s version
contradicts that of Plaintiff’s. However, the Court cannot determine at the summary judgment
stage whose version of events to credit. Additionally, with respect to Plaintiff’s relationship with
Mocci, certain statements made by Sgt. Crocco do not appear wholly supported by the witness
interviews conducted by law enforcement earlier that day. Still, whether such statements were
made with a reckless disregard for the truth is a different question, especially as Plaintiff does not
dispute that he had recently been in a disagreement with Mocci with regard to Plaintiff’s backpay.
Schwartz Cert. Ex. 8 at 89:2–92:5. All other remaining alleged misrepresentations similarly
present disputed facts. In short, on a summary judgment motion, the Court cannot assess whether
the purported misrepresentations were reckless or intentional without engaging in inappropriate
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factfinding. Importantly, however, even assuming that the disputed inaccuracies raised by Plaintiff
were made with reckless disregard, 8 they are not material.
“To determine the materiality of the misstatements and omissions, [courts] excise the
offending inaccuracies and insert the facts recklessly omitted, and then determine whether or not
the ‘corrected’ warrant affidavit would establish probable cause.” Wilson, 212 F.3d at 789 (citing
Sherwood, 113 F.3d at 399). Here, the “corrected” warrant application would consist of the
following undisputed facts: (1) law enforcement was investigating the murder of Anthony Mocci,
found dead at a residence in Carteret, New Jersey on the morning of January 30, 2015; (2)
detectives took a sworn statement from Adison Trigueno, an employee of Mocci who discovered
his body; (3) Trigueno identified an individual named Ronald who was a former employee of
Mocci; (4) Trigueno stated that Ronald and Mocci had a monetary dispute and that Mocci had
spoken violently about him; (5) Trigueno stated that Ronald was Haitian and drove a black Jeep;
(6) law enforcement ascertained that “Ronald” was Ronald Saintil; (7) according to DMV records,
Saintil owned a back 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee; (8) detectives interviewed Mocci’s neighbor who
stated that she had seen a black Jeep the night before briefly parked outside the residence where
Mocci’s body was found; (9) law enforcement traveled to Saintil’s residence to conduct an
interview; (10) at some point shortly after law enforcement arrived the lights in Saintil’s residence
were turned off; (11) a 1999 black Jeep Grand Cherokee registered to Ronald Saintil was parked
The MCPO Defendants maintain that Sgt. Crocco’s statements to Judge Jorgensen were not made
with reckless disregard and that there is indeed support in the record for the statements that Plaintiff
disputes. ECF No. 158 at 5–10. For instance, Plaintiff asserts that Sgt. Crocco falsely claimed
that Lisa Mocci, the wife of the deceased, identified Plaintiff as an employee of Mocci. ECF No.
143 at 19. But, in her deposition, Det. Zebib, who questioned Mrs. Mocci on January 30, 2015,
stated that Mrs. Mocci had assisted officers in identifying persons who Trigueno had mentioned,
including providing the last name for the person Trigueno identified as “Ronald.” See ECF No.
158-1, Supplemental Declaration of Robert J. McGuire (“Supplemental McGuire Decl.”) Ex. B.
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outside the residence; (12) police knocked on the exterior door of the residence and identified
themselves but received no response; (13) Det. O’Connor observed an individual fitting Trigueno’s
description of Saintil at the back window of the residence who then retreated out of sight; (14) law
enforcement made numerous additional, unsuccessful attempts over the course of nearly two hours
to make contact with Saintil, including by knocking on the door of the residence and calling his
cellphone. Because these basic facts support a finding of probable cause, see infra, for Plaintiff’s
arrest on the hindering charge, the alleged misrepresentations Plaintiff identifies as having been
made by both Det. O’Connor and Sgt. Crocco were not material.
“[P]robable cause is a fluid concept—turning on the assessment of probabilities in
particular factual contexts—not readily, or even usefully, reduced to a neat set of legal rules.”
United States v. Jones, 994 F.2d 1051, 1056 (3d Cir.1993) (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). The standard “depends on the totality of the circumstances.” Maryland v. Pringle, 540
U.S. 366, 371 (2003). “Probable cause exists if there is a ‘fair probability’ that the person
committed the crime at issue.” Wilson, 212 F.3d at 789 (quoting Sherwood, 113 F.3d at 401).
Plaintiff was charged with violating N.J.S.A 2C:29-3b(1). See Schwartz Cert. Ex. 17, 18.
