662 F.2d 181 (3rd Cir. 1981), 80-2621, Black v. Stephens

Docket Nº:80-2621.
Citation:662 F.2d 181
Party Name:BLACK, Elwood W., Sr. and Black, Joyce, Appellees, v. STEPHENS, Wayne and City of Allentown and Gable, Carson, Appellants.
Case Date:September 28, 1981
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
 
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Page 181

662 F.2d 181 (3rd Cir. 1981)

BLACK, Elwood W., Sr. and Black, Joyce, Appellees,

v.

STEPHENS, Wayne and City of Allentown and Gable, Carson, Appellants.

No. 80-2621.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

September 28, 1981

Page 182

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Argued May 21, 1981.

Rehearing and Rehearing In Banc Denied Nov. 3, 1981.

Page 183

Richard J. Orloski (argued), Stamberg, Caplan & Calnan, Allentown, Pa., for appellees.

Richard F. Stevens (argued), Butz, Hudders & Tallman, William C. Wickkiser, Kathryn Wohlsen Mayer, Allentown, Pa., for appellants.

Before GIBBONS, HUNTER and GARTH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

JAMES HUNTER, III, Circuit Judge.

Appellees, Elwood and Joyce Black, filed this section 1983 civil rights action against appellants, Wayne Stephens, Carson Gable, and the City of Allentown, as a result of a confrontation between the Blacks and Detective Stephens on March 21, 1977. The Blacks claimed that Stephens, a plainclothes detective with the Allentown police force, violated their constitutional rights, initially by the use of excessive force in an incident at 10th and Lehigh Streets in Allentown and later by the filing of three unwarranted charges. Gable, then chief of police, and the City of Allentown, were also named as defendants for promulgating a regulation that caused Stephens to file additional charges against Elwood Black in order to delay any disciplinary investigation into the incident. In addition, these defendants were alleged to have adopted a policy that encouraged the use of excessive force by the officers within the department. After an eleven day trial, the jury found all three appellants liable and awarded the Blacks $35,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. Appellants' motions for

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judgment n. o. v., or in the alternative a new trial, were denied. On review of the record we hold that there was sufficient evidence to sustain a finding of liability and damages against the defendants. In addition, there were no errors below that require a new trial. We will therefore affirm the judgment of the district court. 1

FACTS

The parties hotly contest all but the basic facts. A review of the record, however, reveals the following: On March 21, 1977 at 11:15 p. m. Elwood Black drove his 1976 Cadillac Coupe de Ville to pick up his wife who was finishing work. Upon his arrival he learned that his wife had offered to give Shirley Deily, a co-worker, a ride home. Ms. Deily got in the front passenger seat and Joyce Black got in the rear on the passenger side. They dropped Deily off at 7th and Lehigh Streets and then proceeded west on Lehigh to pick up some sandwiches at a local restaurant.

The Blacks stopped for a red light in the westbound lane of Lehigh at the intersection

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of 8th Street, and Wayne Stephens, on duty as a plainclothes detective, pulled behind them in an unmarked patrol car. What transpired next is the subject of much dispute.

According to the Blacks, when the traffic light changed Mr. Black and another car proceeded through the intersection at a reasonable rate of speed. After crossing the intersection, detective Stephens suddenly raced up from behind and passed the Blacks' vehicle by crossing the double yellow lines on Lehigh street. Black was startled by Stephens' recklessness and remarked to his wife about the driver.

After passing the Blacks' car, Stephens and the unidentified third car stopped at the intersection of 10th and Lehigh. Black stopped about six feet behind Stephens, in the outside westbound lane. At this point, Stephens jumped out of his car and, without identifying himself, approached the Blacks' car and started screaming that Mr. Black was a "rotten driver." Detective Stephens was wearing slacks, an open collared shirt, and a nylon windbreaker. As Stephens approached, Black put his car in reverse and started to drift backward. After arguing with Stephens for a moment, Black said: "Why am I even bothering. Your car is in the way. It is blocking traffic. Will you move your car so I can move mine and get out of here." (Trial Trans. Vol. 2 at 27.) Black then put his car in drive and attempted to pull around to the left of the approaching detective Stephens. At this point Stephens, pulled out his service revolver and aimed it directly at Black's head, while Mrs. Black, who was still in the right rear seat, was in the precise line of fire. With gun drawn Stephens screamed that Black had driven onto his foot and threatened to shoot if Black did not move the car. Black testified that his car was no where near Stephens' foot, but he backed up and drove around the right of Stephens' vehicle and continued west on Lehigh Street.

