Spiess et al v. Pocono Mountain Reginal Police Department et al
MEMORANDUM and ORDER denying 69 Dft Chris Wagner's Motion for Summary Judgment; denying 70 Dft John Bohrman's Motion for Summary Judgment; granting in part and denying in part Dfts Bentzoni, Rakaczewski, and Monroe County' 74 Motion for Summary Judgment- MONROE COUNTY DISMISSED; granting 76 Dft Chief Lewis' Motion for Summary Judgment- LEWIS DISMISSED; denying 78 Dft Lucas Bray's Motion for Summary Judgment; denying 80 Dft Richard Luthck's Motion for Summary Judgment; and GRANTING 82 dfts Pocono Mountain Regional Police Commission, Coolbaugh Township, Mt Pocono Borough, Pocono Mt. Regional Police Dept, Tobyhanna Township, and Tunkhannock Township's Motion for Summary Judgment- DISMISSED. Signed by Honorable James M. Munley on 3/26/13 (sm)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
WILLIAM SPIESS; KASHEEN
THOMAS; GENE THOMAS, II;
JALEEL HOLDEN and JOSE
POCONO MOUNTAIN REGIONAL
TOBYHANNA TOWNSHIP; MOUNT
COOLBAUGH TOWNSHIP; CHIEF
HARRY W. LEWIS; RICHARD
W. LUTHCKE; JOHN P. BOHRMAN; :
LUCAS BRAY; CHRIS WAGNER;
MONROE COUNTY; A.D.A. MICHAEL :
RAKACZEWSKI; DET. WENDY
BENTZONI and POCONO
MOUNTAIN REGIONAL POLICE
Before the court are seven (7) motions for summary judgment filed
by all defendants in this civil rights action involving the plaintiffs’ arrests for
rape. (Docs. 69, 70, 74, 76, 78, 80 & 82). The motions have been fully
briefed and are ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, defendants’
motions for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.
This civil rights lawsuit arises from the arrest and incarceration
pending trial of Plaintiffs William Spiess (“Spiess”), Kasheen Thomas,
Gene Thomas, II, Jaleel Holden (“Holden”) and Jose Lacen (“Lacen”) for
the alleged sexual assault of two girls–sixteen year old AJ and fifteen year
old TM–on the night of February 9, 2008.1 (Doc. 63, Am. Compl.
(hereinafter “Am. Compl.”) ¶ 1). Spiess alleges that he did not engage in
any sexual acts with either girl. (Doc. 71-22, Ex. U, Tr. of William Spiess
Recorded Statement at 20; Doc. 71-20, Ex. S, Dep. of William Spiess
(hereinafter “Spiess Dep.”) at 54). The remaining plaintiffs state they
engaged only in consensual sexual acts with the two girls. (Doc. 110,
Pls.’ Resp. to Monroe County Statement of Material Facts ¶ 14).
The court recognizes the sensitive and intimately personal nature of
sexual assault cases. Because we find it necessary to intelligently
discuss the present case, a graphic description of events is, unfortunately,
On the morning of February 11, 2008, the two girls went to the
Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department (“PMRPD”). (Doc. 71-1,
The court will refer to these minor individuals only by their initials. See
Local Rule 5.2(d)(2); FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 5.2.
Ex. A, PMRPD Incident Report dated Feb. 10, 2008 (hereinafter “Incident
Report”) at 5-30, 32-61). The young women asserted that they were
sexually assaulted on February 9, 2008. (Id.) The alleged victims were
interviewed separately and gave conflicting stories regarding what had
occurred on February 9, 2008. (Id.) The girls’ statements differed in
many different ways.
Subsequent to obtaining AJ’s statement, Defendant PMRPD
Detective Richard Luthcke (“Detective Luthcke”) and Defendant Monroe
County Detective Wendy Bentzoni (“Detective Bentzoni”) transported AJ
to the Pegasus Child Advocacy Center in Carbondale, Pennsylvania.
(Incident Report at 61). At approximately 11:00 a.m., Dr. Andi Taroli,
Medical Director of the Pegasus Comprehensive Assessment Center,
performed a forensic interview and examination of AJ. (Id.) Dr. Taroli
concluded that AJ was a sexual assault victim. (Doc. 81, Luthcke
Statement of Material Facts ¶ 47).
Between 10:30 a.m. and 12:00 noon. Detective Luthcke called his
supervisor, Defendant PMRPD Detective Chris Wagner (“Detective
Wagner”), advising him of a current investigation involving the rape of two
minors by multiple suspects. (Id. at 98; Doc. 72, Wagner Statement of
Material Facts ¶ 11). Detective Wagner advised Detective Luthcke he
would assist when he arrived at the office. (Incident Report at 98). Upon
arrival, Detective Wagner requested to speak with minor AJ. (Id.)
Detectives Luthcke and Wagner then spoke with AJ in the common
interview room at PMRPD Headquarters. (Id.) This interview was not
At approximately 4:45 p.m., Detectives Luthcke and Wagner drove
to Spiess’ residence. (Id. at 61, 98). Spiess’ mother answered the door
and stated she had been waiting all day for the officers to arrive because
TM’s family had approached Spiess and her husband earlier in the day
about a party where AJ and TM were sexually assaulted. (Id. at 61).
Spiess’ mother then handed Detectives Luthcke and Wagner a note in
TM’s handwriting stating Spiess did not do anything wrong on the night of
February 9, 2008. (Id.) Detectives Luthcke and Wagner were unable to
speak with Spiess because he was not home. (Id.) But, Spiess’ mother
made arrangements to bring him to PMRPD Headquarters. (Id.)
Around 6:15 p.m., Spiess arrived at PMRPD Headquarters and was
interviewed by Defendants Detective Luthcke and PMRPD Detective
Lucas Bray (“Detective Bray”). (Id. at 62, 98). The interview was taped
and initially concluded at 7:15 p.m. (Incident Report at 92). The tape was
turned back on, however, and Spiess continued to speak until 7:17 p.m.
(Id.) The tape was turned off from 7:17 p.m. to 7:26 p.m. At 7:26 p.m.,
Spiess continued speaking with the detectives. (Id. at 93). The record
does not accurately reflect what time the tape was finally stopped. (Id. at
97). But, Spiess’ additional statement consisted of four (4) pages within
the incident report. (Id. at 93-97).
Subsequent to Spiess’ interview, Detective Bray assisted Detective
Luthcke with the completion of an arrest warrant for Lacen. (Id. at 101).
After completing the arrest warrant for Lacen, Detectives Wagner and
Bray were able to confirm the alleged sexual assaults took place at 5008
Trafalgar Road, Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania. (Id.)
Detective Wagner returned to PMRPD Headquarters and reviewed
the search warrant and affidavit of probable cause prepared by Detective
Luthcke. (Id. at 99). Subsequent to reviewing the affidavit of probable
cause, Detective Wagner spoke with Defendant Monroe County Assistant
District Attorney Michael Rakaczewski (“ADA Rakaczewski”). (Id.)
Detective Wagner requested a nighttime search warrant out of concern
that evidence might be destroyed. (Id.) After speaking with ADA
Rakaczewski, Detective Luthcke faxed the search and arrest warrant
applications to ADA Rakaczewski. (Id. at 97, 99). ADA Rakaczewski
approved the warrants and they were forwarded to District Judge Anzini
for approval. (Id.) District Judge Anzini approved the search and arrest
warrants at 11:30 p.m. (Id.)
Simultaneous with Detective Luthcke’s actions to obtain the search
and arrest warrants, Detectives Lenning, Bentzoni, Bray, Bohrman,
Wagner and Officer Dunlap drove to 5008 Trafalgar Road–Lacen’s
residence. (Id. at 99). Shortly after arriving, Detective Lutchke advised
the officers that the search and arrest warrants had been approved. (Id.)
The detectives then executed the search warrant and Detective Bray
arrested Lacen at approximately 11:40 p.m. on February 11, 2008. (Id. at
2-4, 99, 101).
Spiess, Kasheen Thomas and Gene Thomas II, were arrested on
February 25, 2008. (Id. at 2-4). Holden was arrested on March 24, 2008.
(Id.) The plaintiffs were charged with multiple felony counts of rape by
forcible compulsion, conspiracy to commit rape, involuntary deviate sexual
intercourse by forcible compulsion, sexual assault, aggravated indecent
assault and indecent assault. (Id.) Three (3) of the five (5) plaintiffs,
although juveniles, were charged as adults because AJ stated a knife was
used during the assault.