Under that statute,
A person commits an offense if, with purpose to hinder his own detention,
apprehension, investigation, prosecution, conviction or punishment for an
offense . . . he:
(1) Suppresses, by way of concealment or destruction, any evidence of the
crime or tampers with a document or other source of information, regardless
of its admissibility in evidence, which might aid in his discovery or
apprehension or in the lodging of a charge against him.
N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b(1). At the time of the warrant application, Plaintiff had become a suspect in a
homicide investigation, turned off all the lights in his apartment after law enforcement arrived,
was identified as present in his apartment, and was refusing to interact with law enforcement, either
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through in-person contact or over the phone.
These circumstances give rise to the “fair
probability,” from a reasonable officer’s on-the-scene perspective, that Plaintiff was engaged in
the act of hindering law enforcement’s investigation. In his Affidavit of Probable Cause, Det.
O’Connor wrote: “the suspect was seen in his apartment by officers. The suspect then retreated
into his residence and refused to answer his door to his residence or answer his phone. Both were
tried numerous times.” Schwartz Cert. Ex. 18. In deposition testimony, when asked whether he
knew what sort of evidence Plaintiff may have concealed, Det. O’Connor stated: “At that time we
didn’t know which evidence that he did conceal. We knew that we were trying to make contact
and there could be potential evidence in the home that he was trying to conceal based on the
circumstances, and that evidence could have been destroyed in the house itself.” Carteret Facts,
Ex. B at 252:12-17. From law enforcement’s perspective, upon arrival at Plaintiff’s residence,
Plaintiff was merely a person of interest who they sought to interview about a homicide. But
Plaintiff’s intentional and prolonged avoidance of law enforcement, including shutting off his
apartment lights, refusing to answer his door or cellphone, and retreating into the interior of his
apartment after seeing Det. O’Connor at his back window, raised serious suspicion and the
reasonable inference that Plaintiff might be attempting to conceal evidence of a crime relevant to
the investigation. This is especially true given that: the officers were aware of the fact that Plaintiff
had worked for Mocci, Mocci had refused to pay him, and Plaintiff owned a black Jeep Grand
Cherokee, which fit the description of a suspicious car in the area the night before the murder.
Plaintiff repeatedly emphasizes that Det. O’Connor’s Affidavit of Probable Cause did not
mention that Plaintiff had allegedly tried to exit through the back window of his apartment, thus
indicating O’Connor’s untruthfulness about the situation. Pl. Opp’n 23. But the omission of this
allegation was not material to Judge Jorgensen’s finding of probable cause. Approving the
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hindering charge, Judge Jorgensen found that probable cause existed based on the totality of the
circumstances presented to him—namely the “ongoing . . . homicide investigation” and the fact
that Plaintiff had become “the prime suspect.” 9 Schwartz Cert. Ex. 16. Thus, even without the
purported attempt to flee, Plaintiff’s actions to avoid law enforcement under the circumstances
were sufficient to charge Plaintiff with hindering. See Fraenkel v. Garcia, No. 18-9281, 2019 WL
2619130, at *10 (D.N.J. June 26, 2019) (finding probable cause for hindering charge N.J.S.A.
2C:29-3 “even if the evidence did not ultimately support [suspect’s] conviction”); Morris v. United
States, No. 12-2926, 2015 WL 4171355, at *6 (D.N.J. July 9, 2015) (finding probable cause for
hindering charge under N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3 based on the resident’s “failure to open the door to his
home when commanded by the police officers in an effort to prevent the arrest” of another).
Additionally, Plaintiff’s actions cannot be viewed with the benefit of hindsight. Nor were
officers required to know with any degree of certainty that Plaintiff had relevant evidence in his
possession. Pl. Opp’n 24; Pl. Facts ¶¶ 47–51. Whether probable cause exists for an arrest must
be assessed through “the facts and circumstances within the arresting officer’s knowledge.”
Wilson, 212 F.3d at 789. And because “probable cause requires only a probability or substantial
Plaintiff repeatedly points out that the $100,000 bail approved by Judge Jorgensen constituted a
significant deviation from the New Jersey Bail Schedule. Pl. Opp’n 45 n.15; Schwartz Cert. Ex.
