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Foster v. Vignola

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 30, 2015

THOMAS ROBERT FOSTER, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
OFFICER CARMINE VIGNOLA, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GEORGE L. RUSSELL, III, District Judge.

Plaintiffs, Thomas Robert Foster ("Foster, Jr."), Thomas Darnell Foster ("Foster, Sr."), and Surina C. Foster, bring this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2012), seeking monetary damages for alleged violations of their rights under the Fourth Amendment in connection with Foster, Jr.'s arrest and subsequent search of Plaintiffs' residence. Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 38) and Motion to Strike from Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment Plaintiff Thomas Robert Foster's Affidavit (ECF No. 48). Having reviewed the pleadings and supporting documents, the Court finds no hearing necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2014). For the reasons outlined below, the Defendants' Motion to Strike will be granted in part and the Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Foster, Jr. and Foster, Sr. reside at 5611 Wilvan Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland (the "Residence"). The Residence is a two story brick single-family detached home that is equipped with surveillance cameras covering the front and exterior entrances. On the afternoon of May 24, 2012, at approximately 3:10 p.m., Foster, Jr. exited the front door of the Residence, walked through his driveway across the street to his personal vehicle, and drove off. The surveillance camera in front of the Residence captured Foster, Jr.'s image as he left the Residence. A few minutes later, Foster, Jr. was arrested by Detectives Thomas E. Wilson and Gregory Fisher a few blocks from the Residence. After arresting Foster, Jr., Detective Wilson wrote a detailed sworn statement of probable cause which purported to justify the arrest and subsequent search warrant for the Residence.

The following facts are derived from Detective Wilson's sworn statement of probable cause (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. Ex. A ["Statement of Probable Cause"], ECF No. 38-2): while surveilling Foster, Jr. for suspected narcotics distribution based on statements from a confidential source, on May 24, 2012, at approximately 3:10 p.m., Detective Wilson observed Foster, Jr. exit the front door of the Residence carrying a black drawstring bag. (Id. at 4-5). Detectives Wilson and Fisher proceeded to follow Foster, Jr., during which time Detective Wilson observed what he perceived to be a hand-to-hand drug transaction. (Id. at 5). An unknown male was observed approaching Foster, Jr.'s vehicle and, after a brief conversation, Foster, Jr. handed the unknown male U.S. currency in exchange for a small amount of a suspected controlled dangerous substance ("CDS"). (Id.). Foster, Jr. then began to drive away. (Id.).

Believing they had just witnessed a possible narcotics transaction, Detectives Wilson and Fisher attempted to conduct a car stop. (Id.). As Detectives Wilson and Fisher approached the stopped vehicle, Foster, Jr. drove off. (Id.). While pursuing the vehicle, Detective Wilson observed Foster, Jr. toss a black bag out of the driver's side window. (Id.). Detectives Wilson and Fisher continued to pursue the vehicle to a dead end, at which point, Foster, Jr. exited the vehicle and fled on foot. (Id.). After a brief chase on foot, Detectives Wilson and Fisher caught Foster, Jr. and arrested him. (Id.). Foster, Jr. alleges that while being taken into custody, Detective Wilson employed excessive and unreasonable force against him by striking him in his face while he was handcuffed. (See Compl. ¶¶ 20, 39, ECF No. 1).

After his apprehension, Foster, Jr. was transported back to the vehicle he had previously abandoned. Once the parties arrived at the vehicle, Foster, Jr. began yelling to bystanders to inform his "people" about his arrest.[1] (Statement of Probable Cause at 6). Detective Fisher seized a clear plastic bag containing marijuana lying in plain view in the center console of the vehicle. (Id.). Further, Detective Wilson retrieved the black bag that was observed being thrown out of the vehicle. (Id.). The bag contained approximately one quarter pound of marijuana, $250 in cash, a measuring scale, and CDS packaging material. (Id.).

Concerned that word of his arrest would result in the removal of potential narcotics or contraband kept in the Residence, Detectives Wilson and Fisher responded to 5611 Wilvan Avenue. (Id.). Upon securing the Residence and performing a protective sweep, Detectives Wilson and Fisher discovered an unattended two year child old home alone. (Id.). Sergeant Keith Gladstone and Detective Carmine Vignola were then called to the location to secure the Residence while Detective Wilson obtained a search warrant.

Based on these facts, Judge Michael W. Reed, of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland, issued a search warrant for the Residence. Upon searching the Residence, Defendants discovered three large bags of marijuana, a measuring scale, a.22 caliber revolver, a.40 caliber Berretta semiautomatic handgun, materials commonly used to package marijuana, and $920 dollars in cash.

In direct contradiction to Detective Wilson's sworn statement, however, a review of the video from the surveillance camera at the front of the Residence revealed that Foster, Jr. was not carrying a black bag, or any similar item, in his hands when he exited his home. Moreover, the surveillance camera captured the image of all Defendants entering the Residence prior to the search warrant being issued. On December 7, 2012 the Office of the State's Attorney released Foster, Jr. and declined to prosecute because of the discrepancy noted in Detective Wilson's statement of probable cause.

On December 12, 2013, Plaintiffs filed a three-count Complaint alleging constitutional violations resulting from a false arrest, falsified sworn statement of probable cause, and an illegal search of the Residence. (ECF No. 1). Plaintiffs allege the false assertions in the statement of probable cause and warrant application led to Foster, Jr.'s criminal indictment and subsequent incarceration totaling 197 days. Further, Plaintiffs allege Defendants conducted an unlawful search of the Residence prior to obtaining a search warrant, while contemporaneously unlawfully and unjustifiably restricting Ms. Foster's movements.

Count I states three separate causes of actions against Detective Wilson. First, Foster, Jr. alleges Detective Wilson violated his Fourth Amendment right to be secure against an unreasonable seizure by acting without probable cause and using excessive force during his arrest. Second, Foster, Sr. alleges Detective Wilson violated his Fourth Amendment right to be secure against an unreasonable search by conducting a warrantless search of his home and subsequently knowingly falsifying an affidavit in support of a search warrant. Third, Ms. Foster alleges Detective Wilson violated her Fourth Amendment right to be secure against an unreasonable seizure by unjustifiably restricting her movements.

Count II alleges two separate causes of actions against Defendants Detectives Wilson, Vignola, and Fisher, and Sergeant Gladstone. First, Plaintiffs allege Defendants violated their Fourth Amendment rights to be secure against an unreasonable search by unjustifiably entering and searching their home without a valid search warrant. Second, Ms. Foster alleges Defendants violated her Fourth Amendment right to be secure against an unreasonable seizure by unjustifiably restricting her movements. Count III was dismissed by the Court on August 7, 2014, and Defendants Mayor and City Council of Baltimore and Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld, III, were dismissed from the case. (See ECF No. 28).

On December 15, 2014, the remaining Defendants, Detectives Wilson, Vignola, and Fisher, and Sergeant Gladstone, filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 38) arguing they were legally justified in the search and seizure of Foster, Jr. and the Residence based on probable cause. On February 4, 2015, Plaintiffs filed a Response in Opposition to the Motion (ECF No. 43) asserting a dispute of material fact given Detective Wilson's misrepresentation in the search warrant and the parties' conflicting version of events leading up to Foster, Jr.'s ...


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