Two Temple University police officers are covered by qualified immunity related to their job and cannot be sued by a North Philadelphia man who alleges he spent five months incarcerated in what he claimed was a case of mistaken identity, a federal judge in Philadelphia has ruled.
In a memorandum opinion issued Jan. 10, U.S. District Judge Berle M. Schiller granted a motion for summary judgment that had been filed by Matthew Hassel and David Alston, two campus police officers who were being sued by Lionel Franks.
The lawsuit stemmed from an April 2010 arrest in which the defendants nabbed Franks, then 18 years old, after he was exiting a Philadelphia sporting goods store, contending he was a suspect in connection with a shooting that had taken place in the area.
Franks apparently wore the same color sweat suit as the suspected shooter. Yet while he was identified by an eyewitness as a man matching the description of someone who had fled the scene, no weapon was ever recovered from Franks when police searched his person upon his apprehension, court papers state.
Franks spent nearly five months in police custody before all charges against him were dismissed and he was released from prison.
Franks subsequently brought a false arrest and false imprisonment lawsuit against the two Temple cops, as well as Philadelphia Police Department Detectives Robert Hassel and Michael Acerenza.
Franks claimed that the Temple officers were liable under a Section 1983 claim because they “made deliberate false statements or recklessly disregarded the truth in asserting that a positive identification of him was made” and “the fabrication was material to the finding of probable cause to his arrest,” the judge’s memorandum states.
A Section 1983 claim can be brought against state actors for violating a right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or federal laws.
Furthermore, Franks alleged in his suit that the two Philadelphia detectives were also subject to a Section 1983 claim because they “made a deliberate omission and recklessly disregarded the truth in falsely asserting at the plaintiff’s … preliminary hearing that blood, and by implication, human blood, was found on one of the plaintiff’s sneakers,” the memorandum states.
Franks had also claimed that the detectives failed to show store security footage that they had in their possession, which showed Franks entering the sporting goods retailer at roughly the same time as the shooting.
In the memorandum, the judge wrote, “These cases do not stand for the proposition that Detectives Hassel and Acerenza had an affirmative obligation to inform the preliminary hearing court of exculpatory evidence. For both false arrest and false imprisonment claims, the inquiry turns on whether probable cause to arrest existed.”
Schiller wrote that the preliminary hearing testimony of Hassel had no bearing on the existence of probable cause at the time of Frank’s arrest.
Schiller granted summary judgment to the two Philadelphia detectives because Franks failed to show that there was any culpable conduct on the part of Hassel and Acerenza.
Summary judgment was granted to the Temple officers because they are entitled to qualified immunity under the law, Schiller ruled.