Prior to making the allegations of rape in February 2008, AJ had
made two previous complaints of sexual molestation against a family
member to PMRPD. The complaints were made in the spring of 2006 and
October 2007 and were investigated by the Monroe County District
Attorney’s Office, PMRPD and Monroe County Children and Youth (Doc
63-4, Ex. D Apr. 21, 2006 incident report; Doc. 63-5, Ex. E, Oct. 31, 2007
incident report (hereinafter “Oct. 2007 incident report”)). In both cases,
AJ’s allegations were recanted or closed as unfounded after detectives
interviewed AJ and her family. (Id.) Specifically, on December 3, 2007,
Monroe County Children and Youth closed the second abuse allegation as
being unfounded and notified Detective Bohrman. (Oct. 2007 incident
report at 18). Detective Bohrman closed his case and forwarded the file
on the second abuse allegation to ADA Rakaczewski. (Id.) ADA
Rakaczewski declined to prosecute the family member. (Doc. 111-12, Ex.
H, Dep. of Michael Rakaczewski (hereinafter “Rakaczewski Dep.”) at 5253).
Following a preliminary hearing on March 28, 2008, in which AJ and
TM testified and identified the plaintiffs as their assailants, plaintiffs were
bound over for trial and incarcerated for nearly a year. In January 2009,
the Monroe County DA’s office received a letter from AJ’s school. The
letter reported AJ had confessed to providing false statements to police
and false testimony to the court. In relevant part, the letter stated:
AJ knew “she was going to engage in sexual activities at the boys’
AJ knew “other males were going to be there as well.”
AJ admitted “she may have gone into another room and it got a little
out of control and that she didn’t leave because one of the boys told her if
she did not continue he would not be her boyfriend anymore.”
At the time, AJ “thought she needed a boyfriend so she continued
engaging in sexual activity.”
AJ admitted everything that had been previously stated about “a knife
being held to her throat was untrue. There wasn’t any knife.”
(Doc. 111-11, Ex. G, AJ Pass Program Statement dated Jan. 6, 2009).
Subsequent to receiving the letter, Detective Luthcke and ADA
Rakaczewski reinterviewed AJ on January 13, 2009. (Rakaczewski Dep
at 23). AJ denied telling her school that she made false statements to the
On January 20, 2009, however, ADA Rakaczewski and Detective
Bentzoni reinterviewed AJ for a second time. (Id.) AJ admitted lying
about three things. First, AJ admitted Spiess did not assault anyone. (Id.)
Second, AJ lied about the presence of alcohol. (Id.) Finally, AJ lied about
the presence of a knife. (Id.) As a result, on February 3, 2009, ADA
Rakaczewski filed a nolle prosequi petition that effectively dropped all
charges against plaintiffs. (Doc. 71-18, Ex. Q, Pet. to Nolle Prosequi).
ADA Rakaczewski also concurred on plaintiffs’ subsequent expungement
petitions. (Doc. 111-19, Ex. L, William Spiess Expungement Pet. and
The plaintiffs filed a section 1983 complaint on February 8, 2010
alleging the defendants violated their civil rights. (Doc. 1, Compl.). After
some motions and court orders, the plaintiffs’ filed a nine-count amended
complaint on June 7, 2012. (Doc. 63). Count I alleges false arrest and
false imprisonment against the individual defendants. In Count II,
plaintiffs’ assert a false arrest claim against ADA Rakaczewski in his
investigative capacity. Count III was omitted. Count IV charges the
individual defendants with malicious prosecution. Counts V - VII were
omitted. Count VIII alleges a failure to train and supervise claim against
Tobyhanna Township, Mount Pocono Borough, Tunkhannock Township
and Coolbaugh Township (collectively “municipalities”), Pocono Mountain
Regional Police Commission (hereinafter “commission”), PMRPD and
Chief Lewis. In Count IX, plaintiffs assert a failure to train and supervise
claim against Monroe County.
The defendants answered the amended complaint on June 26, 2012.
(Docs. 64, 65). At the conclusion of discovery, the defendants filed the
instant motions for summary judgment (Docs. 69, 70, 74, 76, 78, 80 & 82)
bringing the case to its present posture.
The court has federal question jurisdiction over this civil rights action
brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (“The district
courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the
Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”); 28 U.S.C. §§
1343(a)(3), (4) (granting district courts jurisdiction over civil actions
brought to redress deprivations of constitutional or statutory rights by way
of damages or equitable relief).
Granting summary judgment is proper “‘if the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the
affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material
fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.’”
See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting FED.
R. CIV. P. 56(c)). “[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of
some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an
otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the
requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).
In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must
examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the
motion. Int’l Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chem. Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949
(3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the
non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under
the governing law. Id. Where the non-moving party will bear the burden
of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its
burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to
admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant’s
burden of proof at trial. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific
facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to
interrogatories showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.
In the present case, the defendants are separated into three groups:
(1) PMRPD Detectives Bohrman, Bray, Luthcke, Wagner and Monroe
County Detective Bentzoni (collectively “individual defendants”) who are
sued for unlawful arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution;
(2) ADA Rakaczewski, in his individual investigative capacity as an
assistant district attorney, who is sued for false arrest; and (3) Chief
Lewis, PMRPD, the municipalities, the commission, and Monroe County
(collectively “the municipal defendants”) who are sued for failure to train
The defendants have filed seven motions for summary judgment.
(Docs. 69, 70, 74, 76, 78, 80, 82). Collectively, they seek summary
judgment on all counts within plaintiffs’ complaint. Because the individual
motions for summary judgment contain similar legal issues, the court will
address them as follows: 1) Individual defendants’ substantive claims; 2)
ADA Rakaczewski’s substantive claims; 3) Immunity issues including
absolute immunity and qualified immunity; and 4) The municipal
defendants’ substantive claims.
First, the court notes plaintiffs bring their federal law claims against
all defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“section 1983"). Section
1983 does not, by its own terms, create substantive rights. Rather, it
provides remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere in the
Constitution or federal law. Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir.
1996). Section 1983 states in pertinent part:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance,
regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the
District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any
citizen of the United States or other person within the
jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges,
or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be
liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity or
other proper proceeding for redress . . . .
42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thus, to establish a claim under Section 1983, two
criteria must be met. First, the conduct complained of must have been
committed by a person acting under color of state law. Sameric Corp. of
Del., Inc. v. City of Phila., 142 F.3d 582, 590 (3d Cir. 1998). Second, the
conduct must deprive the plaintiff of rights secured under the Constitution
or federal law. Id.
A. Individual Defendants
Count I of the amended complaint alleges causes of action of false
arrest and false imprisonment against the individual defendants. The
individual defendants move for summary judgment on both causes of
action. We will discuss them separately.
1. False Arrest
A claim for false arrest under section 1983 originates from the
Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable seizures. To state
a Fourth Amendment claim for false arrest, a plaintiff must establish: (1)
there was an arrest; and (2) the arrest was made without probable cause.
Dowling v. City of Phila., 855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir. 1988). Although no
precise definition for probable cause exists, the Supreme Court has
explained that police officers possess sufficient probable cause when (1)
there is a reasonable ground for belief of guilt determined from the totality
of the circumstances, and (2) the belief of guilt is particularized with
respect to the individual searched or seized. Maryland v. Pringle, 540
U.S. 366, 371 (2003); see also Orsatti v. N.J. State Police, 71 F.3d at 483
(finding probable 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 the offense has been or is
being committed by the person to be arrested.).
As a general principle, the complaining witness’s statement and
positive identification of the suspect is sufficient to support probable
cause; however, this precept is not absolute, and independent exculpatory
evidence or evidence of the victim’s unreliability can serve to negate
probable cause. See Wilson v. Russo, 212 F.3d 781, 790 (3d Cir. 200).
Additionally, the question of probable cause in a section 1983 damage suit
is one for the jury, “particularly . . . where the probable cause
determination rests on credibility conflicts.” Merkle v. Upper Dublin Sch.
Dist., 211 F.3d 782, 788 (3d Cir. 2000)). Finally, when false arrest is at
issue, “probable cause need only exist as to one of the offenses that could
be charged under the circumstances.” Barna v. City of Perth Amboy, 42
F.3d 809, 819 (3d Cir. 1994).
