Judge grants summary judgment to Ambler Borough and police officers in false arrest case

By Jon Campisi | Aug 27, 2012

A federal judge has granted summary judgment to the Borough of Ambler and various municipal police officers who were being sued by a Philadelphia man who had claimed police illegally obtained his blood sample in relation to a robbery case on which they were working.

Gary B. Saunders brought suit against the defendants in early December 2010 alleging various constitutional and civil rights violations.

The underlying nature of the action related to an armed robbery Ambler police were called to investigate in late December 2006 in which a gas station in the borough was held up.

Ambler Borough is located in eastern Montgomery County, not far from Philadelphia.

According to background information on the case, Ambler Officer Chad Cassel had seen Saunders coming from a train parking lot a short distance from the crime scene after the gas station was held up.

Another officer was aware that Saunders had a prior history of robbery.

In early January 2007, two Ambler officers interviewed Saunders at a halfway house at which he was living in Philadelphia as part of his prison pre-release orders.

The officers eventually applied for a search warrant to obtain Saunders’ blood, since the cops learned DNA evidence had been left at the scene.

An initial sample of the plaintiff’s blood showed he could not be excluded from the pool of potential matches to the DNA found on a glove left at the crime scene, but the test also could not conclusively prove Saunders was the culprit.

A Montgomery County Common Pleas Court judge eventually granted a motion by Saunders to suppress the blood sample.

Two more warrants were subsequently approved, the record shows, and on Jan. 30, 2009, blood was “forcibly drawn” from Saunders while he was held down, the plaintiff’s suit alleged.

Once again, the test showed Saunders could be a match for the DNA found at the gas station, but it did not conclude for sure that he was the man who committed the armed robbery.

The charges against Saunders were subsequently nolle prossed, but the record does not contain an explanation behind the decision, according to the Aug. 22 memorandum granting summary judgment to the defendants.

In granting summary judgment to Ambler Borough and the individual police officers named in the civil action, U.S. District Judge Edmund V. Ludwig, sitting in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, wrote that Saunders’ complaint of illegal conduct on the part of the police is not sufficiently supported by the evidence.

“At each stage, defendants’ applications [for search warrants] to a neutral judicial official were granted,” the memorandum states. “This entitled them to believe they were acting reasonably and in accordance with the law.”

Ludwig further wrote that even if the officers were not acting with probable cause, they are entitled to qualified immunity for their decisions and conduct in obtaining the blood samples.

In his suit, Saunders had alleged violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as state law claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, illegal search and seizures, abuse of process, conspiracy and malicious prosecution.

Saunders had claimed the fact that officers allegedly illegally obtained his blood samples ultimately led to his arrest.

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