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BRYANT v. NEW YORK COUNTY

June 24, 1996

GAYLE BRYANT, Plaintiff, against New York County, Asst. District, Attorney, ANNE RUDMAN, CITY OF NEW YORK, DET. STEVEN NATAL, and DET. JOHN CAPOBIANCO, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: KOELTL

 JOHN G. KOELTL, District Judge:

 Plaintiff Gayle Bryant brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution. Plaintiff's claims arise from her arrest on December 7, 1993 attendant to the execution of a search warrant by detectives of the New York City Police Department at the home of the plaintiff and her husband, Reginald Bryant. (Am. Compl. PP 8-10.) Plaintiff asserts four claims, each in violation of her constitutional rights: (1) arrest without probable cause; (2) arrest on false criminal charges; (3) malicious prosecution on false criminal charges; and (4) false imprisonment. (Am. Compl. PP 16-22.) On September 29, 1995, the Court dismissed the Amended Complaint against the City of New York and New York County ADA Anne Rudman for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted pursuant to those defendants' motions brought under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The remaining defendants, Detectives Steven Natal and John Capobianco now move for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. For the reasons that follow, the defendants' motion is granted and the Amended Complaint is dismissed.

  I.

 The facts surrounding the arrest of the plaintiff, Gayle Bryant, are essentially undisputed. *fn1" In the early morning hours of December 7, 1993, officers and detectives of the New York City Police Department executed a search warrant at the home of Reginald and Gayle Bryant in Nanuet, New York. The search warrant was obtained on the basis of the affidavit of Detective Capobianco executed the day before. (See Declaration of Guy Cohen ("Cohen Decl. I"), dated Mar. 22, 1996, Ex. C.) The search warrant was obtained as part of Operation Bigshot, an extensive narcotics trafficking conspiracy investigation relating primarily to heroin but including cocaine and also involving other activities. (See Deposition of Det. John Capobianco ("Capobianco Dep."), dated Mar. 5, 1996, at 9; Cohen Decl. I, Ex. C. at P 1.) Reginald Bryant, the plaintiff's husband, was a target of the investigation and was the object of surveillance conducted as part of Operation Bigshot. The Bryant home in Nanuet was one of the "target locations" to be searched pursuant to the search warrant. (See Cohen Decl. I, Ex. C. at PP 86-94.) There was also reason to believe that the targets of the investigation would act quickly to remove or destroy any evidence. (See id., Ex. C at 1.)

 When the officers arrived at the Bryant home on December 7, they took up positions at the front and rear of the residence. (Deposition of Det. Steven Natal ("Natal Dep."), dated Feb. 28, 1996, at 21-23.) Detective Natal was the officer in charge at the scene, (id. at 18), and Detective Capobianco was not present at the Bryant home on that day. One of the officers placed a telephone call to the Bryant's number to advise the people in the house that the police department was about to execute a search warrant. (Id. at 21.) Immediately after the call, a light went on in the Bryant's bedroom, and there was activity in the house, including movement in the bedroom and bathroom. (Id. at 21, 65.) The police entered the house approximately one minute later. (Id. at 21-23, 26.) Detective Natal went to the bedroom and found Reginald Bryant lying on the bed. At this point the plaintiff was in the bathroom. Shortly after Detective Natal entered the bedroom, the plaintiff emerged from the bathroom. (Id. at 22-23.) Detective Natal then entered the bathroom and noticed a white residue on the toilet seat that appeared to be cocaine. (Id. at 31-32.) In the toilet tank he also found two vials also containing what appeared to be cocaine. (Id. at 32.)

 Detective Natal then confronted the plaintiff and asked her if she had been disposing of drugs while she was in the bathroom. The plaintiff denied doing so. Detective Natal then arrested the plaintiff who was later charged with conspiracy in the second degree under Penal Law § 105.15, and that it was part of that conspiracy for Gayle Bryant to participate in a multi-county heroin trafficking network with her husband Reginald Bryant, and that in furtherance of the conspiracy one of the overt acts committed was that "on December 7, 1993, the defendant[, Gayle Bryant,] attempted to dispose of evidence of narcotic trafficking, to wit, a chunk of cocaine, by attempting to flush said cocaine down the toilet in the defendant's home . . . ." (Affirmation of William Scott, Esq. in Opp'n ("Scott Affirm."), dated Apr. 25, 1996, Ex. A.) Several months later, the charges against the plaintiff were dismissed. Reginald Bryant, who was also arrested at the scene by Detective Natal, was charged with and pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the second degree. He is presently serving a prison term of nine years to life imprisonment.

 The defendants provide further factual allegations that are not disputed by the plaintiff. According to the defendants, just after the phone call was placed into the Bryant home, the officer positioned at the rear of the house told Detective Natal that he had seen movement in the rear of the house and had heard a toilet flush. (Natal Dep. at 65.) Detective Natal testified that he heard the toilet flush again when he arrived in the bedroom and found Reginald Bryant prone on the bed. (Id. at 22-23, 34.) Another police officer knocked on the door to the bathroom and the plaintiff was either pulled from or came out of the bathroom. (Id. at 22.)

 The defendants also present evidence that the white substance from the toilet seat and the two vials found in the toilet tank were vouchered during an inventory of the Bryant home. (See Declaration of Guy Cohen ("Cohen Decl. II"), dated May 23, 1996, Ex. A.) The defendants also provide laboratory reports confirming that the white residue from the toilet seat and the white substance in the vials was cocaine. (See Natal Dep. at 30-33; Cohen Decl. II Ex. B.)

 The plaintiff offered the following version of events in her deposition. Early in the morning of December 7, the plaintiff went to her bathroom. (Deposition of Gayle Bryant ("Bryant Dep."), at 70.) At some point, the plaintiff's husband entered the bathroom. The plaintiff, who was seated on the toilet, observed her husband come into the bathroom, remove the lid on the toilet tank, and appear to place something in or near the tank. (Id. at 84-86, 88-89.) The plaintiff explained that she had to get up off the toilet so her husband could remove the lid from the tank. (Id. at 89.) The plaintiff believed at the time that her husband was attempting to dispose of cocaine. (Id. at 76-77, 84, 86, 93.) Reginald Bryant remained in the bathroom for less than a minute, (Bryant Dep. at 82), and the plaintiff denies that he spoke to her at all while he was there.

 After her husband left the bathroom, the plaintiff came out into the bedroom. (Id. at 91.) The plaintiff stated that she was immediately confronted by a man, presumably Detective Natal, who ran into the bathroom and said "she is flushing a chunk of cocaine." (Id. at 71, 92.) The plaintiff stated that she denied having done so, repeatedly stating to the officer "I didn't do anything," (id. at 93), but at no time did the plaintiff inform any of the police officers at the scene that her husband had been in the bathroom or that he had placed anything in or near the toilet. (Id. at 93.)

 The plaintiff argues in her papers that there is a lack of any evidence confirming the existence of a "chunk of cocaine," white powder from the toilet seat, or vials containing cocaine found in the toilet tank. (Scott Affirm. at 3.) The plaintiff also argues that there are no laboratory reports confirming that the substances alleged to be cocaine actually were cocaine. (Id. at 3.) These assertions appear in the affirmation in opposition to the motion for summary judgment rather than in an affidavit from someone with knowledge. Furthermore, these assertions are directly contradicted by the production of police vouchers and laboratory test results regarding the cocaine found in the Bryant's bathroom, all submitted with the defendants' reply papers. (See Cohen Decl. II Exs. A, B.)

 Based on the undisputed facts in this case, even after resolving any inferences or ambiguities in the plaintiff's favor, the defendants are entitled to summary ...


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