The individual defendants contend the affidavits of probable cause
for all plaintiffs are “identical in all material respects.” (Doc. 92, Wagner
Br. in Supp. at 9, Doc. 93, Bohrman Br. in Supp. at 10, Doc. 94, Bray Br.
in Supp. at 9, Doc. 95, Luthcke Br. in Supp. at 10, Doc. 96, Lewis Br. in
Supp. at 10). As such, the individual defendants rely upon the affidavit of
probable cause supporting the arrest of Lacen to substantiate the arrests
of all plaintiffs.
The Lacen affidavit and incident report reveal plaintiffs were charged
with multiple felony counts of rape by forcible compulsion, conspiracy to
commit rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse by forcible
compulsion, sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault and indecent
assault. (Doc. 95-1, Ex. A, Lacen Aff. of Probable Cause at 2-6; Incident
Report at 2-4).
The individual defendants focus their arguments on the assertion
they had probable cause to arrest plaintiffs. Specifically, the individual
defendants claim the victims provided first hand accounts of the sexual
assaults. Additionally, plaintiffs, with the exception of Spiess, admit to
sexual activity with one or both of their accusers. Finally, Dr. Taroli, a
board certified pediatrician specializing in child abuse, diagnosed AJ as a
victim of sexual assault. Plaintiffs contend the individual defendants
lacked probable cause because the Lacen affidavit contains material
falsehoods and misrepresentations.
An arrest warrant “does not, in itself, shelter an officer from liability
for false arrest.” Wilson, 212 F.3d at 786. Instead,
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.
Id. at 786-87 (internal quotations omitted). Thus, we apply a two-part test
when a party claims that an arrest pursuant to a warrant lacked probable
cause. This test helps ensure that a police officer does not “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. The effort to determine whether “an
affidavit is false or misleading must be undertaken with scrupulous
Reedy v. Evanson, 615 F.3d 197, 214 n.24 (3d Cir. 2010).
As such, the plaintiffs must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence,
that the individual defendants: (1) made assertions or omissions with a
reckless disregard for the truth and (2) the statements or omissions are
material, or necessary, to the finding of probable cause. We address the
issues in turn.
a. Assertions or Omissions Made With a Reckless Disregard
For The Truth
Plaintiffs must first establish the individual defendants made false
assertions or omissions either deliberately or with a reckless disregard for
the truth. Assertions are made with reckless disregard for the truth 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.” Reedy, 615 F.3d at 213
(citations omitted). Assertions can be made with reckless disregard for
the truth “even if they involve minor details—recklessness is measured not
by the relevance of the information, but the demonstration of willingness to
affirmatively distort truth.” Id. Omissions are made with reckless
disregard for the truth when “an officer recklessly omits facts that any
reasonable person would know that a judge would want to know” in
making a probable cause determination. Id.
Plaintiffs contend the individual defendants demonstrated a
willingness to affirmatively distort the truth by failing to reconcile material
inconsistencies within AJ and TM’s statements prior to Lacen’s arrest.
The girls’ statements differed as follows:
AJ stated that the girls snuck out from her grandmother’s house
because TM wanted to see her boyfriend, Lacen. (Doc. 71-10, Ex. J, Aff.
of A.J. (hereinafter “A.J. Aff.”) at 9). TM stated they snuck out because
Lacen and Spiess threatened to harm AJ’s grandmother. (Doc. 71-11, Ex.
K, Aff. of T.M. (hereinafter “T.M. Aff.”) at 7-8).
AJ stated they stopped at the Acorn gas station en route to Lacen’s
house. (AJ Aff. at 24-25). TM stated they went directly from the Shop
Rite parking lot to the Lacen residence. (TM Aff. at 11).
AJ told police that the boys were smoking marijuana from a “bong” in
the vehicle when they picked the girls up at Shop Rite. (AJ Aff. at 11). AJ
also stated that TM voluntarily smoked marijuana at Lacen’s residence.
(Id. at 28). TM stated she was forced to smoke marijuana at Lacen’s
residence and mentions nothing about Lacen and Spiess smoking
marijuana from a bong in Spiess’ car. (TM Aff. at 12-15, 23-24).
AJ told police that inside the house people were drinking vodka and
light beer. (AJ Aff. at 38). TM stated that no alcohol was consumed in the
home and she never saw any bottles of alcohol. (TM Aff. at 33).
AJ accused Spiess of undressing and raping her. (AJ Aff. at 28).
TM stated that Spiess sat and watched, but did not touch either girl. (TM
Aff. at 8, 22-23).
AJ told police that she was taken into a separate bedroom from TM
where several boys sexually assaulted her. (AJ Aff. at 28, 32). TM stated
that she and AJ were in the same room during the entire incident. (TM
Aff. at 8, 13, 20-23, 34).
AJ named the plaintiffs and five other youths– “[JJ], [MM], a second
Billy, Marcus, and [JC]”– as being among her attackers. (AJ Aff. at 1324). AJ stated that everyone at Lacen’s residence, except for Marcus,
raped her. (AJ Aff. at 28-29, 34). TM told police, in four different ways,
that the only person who had sex with AJ was Lacen. TM stated Lacen:
(1) “raped AJ”; (2) “stuck it in AJ”; (3) “had sex with AJ”; or (4) “had sexual
intercourse with AJ.” (TM Aff. at 8, 13, 20-23).
AJ stated a boy named Marcus drove them home in Spiess’ red
truck and that Marcus had been at Lacen’s residence the entire night. (AJ
Aff. at 30, 37). TM stated that the person who drove them home arrived
afterwards and drove a black car. (TM Aff. at 26-27).
AJ stated that a knife was held to her throat during the assaults. (AJ
Aff. at 35-36). TM stated that no knives or other weapons were used.
(TM Aff. at 33).
The court agrees with plaintiffs that the individual defendants failure
to reconcile the girls’ inconsistent statements raises a genuine issue of
material fact with regard to whether they acted with a reckless disregard
for the truth. Here, the individual defendants conducted a sixteen (16)
hour investigation on February 11, 2008. AJ and TM were interviewed by
12:30 p.m. giving the individual defendants almost eleven (11) hours to
reconcile the inconsistencies before Lacen was arrested at 11:30 p.m.
Furthermore, the individual defendants discussed the girls’ statements
and the importance of reconciling the statements to make sure AJ and TM
were telling the truth. (Doc. 71-3, Ex. C, Dep. of Richard Luthcke
(hereinafter “Luthcke Dep.”) at 33, 35-36, 100-01; Doc. 71-2, Ex. B, Dep.
of Chris Wagner (hereinafter “Wagner Dep.”) at 24-25; ). But, the
individual defendants failed to follow-up and vet the inconsistencies.
For example, AJ stated a knife was held to her throat during the
assaults. TM, who stated that she was in the same room as AJ, told
police that no knives or other weapons were used. The individual
defendants knew or should have known that the presence and alleged use
of a dangerous weapon was needed not only to satisfy elements of the
underlying crimes, but also was the only aggravating factor that certified
the three (3) juvenile plaintiffs into adult court. In other words, the alleged
presence of the knife removed the three juvenile plaintiffs from the juvenile
rehabilitative system and into the adult specific and general deterrence
system. Even Detective Luthcke admitted this was a glaring and
significant discrepancy. (Luthcke Dep. at 53, 66-67). Also, Detective
Wagner, the supervisor in charge of the investigation, conceded the
contradictory statements about the knife were significant and all the more
reason to reinterview the girls. (Wagner Dep. at 18-19).
Moreover, if the individual defendants truly believed a knife was
used by plaintiffs, it might be concluded that they would have listed the
knife among the items they were looking for in the search warrant
application. The individual defendants admitted they did not include the
knife in the search warrant application. (Luthcke Dep. at 31). In fact, the
individual defendants admitted they never looked for or found a knife
during the search of Lacen’s residence. (Id.)
Simply put, the individual defendants were aware of glaring
inconsistencies, had the time and opportunity to reconcile the statements
but chose not to act. Accordingly, the individual defendants failure to
reconcile the statements may demonstrate a willingness to affirmatively
distort the truth.
Plaintiffs also contend the individual defendants omitted material
facts from the affidavits of probable cause that any reasonable person
would want a judge to know. Plaintiffs argue several facts were omitted
with a reckless disregard for the truth. We find, however, one key
omission relevant to our probable cause analysis: AJ’s recent history of
reporting unfounded rape allegations.
