Judge dismisses wrongful arrest claim against Cheltenham Township Police

Jon Campisi Dec. 22, 2011, 9:47am

A federal judge in Philadelphia granted a motion by Cheltenham Township and its police chief to dismiss a lawsuit that had been brought about by two men who had claimed their respective arrests two summers ago violated their constitutional rights.

U.S. District Court Judge Juan R. Sanchez dismissed with prejudice the civil action against Cheltenham Township Chief of Police John J. Norris, Cheltenham Police Officer Brian Hopkins and the municipality Dec. 20.

The three defendants had been named in a lawsuit filed on Sept. 15 by Philadelphia resident Junior Forde and Allentown, Pa. resident Dale Harold Chase.

The complaint, originally filed in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court before being removed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, also named as a defendant the Home Depot home improvement retail chain.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs had claimed that they were wrongfully arrested during a trip to the Home Depot store at 2385 W. Cheltenham Avenue in Cheltenham Township back on Aug. 10, 2009.

Cheltenham borders the City of Philadelphia.

The two men had gone to the store to purchase roofing materials for their job.

As was customary for the two, the plaintiffs attempted to pay for the materials using a credit card number that had been provided to them by their boss, according to the complaint.

The first transaction that morning went smoothly, but after the duo returned later that same afternoon, and attempted to make additional purchases using the same credit card number, Police Officer Hopkins of the Cheltenham Township Police Department arrested the two for credit card fraud after he was asked by store employees to check the two out, the suit stated.

The suit claimed that Hopkins would “not listen to plaintiffs’ contention that there was simply a mistake made in the phone number which was dialed to obtain authorization,” and that the two did, in fact, have permission to use their supervisor’s credit card to make the purchases.

The two were incarcerated for hours before their story could be confirmed, according to the lawsuit. They were eventually released from custody.

The police defendants filed their motion to dismiss in late September.

In his ruling, Sanchez wrote that Officer Hopkins had probable cause at the time of arrest to take the plaintiffs into custody. He also wrote that the officer is granted qualified immunity because of his job.

“Once Officer Hopkins determined probable cause existed to arrest Plaintiffs for credit card fraud based on the information supplied to him by The Home Depot, his failure to question Plaintiffs’ supervisor prior to their arrest did not negate his probable cause,” the judge wrote. “Thus, Hopkins’ failure to investigate Plaintiffs’ alibi witness prior to arrest was not objectively unreasonable and did not constitute a constitutional violation.”

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