Published on: Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Dwayne Harvard, a Black male, provides a ride home to a woman who states she is afraid of her drunk, abusive boyfriend, who is white, additional information available here. Upon arrival, the boyfriend hurls racial epithets, brandishes a knife, threatens to "chop up" the girlfriend, and jumps on the hood of the moving car. Mr. Harvard (the terrified driver) calls 911, who instruct him to convey his interior/exterior passengers to a police checkpoint. Upon arrival, the driver is arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, despite passing a breathalyzer test, and is charged with multiple offenses (aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, disorderly conduct, reckless driving and driving under the influence of a controlled substance), while addressing him as "boy." Harvard was found not guilty of all charges.

Harvard was suspended from his position as a commercial truck driver and was out of work for about six months while the charges were pending.

Harvard sued claiming false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, violation of his right to Equal Protection, reckless investigation, and civil conspiracy. The District Court granted summary judgment for the defendant police officers, concluding that no reasonable juror could conclude that the officers lacked probable cause to arrest Harvard for the crimes charged. The Third Circuit disagreed and vacated the District Court’s grant of summary judgment for defendant state trooper Christopher Cesnalis as to the false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and Equal Protection claims, but affirmed as to the remaining claims and as to another officer.

The Court found that the trooper omitted several exculpatory facts from his affidavit, including that Mr. Harvard had initiated the 911 call because he feared for his safety or that he followed instructions to proceed to the roadblock. The affidavit also did not include statements from Mr. Harvard or the girlfriend (Ms. Mazzetti) that Mr. Sutton was violent, aggressive and armed. "We must determine whether a reasonable juror could, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Harvard, find that the defendants acted with malice or for a purpose other than bringing Harvard to justice. Considering [Trooper] Cesnalis's behavior, the answer is yes. Cesnalis mischaracterized the events and chose to omit crucial exculpatory information in the affidavit of probable cause he submitted to the magistrate judge." The Court also found that a juror could also find that there was no basis for the trooper to believe Mr. Sutton over Mr. Harvard "except upon the basis of Harvard's race."