A federal lawsuit filed against the city and public works director Manuel Ojeda by two public works employees who were once accused of selling city-owned manhole covers to a local scrap yard was dismissed by United States District Judge for the District of New Jersey Claire C. Cecchi.
Former public works employees Juan Garcia and Samuel Carnegie filed the lawsuit against the city and Ojeda for alleged false arrest, malicious prosecution, and abuse of process.
Judge Cecchi dismissed the case on February 27.
The suit stemmed from a November 2009 incident when many manhole covers were reported missing from the city’s public works storage yard. A subsequent investigation into the missing covers by Paterson Police Detective Robert Orozco resulted in Garcia and Carnegie being identified as the men who sold the covers by the owner A & B Scrap yard.
Orozco spoke to public works Supervisor Robert Statuto about the cover before canvas area scrap yards. The detective ended up in the Presidential Boulevard scrap shop. The shop’s owner told Orozco he had recently purchased manhole covers from public works.
“A & B’s owner gave Detective Orozco receipts for the purchases, including one receipt that had a truck number “S94” written on it,” a court record reads. Orozco contacted Ojeda who “informed him that only Juan Garcia and Samuel Carnegie worked on truck S94,” Cecchi’s opinion reads.
“Carnegie and I were not the only employees of the Paterson Department of Public Works who had access to the truck marked S94,” disputed Garcia states the opinion. Ojeda provided pictures of the two employees to the detective. Orozco returned to the scrap shop and had the owner identify the pictures. “A & B’s owner identified Garcia and Carnegie as the men who had sold the manhole covers to the scrapyard,” the opinion reads.
Orozco filed a criminal complaint against the two employees on November 13, 2009. However, the charges against Garcia and Carnegie were later dropped, the opinion reads, resulting in this federal lawsuit.
On October 19, 2012 the court dismissed the complaint against the city, and allowed the two men to submit an amended complaint against Ojeda. Garcia and Carnegie content “Orozco’s investigation was misled by” Ojeda leading to false arrest, according to the opinion.
Judge Cecchi wrote Garcia and Carnegie “were not arrested ‘based solely on the information [the arresting officer] learned’” Ojeda.
The detective testified, according to the suit, that he did not solely act on Ojeda’s information. “I didn’t sign the complaint that same day,” Orozco is reported to have said, according to the opinion.
Orozco only signed the complaint after the scrap shop owner identified the two men based on pictures provided by Ojeda. “Orozco testified that he signed the criminal complaint against” Garcia and Carnegie “only after the owner of A & B positively identified them, and based solely on that identification,” the opinion reads.
Cecchi write there’s no evidence on the record that suggests Ojeda “instigated” or requested the arrest of the two men. The judge dismissed both false arrest and malicious prosecution on that basis, the opinion reads.
As to the abuse of process, Ceechi wrote, the two men “have failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact regarding their abuse of process claim.”
“The crux of an abuse of process claim ‘is the perversion of the legal process to achieve an objective other than its intended purpose,’” the judge wrote. Garcia and Carnegie do “not allege or provide any evidence that” that the public works director “signed a criminal complaint or asked police officers to press charges against them,” reads the opinion.
The judge wrote the detective canvassed area scrap shops based on his experience in working in similar cases, and “not at the behest of” Ojeda. The detective also did not sign a complaint based on what Ojeda told him, but based on his probable cause determination on the testimony of the scrap shop owner who identified the two employees as the sellers of the manhole covers, the judge wrote.
In the course of the almost three-year long legal battle Carnegie passed away, according to the opinion.