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Smith v. Angelo

United States District Court, D. Delaware

May 25, 2017

Gordon G. Smith, Plaintiff,
David Angelo, Robert Coupe, James Fraley, Carl Dariberg, and David Weaver, Defendants.



         On August 19, 2014, Plaintiff Gordon Smith filed suit against Defendants David Angelo, Robert Coupe, Carl Danberg, James Fraley, and Unknown Defendants. (D.I. 2). Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on April 22, 2016, against David Angelo, Robert Coupe, James Fraley, Carl Danberg, and David Weaver. (D.I. 20). Plaintiff brought suit under § 1983, alleging false arrest, false imprisonment, excessive force, conspiracy, and failure to properly hire, train, and/or supervise. Id. Plaintiff also brought state law claims for negligent infliction of emotional harm, intentional infliction of emotional harm, and gross negligence. Id. All of Plaintiff s claims arise out of the events that unfolded on August 28, 2012.

         Presently before the court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on all of Plaintiffs claims. For the reasons that follow, the court will grant Defendants' motion.[1]


         Around 6:48pm on August 28, 2012, Delaware State Police received a call from Marvin Miller that a woman was lying beside a car in a ditch. A-l 79. According to Mr. Miller, the woman was wearing only Tier underwear, she was saying that someone wrote something on her, and she was saying that someone cut her.[2] Id. In response to that call, Trooper Sidney Nash was dispatched by Delaware State Police to 8184 Westville Road in Camden Wyoming, Delaware, to investigate that report. A-179; A-333, 9:13-20. When Trooper Nash arrived on the scene, he observed exactly what Mr. Miller had reported: a white female-later identified as Tiffany Smith-lying on her stomach on the shoulder of the roadway with just her underwear on and writing on her body. A-334, 12:20-13:10. Trooper Nash observed the words "bitch" and "die" on her stomach along with a smiley face drawing. Id. 17:14-17.

         The Delaware State Police dispatch-referred to as KentCom-had a record of Mr. Miller's call, reflecting that Mr. Miller called-in around 6:48pm on August 28, 2016. A-179. Immediately after Mr. Miller called in, the narratives that went out over KentCom stated that there was "a female lying beside car in the ditch, " she "only [had] underwear on, and she was claiming "someone cut her on [her] throat and stomach." Id. Shortly after units were dispatched to the scene of the crime, further narratives were added to the dispatch report stating that the victim had writing on her and that the suspect was Gordon Smith. Id. The dispatched units arrived on the scene at around 6:57pm, and the KentCom report also stated that "Troop 3 [was] aware." Id. At around 7:00pm, KentCom reported that the victim was Tiffany Smith. Id. Between 7:06pm and 7:07pm, KentCom reported that the suspect was Gordon Smith, he was on home probation, he had prior assault charges, he had an active PFA against him dated August 28, 2012, and he was a "convicted domestic offender." Id. At 7:15pm, KentCom reports that Tiffany Smith's mother called the Delaware State Police just before Mr. Miller called. A-177. Tiffany Smith's mother told the police that she received a call from Tiffany Smith and Tiffany told her mother that she had been assaulted and she did not know where she was. Id. Tiffany Smith's mother also told the dispatcher that they had been to court earlier that day to get a Protection from Abuse order against Gordon Smith, and at that hearing, Mr. Smith threatened to kill Tiffany Smith and their children. Id. That information was reported over KentCom at around 7:17pm. Id. At around 7:15pm, KentCom notes that Detective Cosgrove might be reporting to the scene of the crime. A-178.

         After Tiffany Smith was transported from the scene to the hospital by Emergency Medical Services, Trooper Nash questioned Mr. Miller about how he found Ms. Smith. Id. According to Mr. Miller, he was driving westbound on Westville Road when his passenger saw Ms. Smith lying on the road. Id. Mr. Miller turned around and went back to where Ms. Smith was lying. Id. 20:6-11. According to Trooper Nash's deposition testimony and his police report, Mr. Miller tried to speak to Ms. Smith, but he could not understand her so he called 911. Id. 21:2-12; A-188. Mr. Miller was told by dispatchers to ask Ms. Smith who attacked her. Id. 21:2-12. When asked who assaulted her, Ms. Smith replied that it was her ex-husband, Gordon Smith. Id. She also told Mr. Miller that "they kept kicking and punching [her]." A-l 88. When Trooper Nash asked Mr. Miller if Tiffany identified who "they" were, Mr. Miller said "no." Id.

         Around the same time that Mr. Miller called 911 to report a woman lying naked on the side of the road, Probation Officer Angelo, along with two other Probation Officers, Stagg and Wallace, were visiting the homes of probationers under their watch. A-055, 19:9-11. They were listening to KentCom when they heard a report stating that a woman was found naked lying on Westville Road with cut and stab wounds. Id. 19:11-18. Angelo also testified that Kentcom identified the victim as Tiffany Smith, and that her husband, Gordon G. Smith, was a suspect in the crime. Id. 19:18-21. Angelo contacted State Police Troop 3, and told Trooper First Class Blomquist that, because Gordon Smith was part of the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) monitoring program, Angelo and his fellow probation officers could find and detain Mr. Smith. Id. 19:22-20. Mr. Smith was on GPS monitoring asa condition of his release pending trial. A-023, 65:5-12. Angelo was advised that a Sergeant would call him back and let him know if Mr. Smith needed to be detained. Id. 20:4-5.

         Angelo, Stagg or Wallace-the record is not clear as to which one-called the GPS monitoring center to get Mr. Smith's coordinates so that they could get in position should they receive instruction from Troop 3 to find and detain Mr. Smith. A-061, 43:16-21. At around 7:10pm, Angelo, Stagg and Wallace met up with Probation Officer Wheeler so that they would have an additional person for back-up should they require it. Id. 44:21-13.