Terribly shaken by their encounter with the as yet unidentified gunman, the Blacks drove on toward the sandwich shop at about 40 miles per hour. As they approached 29th and Lehigh, approximately 2.1 miles from 10th and Lehigh, they saw flashing red lights and encountered a police roadblock. They stopped at the roadblock and were arrested for aggravated assault by officer Shoemaker of the Allentown police force.

Detective Stephens' version of the events is, predictably, much different. According to his testimony, Stephens first noticed the Blacks' vehicle as he pulled behind their car at the intersection of 8th and Lehigh. When the light changed, the Blacks' car, originally in the outside westbound lane of Lehigh, started to swerve into the inside lane. As Stephens began to pass in the outside or passing lane, the Blacks' vehicle swerved back into the left lane and forced Stephens' over both yellow lines, into the eastbound traffic. Stephens stopped for a red light at 10th and Lehigh and the Blacks' car screeched to a stop a few inches behind him. Stephens, worried that the driver might be intoxicated or that something was amiss, got out of his car and walked toward the Blacks' vehicle, which was now drifting backward slowly. Stephens inquired if there was anything wrong and Black screamed that Stephens was a "rotten driver." At this point the Blacks' car lurched directly at him and the left front tire rolled onto detective Stephens' foot. He screamed in vain for Black to get off his foot. Finally, because of the excruciating pain, Stephens drew his revolver and ordered Black to remove his car. Black then backed up and swung to the right through the intersection.

A high speed chase ensued, with Stephens testifying that he traveled at 75 to 80 miles per hour to stay in visual contact with the Blacks' car. Stephens radioed for help and officer Shoemaker set up a road block at 29th and Lehigh Streets. When Stephens arrived at the roadblock, Shoemaker was escorting Elwood Black into a squad car.

The parties have a general understanding as to what happened next. Elwood and Joyce Black were transported by officer Shoemaker to the Allentown Police station. During this trip, Black was very upset and

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promised to "get his (Stephens') ass." Black was also concerned about a handgun, registered legally in his name, that was in the glove compartment of his car. Officer Shoemaker radioed the units to search the car for the gun, as well as some medicine Black needed for his asthma.

At about 1:00 a. m. Wayne Stephens filed a criminal complaint for aggravated assault against Black. While filling out the complaint, Stephens testified that Black was still extremely upset and had promised to complain to Chief Gable and the Mayor of Allentown. In addition, at the police station, Stephens testified that Black said he needed his handgun because "the world is full of nuts like (Stephens), and that if he had his gun, he'd shoot (Stephens)." Black was arraigned by Magistrate Stahl and released on his own recognizance at approximately 1:40 a. m.

Elwood Black returned to the police station on March 23, 1977 to register a complaint about Wayne Stephens and the events leading to his arrest on the evening of March 21. He spoke with Chief of Police Carson Gable, but was informed that no investigation of Stephens' conduct would commence until the charge against Black was resolved. Chief Gable cited a police regulation, contained in the official police manual that states: "Please Note: Where a complaint alleging misconduct on the part of an officer arises from an incident where the officer made an arrest, disciplinary hearings (against the officer) will not take place until the arrest charges are finally adjudicated." (Allentown Police Department Blue Book at 15a.) (Trial Trans. Exhibit Q) At trial, Chief Gable testified that he handled personally all complaints by private citizens against police officers. In addition, Gable testified that he drafted the regulation and that it was part of every police officer's "Blue Book" or the department's internal operating procedures.

Stephens claims that in the morning following the arrests, he consulted the Lehigh County Assistant District Attorney, Lynn Cole, in accordance with established policy relating to night arrests. Stephens claims Cole recommended that three additional charges be filed against Black. This testimony is, however, unsubstantiated; Cole took a new position in Florida prior to the trial and was not called as a witness. Further, there were no additional charges filed until approximately a week later.

On March 23 or 24, Chief Gable met with detective Stephens and informed him of Elwood Black's complaint about his use of excessive force during the March 21, 1977 incident. Thereafter, on March 29, 1977, Stephens filed three additional charges against Black based on the March 21 incident: recklessly endangering another person, carrying a concealed deadly weapon, and terroristic threats. 2 (Trial Trans. Vol. 4 at 47) The charges of carrying a concealed weapon...

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