The Philadelphia Personal Injury Law Blog

Who Ya Gonna Call? Ghostbusting Cop Sues for Alleged False Arrest

When there's something strange in your neighborhood, you usually call the cops. Back in the 80s, we called the Ghostbusters. Many people must have been influenced by that movie (or numerous other ghost stories) because there have been many television shows and movies about haunted buildings and people who try to find evidence of ghosts.

Chester police officer Diane Briscoe moonlights as a "semi-professional paranormal investigator," tracking reports of ghosts and sprites, according to The Pennsylvania Record. Briscoe and her sons were investigating a supposedly haunted house in Upland in 2010, when cops busted them in the same way they were trying to bust the ghosts.

Briscoe and her sons were charged with trespass and disorderly conduct even though they had permission to access the house, along with the keys, according to the Philadelphia Daily News. The charges were dismissed and now Briscoe is suing for false arrest and assault.

Is she likely to recover?

A false arrest claim is a civil rights claim based on the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable seizure. To make a legitimate arrest, officers must have probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, or they must have witnessed the commission of a crime in their presence.

But Briscoe's lawsuit does not mention the house she was investigating had been condemned after a fire, according to the Daily News. This would mean that the cops probably had good reason for arresting Briscoe and her two sons for being in a condemned house, even if they had permission.

However, even if the house was deemed uninhabitable, Briscoe did have a reasonable belief that she had permission to be there. This defense to trespassing can prevent someone from being charged, but it does not remove probable cause from an arrest.

So even though Briscoe was given permission to track down the paranormal, it is unlikely that this permission was communicated to Upton police. Without knowing that the Briscoes had permission to be on the property, the officers arguably had probable cause to arrest apparent trespassers inside a condemned building. Therefore it is unlikely that Diane Briscoe will recover for her alleged false arrest.

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