         Detective Surowiec, the on-call detective for Troop 3, was the officer that gave Probation Officer Angelo the "go-ahead" to detain Mr. Smith. A-190. Detective Surowiec spoke with both Officer Saucier and Detective Cosgrove before instructing Angelo to detain Mr. Smith. Id. Officer Saucier was the one sitting at the desk in Troop 3 on the night of August 28, 2012. A-347, 8:10- 11. According to Officer Saucier's deposition testimony, when you are the one sitting at the desk, yon are the person that everyone on the road calls for advice or to report what is going on that night. Id. 8:17-21. Officer Saucier testified that it would then be her duty to inform someone like Surowiec, the detective on-call for that night, of what was occurring "on the road." Id. 8:22-9:20. Detective Surowiec's police report from the night of August 28, 2012, notes that he received reports from the scene that a victim was found in a ditch on Westville Road, the victim had been stabbed multiple times and her throat was cut. A-l 90. Detective Surowiec also noted that troopers at the scene relayed that the victim was Tiffany Smith and that she identified her attacker as her ex-husband, Gordon Smith. Id.

         Detective Surowiec's police report states that he determined that Gordon Smith should be detained after speaking with Detective Cosgrove. Id. Surowiec felt that "due to the lengthy history between the two parties, the severity of the incident. . ., the safety of the couple's children, as well as the safety of the public in general, " detaining Mr. Smith, at least briefly, was the correct call. Id. Surowiec's police report also notes that he was concerned that if the incident was an attempted homicide, Mr. Smith may try to flee. Id.

         After Detective Surowiec called Angelo and advised him that he should attempt to find and detain Mr. Smith, Probation Officer Wallace reached out to the probation officers' supervisor, Officer Gomez. A-062, 48:14-15:1. Wallace informed Officer Gomez that Delaware State Police Troop 3 had requested assistance from probation in detaining Mr. Smith. Id. 48:17-20. Supervisor Gomez approved the detainment of Mr. Smith. Id. 49:17-51:18. Mr. Smith's GPS points appeared to be stationary at the Texas Roadhouse at 4568 South Dupont Highway. A-063, 52:8-9. After looking around in the parking lot of the Texas Roadhouse, the probation officers located Mr. Smith sitting in the driver's seat of his vehicle. Id. 52:21-53:3. Angelo approached Mr. Smith's vehicle from the passenger side, while the other three probation officers approached the vehicle from the driver's side. A-055; 20:20-21:1. Angelo knocked on the front window of Mr. Smith's car and told Mr. Smith to step out of the vehicle. Id. 21:1-2. When Mr. Smith stepped out of the vehicle, he stated that the probation officers "wrestl [ed]" with him a little bit and told him to "quit fighting." A-029, 71:11-16. Mr. Smith stated at his deposition that he was stiff from the shock of the incident. Id. 71:16-18. Mr. Smith also stated that one of Angelo's fellow probation officers pointed a gun at him. Id. 71:18-21. Angelo confirmed that Officer Wheeler did point his gun at Mr. Smith. A-063, 53:24-4. Officer Wheeler placed Mr. Smith in handcuffs and told him that he was being detained at the request of the Delaware State Police. A-030, 72:1-6; A-055, 21:2-5. Officer Wheeler was also responsible for putting Mr. Smith into the patrol car. A-031, 73:2-7. Mr. Smith asked the probation officers what he did wrong. A-029, 71:23-24. The probation officers advised Mr. Smith that he should remain quiet until he spoke with a detective at Troop 3. A-055, 21:10-17.

         Surowiec's police report notes that Angelo took Mr. Smith into custody at 7:32pm. A-190. After Mr. Smith was transported to Troop 3, he was placed in cell one because two females were on the detention bench and the interview room was being used. A-182. Once it was determined that Tiffany Smith staged the scene, Sergeant Cosgrove went to Troop 3 and took Mr. Smith out of the cell. Id. Cosgrove brought Mr. Smith to the interview room to explain the situation and ask him what he had done that day. Id. After the conversation in the interview room, Cosgrove drove Mr. Smith back to the Texas Roadhouse. Id. Mr. Smith testified during his deposition that he believes he was in the cell for about two and a half hours. A-041:11-18.


         Summary judgment is appropriate "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 a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party bears the burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585 n.10 (1986). A fact is material if it "could affect the outcome" of the proceeding. Lamont v. New Jersey, 637 F.3d 177, 181 (3d Cir. 2011).

         There is a genuine issue "if the evidence is sufficient to permit a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party." Id. When determining whether a genuine issue of material facts exists, the district court must view the evidence in the rightmost favorable to the nonmoving party and draw inferences in that party's favor. Wishkin v. Potter, 476 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). If the moving party is able to demonstrate an absence of disputed material facts, the nonmoving party must then "come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

         The existence of some evidence in support of the nonmoving party will not be sufficient for denial of a summary judgment motion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). Rather, the nonmoving party must present enough evidence to enable a jury to reasonably find for it on that issue. Id. The party opposing summary judgment must present more than just "mere allegations, general denials, or . . . vague statements" to show the existence of a genuine issue. Quiroga v. Hasbro, Inc., 934 F.2d 497, 500 (3d Cir. 1991). As such, a nonmoving party must support their assertion that a material fact is in dispute by: "(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials"; or "(B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). The moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law if the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing essential element of its case for which it has the burden of proof. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

         In § 1983 cases specifically, the existence of probable cause is usually a question of fact for the jury. Sherwood v. Mulvihill, 113 F.3d396, 401 (3dCir. 1997). When considering a motion for summary judgment, a court may conclude, however, "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." Id.

         IV. ...

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