31. However, Plaintiff does not set forth a claim for excessive bail in the Second Amended
Complaint, and Plaintiff cannot amend his complaint through briefing. See Bell v. City of
Philadelphia, 275 F. App’x 157, 160 (3d Cir. 2008) (“A plaintiff may not amend his complaint
through arguments in his brief in opposition to a motion for summary judgment.”) (internal
quotation marks omitted). In any event, with respect to bail, “[e]xcessiveness cannot be
determined by a general mathematical formula, but rather turns on the correlation between the
state interests a judicial officer seeks to protect and the nature and magnitude of the bail conditions
imposed in a particular case.” Keeler v. City of Hammonton, No. 11-02745, 2013 WL 6499257,
at *6 (D.N.J. Dec. 11, 2013). Without any express argument as to the correlation between the state
interests and the bail, Plaintiff has failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to the propriety
of the terms of his detention.
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chance of criminal activity . . . innocent behavior frequently will provide the basis for a showing
of probable cause.” Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 245 n.13 (1983). “[T]he relevant inquiry is
not whether particular conduct is ‘innocent’ or ‘guilty,’ but the degree of suspicion that attaches
to particular types of non-criminal acts.” Id. Further, under New Jersey law, the charge of
hindering apprehension “does not require that [the] defendant actually be charged with . . . the
underlying offense” that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution. See State v. Young, 152
A.3d 955, 964 (N.J. App. Div. 2017). Because Plaintiff was a person of interest in the murder
investigation of Anthony Mocci, his suspicious activity and prolonged avoidance of law
enforcement, which lasted approximately two hours, raised the reasonable inference in the minds
of both Det. O’Connor and Sgt. Crocco that Plaintiff was attempting to hide something relevant to
officers’ investigation. 10
Because Plaintiff has failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact with respect to whether
probable cause existed for his arrest, the Court finds that summary judgment is appropriate as to
Defendants Det. O’Connor and Sgt. Crocco, along with all other Defendants named in the Second
Amended Complaint, with respect to Plaintiff’s § 1983 and NJCRA claims for false arrest and
B. The Unlawful Search and Seizure Claims (Counts 1 & 8)
Plaintiff’s claims for unlawful search and seizure of his property are governed by a similar
standard as those for false arrest and imprisonment. “A section 1983 plaintiff who challenges the
validity of a search warrant by asserting that law enforcement agents submitted a false affidavit to
the issuing judicial officer must satisfy the two-part test developed by the Supreme Court” in
Because there was probable cause for Plaintiff’s arrest based on the undisputed circumstances,
Plaintiff’s additional argument that Det. O’Connor and Sgt. Crocco should not have applied for a
warrant in the first place need not be addressed. Pl. Opp’n 30–33
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Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978). Sherwood, 113 F.3d at 399. “Under Franks, falsehoods
are deemed material to the finding of probable cause if the affidavit, ‘with the . . . false material
set to one side . . . is insufficient to establish probable cause.’” Id. (quoting Franks, 438 U.S. at
The Search Warrant Was Supported by Probable Cause
As set forth supra, the telephonic warrant application was supported by probable cause to
charge Plaintiff with hindering apprehension. Probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant
requires a “fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular
place.” Jones, 994 F.2d at 1056.
While probable cause to arrest “hinges on the distinct and
discrete inquiry into whether the person to be arrested has committed or is committing a criminal
offense,” the inquiry with respect to a search warrant “must assess the connection of the item
sought to be seized 1) to the crime being investigated, and 2) to the location to be searched as its
likely present location.” State v. Chippero, 987 A.2d 555, 564 (N.J. 2009). As such, “the factual
predicate for a showing of probable cause to arrest may not be necessarily the same as that required
for probable cause to search.” Id. (collecting cases). However, in the present context, the two are
intimately intertwined. Plaintiff was arrested for the specific offense of concealing evidence that
might aid in the lodging of a charge against him in the Mocci homicide investigation. That
probable cause determination inherently involved consideration as to whether there was a “fair
probability” that evidence of a crime was located in Plaintiff’s residence or vehicle. Thus, because
probable cause existed with respect to the hindering charge, probable cause also existed for the
issuance of the search warrant.