Plaintiffs argue the individual defendants and ADA Rakaczewski
were aware AJ had a history of reporting unfounded rape allegations, but
failed to reinterview AJ and vet her inconsistent statements. The
unfounded allegations were made in spring 2006 and October 2007 and
were investigated by the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office,
PMRPD and Monroe County Children and Youth. (Doc 63-4, Ex. D Apr.
21, 2006 incident report; Doc. 63-5, Ex. E, Oct. 31, 2007 incident report
(hereinafter “Oct. 2007 incident report”). In both cases, AJ’s allegations
were recanted or closed as unfounded after detectives interviewed AJ and
her family. (Id.)
Specifically, Detective Bohrman spoke with Monroe County Children
and Youth caseworker Guinan two months before the events in this case.
(Oct. 2007 incident report at 18). Ms. Guinan indicated that after
interviewing all parties, Children and Youth was going to close their case
as being unfounded. (Id.) Accordingly, Detective Bohrman closed his
case and forwarded the file to ADA Rakaczewski. (Id.) ADA Rakaczewski
declined to prosecute the family member. (Rakaczewski Dep. at 52-53).
The individual defendants’ failure to include the victim’s recent history of
reporting unfounded rape allegations may demonstrate a reckless
disregard for the truth.
After sufficient evidence of assertions and omissions made with a
reckless disregard for the truth, a court assesses whether the assertions
or omissions made with reckless disregard of the truth were material, or
necessary, to the finding of probable cause.” Reedy, 615 F.3d at 213
(citations omitted). “To determine the materiality of the misstatements and
omissions,” a court must “excise the offending inaccuracies and insert the
facts recklessly omitted, and then determine whether the corrected
affidavit would establish probable cause.” Id. The corrected affidavit
“simply becomes one more set of factual assertions that must be viewed
in the light most favorable to the non-movant.” Id. at 214 n.24.
Performing such editing on the affidavit of probable cause would
produce an affidavit that reads:2
On February 11, 2008, minors AJ and TM reported they were
sexually assaulted on the late evening of February 9, 2008 into the early
morning hours of February 10, 2008. AJ reported she was raped by
numerous males. [TM told police, in four different ways, that the only
person who had sex with AJ was Lacen. TM stated Lacen: (1) “raped AJ”;
(2) “stuck it in AJ”; (3) “had sex with AJ”; or (4) “had sexual intercourse
Changed or additional information appears in brackets.
Around 11:30 p.m., AJ and TM received a phone call from Lacen
[who AJ stated was TM’s boyfriend] asking them to meet him at the Shop
Rite in Mount Pocono. AJ and TM went to that location [because TM
wanted to see her boyfriend or because Lacen threatened AJ’s
grandmother] and were picked up by Lacen and another male they knew
as “Billy” [Spiess.] Spiess was driving a red Ford SUV.
While driving, Lacen and Spiess told AJ and TM that “they had a job
to do” which referred to AJ having sex with them and TM performing oral
sex on them. [AJ stated they stopped at the Acorn gas station en route to
Lacen’s house. TM stated they went directly from the Shop Rite parking
lot to Lacen’s residence. Additionally, AJ said Lacen and Spiess were
smoking marijuana from a bong inside Spiess’ car. TM stated they all
smoked marijuana once they arrived at Lacen’s residence.]
AJ stated that there were numerous people at Lacen’s residence
and everyone was drinking vodka and light beer. Additionally, everyone
was smoking marijuana including TM who smoked marijuana voluntarily.
[TM stated she was forced to smoke marijuana. TM also stated she never
saw any bottles of alcohol or alcohol being consumed.]
AJ accused Spiess of undressing and raping her. [TM stated Spiess
sat and watched, but did not touch either girl.]
AJ told police that she was taken into a separate bedroom from TM
where several boys sexually assaulted her. [TM stated that she and AJ
were in the same room during the entire incident.]
AJ stated Lacen held a pocket knife to her throat during the
assaults. [TM said she and AJ were in the same room during the entire
incident and she did not observe any knives or weapons being used to
threaten either girl.]
TM was also interviewed. [TM told police she was in the same room
as AJ while the sexual activity was occurring.] TM stated that the only
sexual activity she engaged in was performing oral sex on Lacen while two
unidentified black males held her down.
KA was interviewed. He stated that he picked up both AJ and TM
from Lacen’s house on 2/10/2008 and drove them home. KA identified
Lacen’s residence as 5008 Trafalgar Rd. Pocono Farms East.
The individual defendants maintain even a reconstructed affidavit
establishes probable cause to arrest Lacen. In support of their position,
the individual defendants rely upon Rodriguez v. Scranton Police Dept.,
No. 10-CV-2022, 2013 WL 74292, (M.D. Pa. Jan. 4, 2013). In Rodriguez,
this court found that as “a general principal, the complaining witness’s
statement and positive identification of the suspect is sufficient to support
probable cause. Id. at *7. We find Rodriguez distinguishable from the
In Rodriguez the alleged victim and sole witness to the alleged
sexual assault provided police with two consistent statements. Id. at *8.
Additionally, the record indicated the police had yet to find any exculpatory
evidence after an investigation lasting nearly a month. Id. Moreover, in
addition to the two consistent statements given to police, the alleged
victim’s statement at the preliminary hearing tracked closely to her prior
statement. Id. As such, we held that “in the absence of exculpatory
evidence or substantial evidence of [alleged victim’s] unreliability,”
sufficient evidence existed to establish probable cause as a matter of law.
Id. at 9.
The instant case is distinguishable. Here, the court has been
presented with two alleged victims whose statements differed on multiple
material facts. Additionally, the individual defendants were aware of AJ’s
unreliability based upon her unfounded rape accusations just three (3)
months prior to this incident. The individual defendants, however, failed to
reinterview AJ and TM to reconcile their inconsistent statements. Finally,
it is undisputed AJ and TM changed their testimony at the preliminary
hearing from the one and only statement each had given to police. In fact,
AJ and TM changed their testimony at the preliminary hearing so much
that Defendant Luthcke candidly admitted he could have filed perjury
charges against the girls. (Luthcke Dep. at 92-99).
As such, a reasonable jury could find by a preponderance of the
evidence that the assertions and omission are material to the finding of
probable cause. Thus, viewing the reconstructed affidavit in a light most
favorable to plaintiffs, a genuine issue of disputed fact exists as to whether
there was probable cause at the time of Lacen’s arrest. Accordingly, the
individual defendants’ motions for summary judgment on plaintiffs’ false
arrest claims will be denied.
2. Plaintiffs’ Section 1983 False Imprisonment Claims Against
the Individual Defendants
The individual defendants next move for summary judgment on
plaintiffs’ false imprisonment claims. After careful review, we find granting
summary judgment is inappropriate.
“Where the police lack probable cause to make an arrest, the
arrestee has a claim under section 1983 for false imprisonment based
upon a detention pursuant to that arrest.” Groman v. Manalapan, 47 F.3d
628, 636 (3d Cir. 1995). Here, plaintiffs were all detained pursuant to their
arrest. Also, a genuine issue of disputed fact exists pertaining to the
probable cause for plaintiffs’ arrests. As such, the individual defendants’
motions for summary judgment on plaintiffs’ false imprisonment claims will
3. Plaintiffs’ Section 1983 Malicious Prosecution Claims against
the Individual Defendants
Plaintiffs assert a malicious prosecution claim against the individual
defendants. To prevail in a Section 1983 malicious prosecution action,
plaintiffs 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
Estate of Smith v. Marasco, 318 F.3d 497, 521 (3d Cir. 2003); see also
Kossler v. Crisanti, 564 F.3d 181, 186 n.2 (3d Cir. 2009) (en banc).
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)). Here,
plaintiffs and defendants agree the fifth element—deprivation of
liberty—has been satisfied. As such, we address the first four elements in
a. Individual Defendants Initiated the Criminal Proceeding
Prior to addressing the parties’ arguments, the court notes that
plaintiffs’ malicious prosecution claim has been filed against the individual
defendants: PMRPD Detectives Bohrman, Bray, Luthcke and Wagner as
well as Monroe County Detective Bentzoni. See (Am Compl. ¶¶ 28, 13949). We find, viewing all of the facts in the light most favorable to
plaintiffs, Detective Bentzoni is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on
plaintiffs’ malicious prosecution claim.
