United States District Court, D. Delaware
Gordon G. Smith, Plaintiff,
David Angelo, Robert Coupe, James Fraley, Carl Dariberg, and David Weaver, Defendants.
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.
before the court is Defendants' Motion for Summary
Judgment on all of Plaintiffs claims. For the reasons that
follow, the court will grant Defendants'
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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.
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.
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 on.an essential element of its case for
which it has the burden of proof. Celotex, 477 U.S.
§ 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.