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The Search Warrant Was Properly Issued Under N.J. Ct. R. 3:5-3(c)
and Consistent with the Fourth Amendment
Plaintiff raises the additional argument that the search warrant was invalid on its face
because “[t]he telephonic warrant application is silent as to any identification or description of the
items to be seized.” Pl. Opp’n 37. But Judge Jorgensen’s approval of the search warrant properly
authorized law enforcement to search Plaintiff’s residence and vehicle for items relevant to the
homicide investigation. Moreover, the scope of this authorization is consistent with the contents
of the duplicate original search warrant issued pursuant to N.J. Ct. R. 3:5-3(c), see Zebib Decl. Ex.
A., and the items seized by law enforcement during the search. See Schwartz Cert. Ex. 41.
“The Fourth Amendment by its terms requires particularity in the warrant.” Groh v.
Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551, 557 (2004). In Groh, the Supreme Court held that where a “warrant did
not describe the items to be seized at all . . . the warrant was so obviously deficient” that it violated
the “particularity requirement of the Fourth Amendment” giving rise to Bivens and § 1983 claims.
540 U.S. at 558. Relying on this language, Plaintiff highlights that the telephonic warrant
application does not expressly list the items to be seized and argues that the search was therefore
“warrantless.” Pl. Opp’n 36. However, Judge Jorgensen, having heard testimony from Sgt.
Crocco that Plaintiff was a suspect in a homicide investigation, approved “the issuance of the
search warrant to search the premises of 58 Graddy Avenue, Apartment A in Hamilton, New Jersey
as well as the 1999 black Jeep Grand Cherokee.” Schwartz Cert. Ex. 16 at 6:17–19. In connection
with this authorization, Judge Jorgensen expressly noted the “ongoing . . . homicide investigation”
and the fact that Plaintiff was a suspect, thus limiting the search to items relevant to the
investigation. Id. at 7:2–3; see United States v. Yusuf, 461 F.3d 374, (3d Cir. 2006) (recognizing
that “the breadth of items to be searched depends upon the particular factual context of each case
and also the information available to the investigating agent that could limit the search at the time
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the warrant application is given to the magistrate”). In this case, the search, pursuant to a warrant,
which was limited to specified areas and evidence relevant to an evolving homicide investigation,
does not amount to a “warrantless” search. Cf. Groh, 540 U.S. at 558 (“in the space set aside for
a description of the items to be seized, the warrant stated that the items consisted of a ‘single
dwelling residence ... blue in color’”); In re 650 Fifth Avenue and Related Properties, 830 F.3d
66, 99 (2d Cir. 2016) (stating that “for a warrant to meet the particularity requirement, it must
identify the alleged crime for which evidence is sought”).
While Judge Jorgensen’s verbal authorization alone sufficiently communicated the scope
of the search to law enforcement, his authorization is also consistent with the duplicate original
warrant ultimately issued pursuant to N.J. Ct. R. 3:5-3(c), which delineates the procedure for
telephonic warrant applications. 11 For summary judgement purposes, the Court need not consider,
and will not reply upon, the duplicate original search warrant introduced by the MCPO Defendants
for the first time in connection with their reply brief. 12 See Zebib Decl. Ex. A. Indeed, Plaintiff
does not argue that the search exceeded the scope approved by Judge Jorgensen—that is, that law
enforcement seized items irrelevant to the homicide investigation. The items seized by law
N.J. Ct. R. 3:5-3(c) sets forth a specific procedure for obtaining a telephonic warrant by which
the “sworn oral testimony” of the warrant applicant is recorded and “shall be deemed to be an
affidavit for the purposes of issuance of a search warrant.” N.J. Ct. R. 3:5-3(c). “A warrant may
issue if the judge is satisfied that sufficient grounds for granting the application have been shown.”
Id. Upon approval, the judge directs the warrant applicant to enter the terms of the authorized
search on a form “designated the duplicate original warrant.” Id. The duplicate original warrant
“shall be deemed a search warrant.” Id.
Plaintiff submitted a surreply urging the Court to disregard the duplicate original search warrant.
ECF No. 162. Therein, Plaintiff also suggests that because the duplicate original was not officially
signed by Judge Jorgensen until February 20, 2015, “Crocco backfilled the description of the items
to be searched for and seized.” Id. Because the Court finds Judge Jorgensen’s verbal authorization
of the search sufficient, it need not resolve this issue to decide the summary judgment motions.
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enforcement included Plaintiff’s driver’s license, cellphone, and computer. See Schwartz Cert.
Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to the validity
of the telephonic search warrant. Because the search warrant was supported by probable cause
and because the scope of the search warrant approved by Judge Jorgensen described the areas to
be search and potential evidence to be seized, consistent with the homicide investigation,
Defendants are entitled to summary judgment as to Plaintiff’s unlawful search and seizure claims
under § 1983 and the NJCRA.
C. The Malicious Prosecution Claims (Counts 4 & 11)
“To prove malicious prosecution under section 1983, a plaintiff must show that: (1) the
defendants initiated a criminal proceeding; (2) the criminal proceeding ended in plaintiff's favor;
(3) the proceeding was initiated without probable cause; (4) the defendants acted maliciously or
for a purpose other than bringing the plaintiff to justice; and (5) the plaintiff suffered deprivation
of liberty consistent with the concept of seizure as a consequence of a legal proceeding.” Estate
of Smith, 318 F.3d at 521 (citing Donahue v. Gavin, 280 F.3d 371, 379–80 (3d Cir. 2002).
“Malicious prosecution differs from false arrest inasmuch as ‘[a] claim for false arrest, unlike a
claim for malicious prosecution, covers damages only for the time of detention until the issuance
of process or arraignment, and not more.’” Johnson v. Knorr, 477 F.3d 75, 82 (3d Cir. 2007)
(quoting Montgomery v. De Simone, 159 F.3d 120, 126 (3d Cir.1998)). Importantly, the “existence
of probable cause is an express element of the claim for malicious prosecution.” Johnson v.
Provenzano, No. 12-1253, 2014 WL 7011545, at *10 (D.N.J. Dec. 11, 2014).
Plaintiff asserts that Det. O’Connor and Sgt. Crocco are liable for malicious prosecution
because both “influenced, facilitated, and/or participated in the decision to institute criminal
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proceedings against [him]” through their communications with Assistant Prosecutor LaMountain
and testimony provided to Judge Jorgensen. Pl. Opp’n 39. However, because Plaintiff has failed
to raise a genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether his arrest was supported by probable
cause, see supra, Plaintiff’s claim for malicious prosecution fails. See Estate of Smith, 318 F.3d
at 522 (finding “summary judgment in favor of the defendants was appropriate” because “based
on the information available to officers at the time the warrant was sought, there was probable
cause for arrest”). Defendants are therefore entitled to summary judgment with respect to
Plaintiff’s claims for malicious prosecution under § 1983 and the NJCRA.
D. The Excessive Force Claims (Counts 2 & 9)
“To state a claim for excessive force as an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth
Amendment, a plaintiff must show that a seizure occurred and that it was unreasonable.” See
Estate of Smith, 318 F.3d at 515 (citation omitted). There is no question that a seizure occurred as
a result of Plaintiff’s arrest, thus the only question for the Court is whether the force used to effect
the breach of Plaintiff’s residence and his subsequent arrest was reasonable.
In determining reasonableness with respect to the use of force, courts ask whether “the
officers’ actions are ‘objectively reasonable’ in light of the facts and circumstances confronting
them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivations.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386,
397 (1989); see Kopec v. Tate, 361 F.3d 772, 776 (3d Cir. 2004) (“[I]f a use of force is objectively
reasonable, an officer’s good faith is irrelevant and any bad faith motivation on his part is
immaterial.”). “[T]he absence of physical injury [does not] necessarily signif[y] that the force has
not been excessive, although the fact that the physical force applied was of such an extent as to
lead to injury is indeed a relevant factor to be considered as part of the totality.” Sharrar v. Felsing,
128 F.3d 810, 822 (3d Cir. 1997). Other factors to consider include: (1) the severity of the crime;
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(2) whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others; (3) whether
the suspect is resisting arrest or fleeing; (4) the possibility that persons subject to the police action
are themselves violation or dangerous; (5) the duration of the action; (6) whether officers are
effecting an arrest; (7) the possibility that the suspect may be armed; and (8) the number of persons
with whom the officers are contending. Graham, 490 U.S. at 396; Sharrar v. Felsing, 128 F.3d
810, 822 (3d Cir. 1997).
“The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers
are often forced to make split-second judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and
rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.” Graham,
490 U.S.at 397. Thus, “a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a
reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” Id. at 396.