In the present case, Detective Bentzoni was never in a position to file
criminal charges. The charges were going to be filed by the police
detectives or ADA Rakaczewski. Additionally, plaintiffs’ malicious
prosecution arguments focus on the actions of the police detectives and
ADA Rakaczewski, not Detective Bentzoni. Therefore, Detective Bentzoni
is entitled to summary judgment on plaintiffs’ malicious prosecution claim.
We next determine whether the police detectives initiated the criminal
proceeding. Generally, “it is the prosecutor, not the police officer, who is
responsible for initiating a proceeding against a defendant,” Gratter v.
Zappile, 67 F. Supp. 2d 515, 521 (E.D. Pa. 1999). An officer, however,
may be considered to have initiated the criminal proceeding if “he or she
knowingly provided false information to the prosecutor or otherwise
interfered with the prosecutor’s informed discretion.” Henderson v. City of
Phila., 853 F. Supp. 2d 514, 518-19 (citations omitted).
Here, the police detectives and ADA Rakaczewski disagree as to
who initiated the criminal proceeding. The police detectives contend ADA
Rakaczewski approved the criminal charges thereby initiating the criminal
proceeding. (Rakaczewski Dep. at 12). Rakaczewski claims the police
detectives, not him, signed the affidavits of probable cause initiating the
criminal prosecution. (Doc. 75, Def. Monroe Cnty. Statement of Material
Facts ¶ 45). Accordingly, a genuine issue of material fact exists pertaining
to who initiated the criminal proceeding.
b. The Criminal Proceeding Ended in Plaintiffs’ Favor
The second element plaintiffs must establish to prevail on a malicious
prosecution claim is that the criminal proceedings terminated in their favor.
As the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has observed:
[c]riminal proceedings are terminated in favor of the accused
(a) a discharge by a magistrate at a preliminary hearing, or
(b) the refusal of a grand jury to indict, or
(c) the formal abandonment of the proceedings by the public
(d) the quashing of an indictment or information, or
(e) an acquittal, or
(f) a final order in favor of the accused by a trial or appellate
Donahue v. Gavin, 280 F.3d 371, 383 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Section 659
of the RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS). The Pennsylvania Supreme
Court adopted § 659 in Haefner v. Burkey, 626 A.2d 519, 521 (Pa. 1993).
As noted above, in the instant case the criminal proceedings ended
when ADA Rakaczewski filed a nolle prosequi petition. The Third Circuit
Court of Appeals has noted that while “a grant of nolle prosequi can be
sufficient to satisfy the favorable termination requirement for malicious
prosecution, not all cases where the prosecutor abandons criminal
charges are considered to have terminated favorably.” Donahue v. Gavin,
280 F.3d 371, 383 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Hilfirty v. Shipman, 91 F.3d 573,
579-80 (3d Cir. 1996)). A decision by the prosecutor to nolle prosequi
criminal charges “signifies termination of charges in favor of the accused
only when their final disposition is such as to indicate the innocence of the
accused.” Donahue, 280 F.3d 371, at 383 (citation omitted). The court,
however, may look beyond the order itself “to any other matter in the
record . . . as to why the motion was filed or granted.” DiFronzo v.
Chiovero, 406 F. App’x 605, 609 (3d Cir. 2011).
Here, ADA Rakaczewski’s petition to nolle prosequi plaintiffs’
charges satisfies the favorable termination requirement as a matter of law.
ADA Rakaczewski’s petition states, “[Based upon the Commonwealth’s
continued investigation, the victims admitted testifying falsely under
oath on a material matter, the matter lacks prosecutorial merit and a
nolle prosequi should be entered on these charges in the interest of
justice.” (Doc. 71-18, Ex. Q, Jose Lacen Pet. to Nolle Prosequi)
ADA Rakaczewski did not dismiss the charges because of any plea
agreement, change in law or some other reason unrelated to the weight of
the evidence. ADA Rakaczewski dismissed the charges because the
victims lied, the matter lacked prosecutorial merit and the interests of
justice commanded dismissal. Moreover, ADA Rakaczewski concurred on
plaintiffs’ expungement petitions further illustrating favorable termination.
(Doc. 111-19, Ex. L, William Spiess Expungement Pet. and Order).
Therefore, we find plaintiffs have satisfied the favorable termination
c. The Proceeding was Initiated Without Probable Cause
In addition to the first two elements of malicious prosecution,
plaintiffs must also demonstrate the proceeding was initiated without
probable cause. Because the arguments for probable cause on plaintiffs’
malicious prosecution claim mirror the arguments for plaintiffs’ unlawful
seizure and false arrest claims, the analysis provided above is equally
applicable here. Ergo, disputed issues of material fact exist regarding
whether the proceeding was initiated without probable cause.
d. The Defendants Acted Maliciously or for a Purpose Other
Than Bringing the Plaintiff to Justice
Finally, plaintiffs must prove defendants acted maliciously or for a
purpose other than bringing the plaintiff to justice. “Malice has been
defined as ill will in the sense of spite, lack of belief by the actor himself in
the propriety of the prosecution, or its use for an extraneous improper
purpose.” Lippay v. Christos, 996 F.2d 1490, 1502 (3d Cir. 1993)
(emphasis in original). The Third Circuit Court of Appeals emphasized
that “a police officer could have ill-will or spite against someone they never
met–i.e., a member of a particular ethnic or racial group.” Id. at 1503.
Finally, malice may be inferred from the absence of probable cause. Id.
In the present case, plaintiffs have demonstrated genuine issues of
material fact as to whether or not defendants acted maliciously. Plaintiffs
allege the charges against the plaintiffs, four (4) of whom were African
American or Hispanic, were motivated by race and/or defendants’ belief
plaintiffs were members of dangerous street gangs. Specifically, Spiess
contends he was shown pictures of alleged gang members during his
initial interview with police. (Spiess Dep. at 17-18). Additionally, Spiess
contends the police detectives tried to get him, the only White plaintiff, to
testify against the African American and Hispanic plaintiffs in exchange for
the dismissal of the charges against him. (Id.) Moreover, Lacen testified
the police detectives were calling him names and acting in a racist way
towards him. (Doc. 71-8, Ex. H, Dep. of Jose Lacen at 31). Lacen also
stated that Detective Luthcke falsely accused him of being a member of
the Bloods street gang. (Id. at 58-61). Finally, Detective Bohrman
admitted, albeit erroneously, that the events on the evening in question
were some sort of “gang initiation” by plaintiffs. (Doc. 71-5, Ex. E, Dep. of
John Bohrman (hereinafter “Bohrman Dep.”) at 39). Thus, we find that
viewing all of the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, genuine
issues of material fact exist as to whether or not the police detectives
acted maliciously or for a purpose other than bringing the plaintiffs to
In sum, we find plaintiffs have satisfied the favorable termination and
deprivation of liberty elements. We further find genuine issues of material
fact exist pertaining to the initiation, probable cause and malice elements.
As such, the police detectives’ motions for summary judgment on
plaintiffs’ malicious prosecution claim will be denied.
B. Plaintiffs’ Section 1983 False Arrest Claims Against ADA
ADA Rakaczewski moves for summary judgment on plaintiffs’ false
arrest claim arguing he played no role in the investigation. Plaintiffs’
cognizable federal claims against ADA Rakaczewski depend upon their
assertion that ADA Rakaczewski conducted a constitutionally deficient
investigation and therefore lacked probable cause in violation of the
Fourth Amendment. Specifically, plaintiffs contend ADA Rakaczewski was
present at the police station and was one of the individuals who made the
collective determination as to whether or not probable cause existed. We
find that summary judgment on this issue is inappropriate.
Discovery has revealed that ADA Rakaczewski fails to recall whether
or not he was present during the investigation on the day in question.
(Rakaczewski Dep. at 11-12). The police detectives and chief of police,
however, state Rakaczewski was present at PMRPD Headquarters on
February 11, 2008, and that he was among the group that made the
collective decision on probable cause. (Wagner Dep. at 24-25; Luthcke
Dep. at 100-01; Doc. 71-7, Ex. G, Dep. of Harry Lewis (hereinafter “Lewis
Dep.”) at 34-36; Rakaczewski Dep. at 11-12, 37-40).
Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiffs, a genuine
issue of disputed fact exists pertaining to what level of involvement ADA
Rakaczewski had in the underlying investigation. Accordingly, ADA
Rakaczewski’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs’ false arrest
claims will be denied.
The detectives and ADA Rakaczewski raise the issue of immunity.
They argue both absolute and qualified immunity bar plaintiffs’ claims. As
such, we will determine whether absolute or qualified immunity applies,
and if so, whether it precludes plaintiffs’ claims.
1. Absolute Immunity
“Prosecutors are immune from suit under section 1983 for ‘initiating
and pursuing a criminal prosecution.’” Carter, 181 F.3d at 355 (quoting
Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430-31 (1976)). Immunity also extends
to “‘the preparation necessary to present a case,’ and this includes the
‘obtaining, reviewing, and evaluation of evidence.’” Kulwicki v. Dawson,
969 F.2d 1454, 1465 (3d Cir. 1992) (quoting Schrob v. Catterson, 948
F.2d 1402, 1414 (3d Cir. 1991)).
Not all actions of a prosecutor, however, are immunized. Instead,
“prosecutors are subject to varying levels of official immunity” and
absolute prosecutorial immunity attaches only to actions performed in a
‘quasi-judicial’ role”, such as participation in court proceedings and other
conduct “intimately associated with the judicial phases” of litigation.
Giuffre v. Bissell, 31 F.3d 1241, 1251 (3d Cir.1994) (quoting Imbler, 424
U.S. at 430). “By contrast, a prosecutor acting in an investigative or
administrative capacity is protected only by qualified immunity.” Id.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals, in Giuffre, held that a prosecutor
does not enjoy absolute immunity for giving advice to police during an
investigation leading up to a criminal proceeding. 31 F.3d at 1253. A rule
of thumb for defining the investigative / prosecutorial divide is the filing of
a complaint. See Kulwicki, 969 F.2d at 1465 (holding that “[e]vidence
gleaned prior to the filing is deemed investigative,” “directing evidencegathering” by police is investigative, and “giving probable cause advice” to
police is investigative). Finally, the mere fact that a prosecution is formally
initiated does not mean that all investigatory acts preceding the filing of
charges are entitled to immunity. Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259,
276 (1993). We now turn to ADA Rakaczewski and Detective Bentzoni’s
absolute immunity claims.
a. ADA Rakaczewski
ADA Rakaczewski contends his investigative acts were integral to
the prosecution. ADA Rakaczewski’s argument, however, is the same
absolute immunity argument previously rejected by the court on his motion
to dismiss. (See Doc. 23, Mem. and Order dated July 26, 2010). As we
held on July 26, 2010:
[T]he complaint plausibly alleges that ADA Rakaczewski’s
actions were akin to merely advising officers as to probable
cause or directing the gathering of evidence in an
investigative capacity. The actions alleged here, in light of
the rough temporal guideline of Kulwicki and Buckley’s
warning that an eventual filing of charges does not
necessarily immunize all investigative actions, indicate that
the pre-complaint gathering of evidence and evaluation of
probable cause were investigative in nature and deserving
only qualified immunity.
(Id.) Ergo, we will deny ADA Rakaczewski’s claim for absolute immunity.
b. Detective Bentzoni
Detective Bentzoni also contends she is entitled to absolute immunity
for her limited role in obtaining a search warrant for the Lacen home. The
plaintiffs respond that, like ADA Rakaczewski, Detective Bentzoni is being
sued for her pre-arrest actions, which are investigative functions.
Because Detective Bentzoni’s absolute immunity argument mirrors ADA
Rakaczewski’s argument, the analysis given above is equally applicable
here. Therefore, the court finds absolute immunity does not bar plaintiffs’
claims against Detective Bentzoni.
2. Qualified Immunity
ADA Rakaczewski, Detective Bentzoni and the police detectives
move for summary judgment on plaintiffs’ claims arguing qualified
immunity precludes liability. The doctrine of qualified immunity insulates
government officials who are performing discretionary functions “from
liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly
established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person
would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). The
burden of establishing entitlement to qualified immunity is on the
defendants. Id. at 808. The Supreme Court has established a two-part
analysis that governs whether an official is entitled to qualified immunity.
Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). We ask: (1) whether the facts
alleged by the plaintiff show the violation of a constitutional right; and (2)
whether the right at issue was clearly established at the time of the
alleged misconduct. Id.; Kelly v. Borough of Carlisle, 622 F.3d 248, 253
(3d Cir. 2010). If the plaintiff fails to satisfy either prong, the defendant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See id. at 232. Because a
violation of a constitutional right can be established by defendants’
allegedly unlawful seizure of plaintiffs, we turn our attention to whether the
right was clearly established.
A right is clearly established if “it would be clear to a reasonable
officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted.”
Reedy, 615 F.3d at 224 (quoting Katz, 533 U.S. at 202). A defendant
police officer “will not be immune if, on an objective basis, it is obvious that
no reasonably competent officer would have concluded that a warrant
should issue . . . .” Reedy, 615 F.3d at 224 (quoting Malley v. Briggs, 475
U.S. 335, 341 (1986). A police officer fails to observe a right that was
clearly established by submitting “an affidavit containing statements he
knows to be false or would know are false if he had not recklessly
disregarded the truth.” Lippay, 996 F.2d at 1504.
Furthermore, “the standard for granting or denying a motion for
summary judgment does not change in the qualified immunity context.”
Curley v. Klem, 298 F.3d 271, 282 (3d Cir. 2002). A court must determine
whether the defendant should prevail as a matter of law when viewing the
facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. Id. Thus, while “it is for
the court to decide whether an officer’s conduct violated a clearly
established constitutional right, we have also acknowledged that the
existence of disputed, historical facts material to the objective
reasonableness of an officer’s conduct will give rise to a jury issue.”
Curley, 298 F.3d at 278 (citations omitted). As such, we will determine
whether ADA Rakaczewski, Detective Bentzoni and the police detectives
may invoke qualified immunity as a defense to plaintiffs’ claims.
a. ADA Rakaczewski
We first address ADA Rakaczewski’s qualified immunity claim. ADA
Rakaczewski’s qualified immunity arguments are almost identical to his
arguments for absolute immunity. Specifically, ADA Rakaczewski
contends he was acting as a prosecutor and not an investigator during the
investigation. Additionally, ADA Rakaczewski attempts to distance himself
from the police detectives. He fails to recall whether or not he was
physically present at PMRPD Headquarters during the investigation on
February 11, 2008. (Rakaczewski Dep. at 11-12).
Plaintiffs contend based upon the depositions of the police detectives
that ADA Rakaczewski was present at the police station and was one of
the individuals who made the collective determination as to whether or not
probable cause existed. (Wagner Dep. at 24-25; Luthcke Dep. at 100-01;
Lewis Dep. at 34-36; Rakaczewski Dep. at 11-12, 37-40). As such, the
existence of disputed historical facts material to the objective
reasonableness of ADA Rakaczewski’s conduct must be resolved by a
jury. See Curley, 298 F.3d at 278. Thus, viewing the evidence in the light
most favorable to plaintiffs, the court finds qualified immunity does not bar
plaintiffs’ claims against ADA Rakaczewski.
b. Detective Bentzoni
Detective Bentzoni also seeks the protections of qualified immunity.
Detective Bentzoni argues her role was limited to that of a simple liaison
between the DA’s office and police detectives. Plaintiffs contend
Detective Bentzoni was involved from the start of the investigation and
acted with a reckless disregard for the truth by omitting material facts and
inserting into the affidavits of probable cause only those facts which were
allegedly incriminating to plaintiffs.
In the present case, we find Detective Bentzoni was intimately
involved with the investigation. Bentzoni joined the investigation at its
initial phase in the early morning of February 11, 2008, and continued
working on the investigation for the entire day into the next morning. (Doc.
111-3, Ex. C, Dep. of Wendy Bentzoni Part I (hereinafter “Bentzoni Dep.
I”) at 25, 30). Specifically, Bentzoni was present in AJ’s interview at
PMRPD Headquarters. (Incident Report at 32). Bentzoni accompanied
Detective Luthcke to AJ’s forensic interview an examination performed by
Dr. Taroli. (Bentzoni Dep. I at 31, Doc. 111-4, Ex. C, Dep. of Wendy
Bentzoni Part II (hereinafter “Bentzoni Dep. II”) at 15). Moreover,
Bentzoni was among the detectives who collectively discussed all of the
evidence to determine whether probable cause existed to arrest plaintiffs.