Summary judgment is appropriate “if the district court concludes, after resolving all factual
disputes in favor of the plaintiff, that the officer’s use of force was objectively reasonable under
the circumstances.” Estate of Smith, 318 F.3d at 516 (internal quotation marks and citation
Here, Plaintiff specifically challenges the decision to deploy the Hamilton SWAT Team,
led by Captain Stevens, to execute the search warrant and arrest at Plaintiff’s residence. Pl. Opp’n
45. Plaintiff contends that the SWAT Team knew very little about his activity inside the residence
and that there were no indicia that he had fortified the apartment, that he was armed, or that he had
any other outstanding warrants aside from the hindering charge. Pl. Opp’n 45. However,
Plaintiff’s version of events overlooks that, from law enforcement’s perspective, Plaintiff had
become a suspect in a rapidly evolving murder investigation and had refused to respond to officers’
various attempts to make contact.
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Under the totality of the circumstances, the use of the Hamilton SWAT Team and officers’
arrest of Plaintiff was objectively reasonable. Looking to the Sharrar factors enumerated by the
Third Circuit as guidance, the Court finds that the following facts weigh in favor of the
reasonableness of the force employed. First, Plaintiff was being investigated for a murder in which
the victim was brutally stabbed numerous times, and he had been charged with hindering that
investigation. Second, officers were unsure whether Plaintiff was armed or could pose a safety
risk. Third, Plaintiff had avoided making contact with officers for approximately two hours.
Fourth, Plaintiff had recently been arrested for domestic violence, and officers were aware of that
arrest prior to the use of the SWAT team. Hamilton Facts ¶ 22. Fifth, Plaintiff was placed in
handcuffs within seconds of the SWAT Team breaching his apartment and, at that point, officers
no longer pointed their firearms at Plaintiff. Finally, Plaintiff does not allege he was physically
injured. See Hamilton Facts ¶ 31, Ex. L 175:1–9. Thus, law enforcement’s use of the SWAT team
and its conduct “does not rise to a Fourth Amendment violation.” Sharrar, 128 F.3d at 822 (finding
use of SWAT team and its conduct reasonable where one of the suspects had recently “used a gun”
to inflict blunt-force trauma and there was “no allegation that the requirement that the suspects lie
down extended beyond the time necessary to handcuff them and secure them”); see also Holland
ex rel. Overdorff v. Harrington, 268 F.3d 1179, 1183, 1191 (10th Cir. 2011) (finding decision to
use SWAT team reasonable to effectuate search and arrest warrants related to misdemeanor assault
charges where “[t]here existed the possibility of an altercation” and law enforcement’s “goal was
to effect the arrest and search warrant quickly, without injury, and to preserve evidence”);
Santistevan v. City of Colorado Springs, 983 F. Supp. 2d 1295, 1319 (D. Col. 2013) (finding use
of SWAT team reasonable where search warrant “sought evidence of felony drug distribution”).
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Nevertheless, Plaintiff emphasizes that he experienced severe stress and anxiety as a result
of the forced entry by the SWAT Team. But, without more, this does not raise a constitutional
violation. The Third Circuit has advised that “extreme methods used in effectuating arrests” are
not necessarily “constitutionally excessive,” even if the methods used cause “discomfort and
humiliation.” Sharrar, 128 F.3d at 821. With respect to the deployment of SWAT teams in
particular, the Third Circuit has stated:
The decision to deploy a SWAT team to execute a warrant necessarily
involves the decision to make an overwhelming show of force-force far
greater than that normally applied in police encounters with citizens.
Indeed, it is the SWAT team’s extraordinary and overwhelming show of
force that makes ‘dynamic entry’ a viable law enforcement tactic in dealing
with difficult and dangerous situations....
The ‘SWAT’ designation does not grant license to law enforcement officers
to abuse suspects or bystanders, or to vent in an unprofessional manner their
own pent-up aggression, personal frustration or animosity toward others. If
anything, the special circumstances and greater risks that warrant ‘dynamic
entry’ by a SWAT team call for more discipline, control, mindfulness, and
restraint on the part of law enforcement, not less. SWAT officers are
specially trained and equipped to deal with a variety of difficult situations,
including those requiring a swift and overwhelming show of force. At all
times, SWAT officers no less than others—dressed in camouflage or notmust keep it clearly in mind that we are not at war with our own people.
Estate of Smith, 318 F.3d at 517–18 (quoting Holland v. Harrington, 268 F.3d 1179, 1190–95
(10th Cir. 2001). While Plaintiff was understandably shaken by the breach of his apartment and
the SWAT Team’s overwhelming show of force, it was Plaintiff’s own avoidance of law
enforcement that escalated the encounter into a “difficult and dangerous situation”—one in
which, from perspective of the officers on the scene, a murder suspect was concealed within the
apartment. The SWAT Team’s quick apprehension of Plaintiff and rapid de-escalation of the
situation once he was in custody further support the reasonableness of the force used.