(Bentzoni Dep I at 24-26).
Bentzoni claims she was not in a position to offer advice or assert her
opinion because that was not her role. (Bentzoni Dep. I at 24, 32;
Bentzoni Dep. II at 1-2). Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to
plaintiffs, however, the objective reasonableness of Bentzoni’s conduct is
a disputed factual issue. See Curley, 298 F.3d at 278. As such,
Bentzoni’s intimate involvement in the investigation coupled with the
disputed reasonableness of her conduct preclude Bentzoni from invoking
c. Police Detectives
Finally, the police detectives assert plaintiffs’ constitutional rights
were not clearly established because a reasonable officer in their position
would not have known probable cause was lacking. Plaintiffs contend the
police detectives acted with a reckless disregard for the truth by omitting
material facts and inserting into the affidavits of probable cause only those
facts which were allegedly incriminating to plaintiffs.
In support of their position, police detectives rely upon Kelly v.
Borough of Carlisle, 622 F.3d 248 (3d Cir. 2010). In Kelly, the Third
Circuit Court of Appeals found a police officer was presumptively entitled
to qualified immunity when he relied in good faith on a prosecutor’s legal
opinion that the arrest is warranted. (Id. at 255-56). The police detectives
contend they sought and obtained the advice from ADA Rakaczewski prior
to arresting plaintiffs. As a result, they have satisfied the commands of
Kelly and are thus entitled to the shield of qualified immunity.
The instant case is distinguishable. While the police detectives
correctly state that police officers are presumptively entitled to qualified
immunity when they rely in good faith on a prosecutor’s opinion that the
arrest is warranted, they fail to address the next two sentences in Kelly
That reliance must itself be objectively reasonable,
however, because “a wave of the prosecutor’s wand
cannot magically transform an unreasonable probable
cause determination into a reasonable one.” Accordingly,
a plaintiff may rebut this presumption by showing that,
under all the factual and legal circumstances surrounding
the arrest, a reasonable officer would not have relied on
the prosecutor's advice.
Kelly, 622 F.3d at 256 (quoting Cox v. Hainey, 391 F.3d 25, 34 (1st Cir.
2004)). Here, the police detective’s reliance on ADA Rakaczewski’s
approval is unreasonable for two reasons. First, the police detectives
were aware of the inconsistencies within the girls’ statements. Thus, the
wave of ADA Rakaczewski’s prosecutorial wand could not transform their
potentially unreasonable probable cause determination into a reasonable
one. Second, the police detectives were aware of ADA Rakaczewski’s
role and involvement in the investigation. As such, ADA Rakaczewski was
unable to give a neutral opinion on probable cause because he was
arguably one of the investigators making probable cause determinations.
Moreover, qualified immunity exists, in part, to protect police officers
in situations where they are forced to make difficult, split second decisions
in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving. See
Reedy, 615 F.3d 197 at 224 n.37; Gilles v. Davis, 427 F.3d 197, 207 (3d
Cir. 2005). The police detectives in the present case did not make any
split second probable cause decisions. As stated in the probable cause
section supra, the police detectives conducted a sixteen (16) hour
investigation. The police detectives clearly were not in a situation where
they were forced to make split second decisions in tense, uncertain and
rapidly evolving circumstances. Accordingly, the police detectives are not
entitled to qualified immunity.
For the reasons stated above, viewing the unresolved factual issues
in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, we decline to find qualified
immunity shields ADA Rakaczewski, Detective Bentzoni and the police
detectives from liability.
D. Failure to Train/Supervise Monroe County, Municipalities,
Pocono Mountain Police Commission, Pocono Mountain Regional
Police Department and Chief Lewis3
Finally, we must address plaintiffs’ municipal liability claims. As
noted above, plaintiffs assert a failure to train and supervise claim against
Monroe County, the municipalities, Pocono Mountain Regional Police
Commission, Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department and Chief
Lewis (hereinafter “municipal defendants”). After careful review, we find
summary judgment should be granted to the municipal defendants.
Municipal liability under section 1983 is available only under certain
circumstances. The standard first articulated in Monell v. Dep’t of Soc.
Servs. of N.Y.C., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), provides that “local governing
bodies . . . can be sued directly under §1983 . . . where . . . the action that
is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy
statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and
promulgated by that body’s officers.” 436 U.S. at 690. Thus, a
municipality may not be held liable under section 1983 unless “the alleged
Plaintiffs voluntarily dismiss their claims in Count VIII against the
Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department, Chief Lewis and the
Pocono Mountain Police Commission. (Pls.’ Br. Opp. at 63 n.31, 69 n.36).
Accordingly, the defendants’ motions for summary judgment will be granted
unconstitutional action executes or implements policy or a decision
officially adopted or promulgated by those whose acts may fairly be said to
represent official policy.” Reitz v. Cnty. of Bucks, 125 F.3d 139, 144 (3d
Cir. 1997) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. 658 at 690-91). Case law following
Monell has delineated three ways in which a municipality may be held
liable for the constitutional torts of its employee:
First, the municipality will be liable if its employee acted
pursuant to a formal government policy or a standard
operating procedure long accepted within the government
entity, Jett v. Dall. Indep. Sch. Dist., 491 U.S. 701, 737,
(1989); second, liability will attach when the individual has
policy making authority rendering his or her behavior an act
of official government policy, Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati,
475 U.S. 469, 480-81 (1986); third, the municipality will be
liable if an official with authority has ratified the
unconstitutional actions of a subordinate, rendering such
behavior official for liability purposes, City of St. Louis v.
Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 127 (1988).
McGreevy v. Stroup, 413 F.3d 359, 367 (3d Cir. 2005). Based on the
plaintiffs’ claims, the second path to liability is the appropriate analysis.
Under Pembaur, “municipal liability may be imposed for a single
decision by municipal policymakers under appropriate circumstances.”
475 U.S. at 480. “Where, as here, the policy in question concerns a
failure to train or supervise municipal employees, liability under section
1983 requires a showing that the failure amounts to deliberate indifference
to the rights of persons with whom those employees will come into
contact.” Carter, 181 F.3d at 357. Thus, plaintiffs who seek to bring a
claim for failure to train against local governments under section 1983
must: (1) identify the deficiency in training; (2) prove that the failure to
remedy the identified deficiency constituted deliberate indifference on the
part of the municipality; and (3) demonstrate a direct causal link between
the deficiency in training and the deprivation on plaintiffs’ federal rights.
City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 390-91 (1989); Woloszyn v. County
of Lawrence, 396 F.3d 314, 324-25 (3d Cir. 2005). We address the threepart test in seriatim.
1. Identified Deficiency in Training.
Plaintiffs contend the individual defendants lacked the proper
interview and investigative techniques to work in the highly specialized
area of rape and sexual assault investigations. Specifically, the individual
defendants were not trained in the standard use of cognitive behavioral
interviews, kinesic interviews and/or the interview technique known as A to
Z / Z to A. (Luthcke Dep. at 8, 11-12, 17-18; Wagner Dep. at 10, 13 & 30;
Doc. 71-4, Ex. D, Dep. of Lucas Bray (hereinafter “Bray Dep.”) at 10-11);
Bohrman Dep. at 15, 16-19; Doc. 111-15, Ex. I, Martinelli Expert Report
Part III (hereinafter “Martinelli Report III”) at 14-26).
Additionally, plaintiffs’ evidence demonstrates that the investigation
of sexual assaults is often complex and requires a diverse background of
knowledge of criminal statutes, interviewing techniques, forensics, search
and seizure and the identification, collection and preservation of evidence.
(Martinelli Report III at 14-15). Although plaintiffs’ identified this deficiency
in training, the additional training may not have mattered because, as set
forth below, the detectives failed to utilize the basic police training they
already possessed. (Id. at 14).
2. Municipality’s Failure to Remedy the Identified Deficiency
Constitutes Deliberate Indifference.
In limited circumstances, a municipality’s decision not to train
employees about their legal duty to “avoid violating citizens’ rights may
rise to the level of an official government policy for the purposes of
Section 1983.” Connick v. Thompson, 131 S. Ct. 1350, 1359 (2011). “A
municipality’s culpability for a deprivation of rights is at its most tenuous
where a claim turns on a failure to train.” Id. As such, a municipality may
be held liable for its failure to train employees only where that failure
amounts to “deliberate indifference to the [constitutional] rights of persons
with whom the police come in contact.” Id.; see also Doe v. Luzerne
Cnty., 660 F.3d 169, 179 (3d Cir.2011).
Deliberate indifference is a stringent standard of fault “requiring proof
that a municipal actor disregarded a known or obvious consequence of his
action.” Connick 131 S. Ct. at 1360 (quoting Bryan Cty. v. Brown, 520
U.S. 397, 410 (1997)). A plaintiff may prove deliberate indifference in one
of two ways. First, “a pattern of similar constitutional violations by
untrained employees is ‘ordinarily necessary’ to demonstrate deliberate
indifference.” Id. Second, in a narrow range of circumstances, a single
incident may constitute deliberate indifference when “in light of the duties
assigned to specific officers . . . the need for more or different training is
so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in the violation of
constitutional rights, that the policymakers of the city can reasonably be
said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need.” Canton, 489 U.S.
In the present case, plaintiffs’ rely on the second, or single-incident,
theory to prove deliberate indifference. Plaintiffs contend the probable
cause violations were the “obvious” consequences of the municipal
defendants failing to provide specific training. The identified deficiency in
training, however, fails to demonstrate deliberate indifference in two ways.
First, the need for more or different training was not obvious because, as
stated in the probable cause sections supra, the individual defendants
failed to utilize basic police skills they already possessed.
Specifically, a reasonably trained detective would have chosen to
reinterview AJ and TM to evaluate their inconsistent statements.
Additionally, the individual defendants could have arranged for AJ and TM
to make “pretext phone calls” to plaintiffs in an attempt to get one of the
suspects to admit the sexual assault. Finally, the individual defendants
failed to conduct a timely investigation by not confirming plaintiffs’ stories
until February 25, 2008, two weeks after the investigation began. Simply
put, the need for more or different training was not obvious because
reinterviewing witnesses, pretextual phone calls and following through on
investigations are basic police skills.
Second, comparing the present case to the Canton single-incident
hypothetical further reveals a lack of deliberate indifference.4 The Canton
In Canton, the Supreme Court posed the hypothetical example of a
city that arms its police force with firearms and deploys the armed officers
into the public to capture fleeing felons without training the officers in the
constitutional limitations on the use of deadly force. 489 U.S. at 390 n.10.
hypothetical assumes armed police officers have no knowledge of the
constitutional limits on the use of deadly force. Here, the individual
defendants had a thorough understanding on the constitutional limits of
probable cause because each provided an accurate recitation of the legal
definition of probable cause. (See Luthcke Dep. at 8; Wagner Dep. at 9,
15; Bohrman Dep. at 8; Bray Dep. at 9). Moreover, the individual
defendants correctly acknowledged the role exculpatory evidence plays in
the decision to charge a suspect with a crime. (Luthcke Dep. at 9;
Wagner Dep. at 5-6; Bohrman Dep. at 26-28; Bray Dep. at 20). Plaintiffs’
complaint therefore cannot rely on the complete lack of an ability to cope
with constitutional situations underlying the Canton hypothetical.
The court does not assume police officers will always make correct
probable cause determinations. But, municipal liability is not established
by showing that additional training would have been helpful in making
difficult probable cause decisions. See Connick, 131 S. Ct. at 1363-64
Given the known frequency with which police attempt to arrest fleeing
felons and the “predictability that an officer lacking specific tools to handle
the situation will violate citizens’ rights,” the Supreme Court theorized that
a city’s decision not to train the officers about constitutional limits on the
use of deadly force could reflect the city’s deliberate indifference to the
“highly predictable consequence,” namely, violations of constitutional
rights. Bryan Cnty., 520 U.S. at 409.
(Proving that an injury or accident could have been avoided if an officer
had better or more training, sufficient to equip him to avoid the particular
injury causing conduct will not suffice.) Accordingly, the municipalities
failure to remedy the identified deficiency in training does not constitute
3. Direct Causal Link Between the Deficiency in Training and
the Violation of Plaintiffs’ Federal Rights.
Finally, plaintiffs must demonstrate a direct causal link between the
deficiency in training and the deprivation on plaintiffs’ federal rights. “[F]or
liability to attach . . . the identified deficiency in a city’s training program
must be closely related to the ultimate injury.” Canton 489 U.S. at 391.
Plaintiffs must still prove that “the deficiency in training actually caused the
police officers’ indifference” to their constitutional rights. Id. They have
failed to do so.
In the present case, plaintiffs cannot meet this rigorous standard of
causation. Plaintiffs’ constitutional violations were not caused by the
municipalities’ failure to better train their employees. Rather, the individual
defendants’ failure to utilize police skills that they already possessed
violated plaintiffs’ constitutional rights. To find causation on the facts in
this case would engage the federal courts in an endless second-guessing
of municipal training programs or force federal courts into the realm of
prediction and speculation as to how a better or different training program
may have prevented constitutional violations. Ergo, we will grant summary
judgment in favor of the defendants on plaintiffs’ failure to train claims.
For the reasons stated above, the defendants’ motions for summary
judgment will be granted in part and denied in part. The motion will be
granted with respect to plaintiffs’ malicious prosecution claim against
Detective Bentzoni. The motions will be granted with respect to plaintiffs’
failure to train claims against Monroe County, the Municipalities, Pocono
Mountain Regional Police Commission, Pocono Mountain Regional Police
Department and Chief Lewis. the motions will be denied with respect to all
other parties and counts.
Thus, the remaining counts are: Count I, false arrest and false
imprisonment against Defendant Detectives Luthcke, Bohrman, Bray,
Wagner and Bentzoni; Count II, false arrest against Defendant ADA
Rakaczewski in his investigative capacity; and Count IV, malicious
prosecution against Defendant Detectives Luthcke, Bohrman, Bray and
Wagner. An appropriate order follows.
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
WILLIAM SPIESS; KASHEEN
THOMAS; GENE THOMAS, II;
JALEEL HOLDEN and JOSE
POCONO MOUNTAIN REGIONAL
TOBYHANNA TOWNSHIP; MOUNT
COOLBAUGH TOWNSHIP; CHIEF
HARRY W. LEWIS; RICHARD
W. LUTHCKE; JOHN P. BOHRMAN; :
LUCAS BRAY; CHRIS WAGNER;
MONROE COUNTY; A.D.A. MICHAEL :
RAKACZEWSKI; DET. WENDY
BENTZONI and POCONO
MOUNTAIN REGIONAL POLICE
AND NOW, to wit, this 26th day of March 2013, upon consideration
of defendants’ motions for summary judgment, it is HEREBY ORDERED
Defendant Chris Wagner’s motion for summary judgment (Doc. 69)
Defendant John P. Bohrman’s motion for summary judgment (Doc.
70) is DENIED;
Defendants Wendy Bentzoni, A.D.A. Michael Rakaczewski and
Monroe County’s motion for summary judgment (Doc. 74) is
GRANTED in part and DENIED in part as follows:
The motion is GRANTED with respect to plaintiffs’ malicious
prosecution claim, Count IV, against Wendy Bentzoni.
The motion is GRANTED with respect to plaintiffs’ failure to
train claim, Count IX, against Monroe County. Monroe County
is DISMISSED from the case.
The motion is DENIED in all other aspects.
Defendant Chief Harry W. Lewis’ motion for summary judgment
(Doc. 76) is GRANTED. Chief Harry W. Lewis is DISMISSED from
Defendant Lucas Bray’s motion for summary judgment (Doc. 78) is
Defendant Richard W. Luthcke’s motion for summary judgment
(Doc. 80) is DENIED; and
Defendants Pocono Mountain Regional Police Commission,
Coolbaugh Township, Mount Pocono Borough, Pocono Mountain
Regional Police Department, Tobyhanna Township and
Tunkhannock Township’s motion for summary judgment (Doc. 82) is
GRANTED. Pocono Mountain Regional Police Commission,
Coolbaugh Township, Mount Pocono Borough, Pocono Mountain
Regional Police Department, Tobyhanna Township and
Tunkhannock Township are DISMISSED from the case.
BY THE COURT:
s/ James M. Munley
JUDGE JAMES M. MUNLEY
United States District Court
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