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“[I]n the face of [a] motion for summary judgment, a § 1983 plaintiff must produce
evidence supporting each individual defendant’s personal involvement in the alleged violation to
bring that defendant to trial.” Jutrowski v. Township of Riverdale, 904 F.3d 280, 291 (3d Cir.
Plaintiff identifies Defendants Stevens, Murphy, Embley, Mattis, Woodhead, King,
Schuster, and Horan as the Hamilton police officers who allegedly used excessive force. Pl. Opp’n
49. For the reasons set forth above, these Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on
Plaintiff’s excessive force claims. All the remaining Defendants are entitled to summary judgment
as to the excessive force claims as Plaintiff was “unable to satisfy § 1983’s personal-responsibility
requirement.” Id. (citation omitted).
E. Plaintiff’s State Law Claims Under the NJTCA (Counts 8, 9, 10, & 11)
Under the same theories of liability as Plaintiff’s § 1983 and NJCRA claims, Plaintiff also
asserts claims under the NJTCA. The NJTCA, N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 et seq., governs state law tort
claims against public employees and entities in New Jersey. See Castro v. New Jersey, 521 F.
Supp. 3d 509, 525 (D.N.J. 2021). As set forth supra, Plaintiff has failed to prove liability under
the § 1983 and NJCRA claims alleged in the Second Amended Complaint. Plaintiff’s state
common law claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution fail for the
same reasons. Plaintiff does not assert, and the Court cannot construe, any other cognizable state
law tort claims arising from the alleged conduct, particularly since Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed
claims for negligence and intentional infliction of emotion distress. ECF No. 144. Because all
state common law claims are dismissed, the Court need not address the immunities asserted by
Defendants under the NJTCA.
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F. Plaintiff’s Detention and the Delayed Dismissal of the Criminal Charge
While the Court finds that summary judgment is appropriate on the present record under
Plaintiff’s pleaded theories of liability, two additional issues warrant further clarification.
First, Plaintiff emphasizes that he was detained for nearly ten days and argues that any
probable cause for such detention had dissipated well before his release on February 9, 2015. Pl.
Opp’n 63. I disagree. On February 5, 2015, detectives had applied for two CDWs, one seeking
the phone records of Adison Trigueno and one seeking Plaintiff’s.
Carteret Facts Ex. A.
Detectives did not receive the results of the CDWs, which indicated that Plaintiff was not in the
area at the time of Mocci’s murder, until February 9, 2015, the day that Plaintiff was released from
jail. Carteret Facts Ex. C.
Second, Defendants mistakenly maintain that the hindering charge brought against Plaintiff
was dismissed on February 9, 2015, upon his release from jail on his own recognizance. Carteret
Facts ¶ 68; MCPO Facts ¶ 40. But, the criminal charge against Plaintiff was not dismissed until
November 2, 2015, despite the fact that any probable cause that had initially supported the charge
had apparently dissipated upon his release on February 9, 2015. See Schwartz Cert Ex. 30, 45.
Neither party addresses the legal implications of these allegations. However, it would appear that
this delay may be actionable. Cf. Gallo v. City of Philadelphia, 161 F.3d 217, 223 (3d Cir. 1998)
(explaining that the obligation “to go to court and answer charges” amounts to a “seizure” as
“mandatory attendance at court hearings does retrain liberty”). But Plaintiff does not set forth any
independent theory of liability arising from the failure to dismiss the criminal charge in his
Complaint—indeed, the focus of Plaintiff’s allegations, in the Complaint as well as his briefing, is
on his arrest and the search of his residence. More importantly, Plaintiff does not name a proper
defendant against whom any such claim could be brought, even after a lengthy period of discovery
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revealing the prosecutors responsible for the charge. Because Plaintiff has not properly asserted
this claim, and because this is the summary judgment stage, Plaintiff cannot recover under this
theory of liability.
For the reasons set forth above, Defendants’ motions for summary judgment are
GRANTED. An appropriate Order shall follow.
DATE: September 15, 2022
/s/ Freda L. Wolfson
Freda L. Wolfson
U.S. Chief District Judge
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