she could identify plaintiff as the man she had complained of to
Officer Ciamarra. He found Ms. O'Donnell a few blocks away from
plaintiffs vehicle. He asked her to get into his police vehicle
and to come along with him so that she could verify that
plaintiff was the man she had complained as they drove by him.
Ms. O'Donnell identified plaintiff. Officer Stabile then asked
her to come down to police headquarters to make a written
supporting deposition. She agreed, but drove herself to
headquarters. After Ms. O'Donnell exited Officer Stabile's
vehicle, he had no further involvement with the investigation
and arrest of plaintiff.
As discussed above, a police officer is entitled to qualified
immunity if it was objectively reasonable for him to believe
that his actions did not violate plaintiffs clearly established
rights. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 819, 102 S.Ct.
2727, 2739, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982), Coons, 284 F.3d at 440. A
police officer is entitled to rely on the contents of a fellow
officer's radio report and to presume that a statement alleging
criminality is justified by probable cause. People v. Rosario,
78 N.Y.2d 583, 588, 578 N.Y.S.2d 454, 456, 585 N.E.2d 766
(1991), People v. Lypka, 36 N.Y.2d 210, 213, 366 N.Y.S.2d 622,
326 N.E.2d 294 (1975). Therefore, while an arrest may be found
unconstitutional if probable cause was in fact lacking, see
Whiteley v. Warden, 401 U.S. 560, 568-69, 91 S.Ct. 1031, 1037,
28 L.Ed.2d 306 (1971), an officer who participates in the arrest
is nonetheless immune from suit in his or her individual
capacity under the doctrine of qualified immunity if it was
objectively reasonable for him to rely on a fellow officer's
report indicating the existence of probable cause. Martinez v.
Simonetti, 202 F.3d 625, 635 (2d Cir. 2000); cf. Cerrone, 246
F.3d at 202.
All Officer Stabile knew was that Officer Ciamarra received a
complaint of a possibly naked man in a parked car. It is
questionable whether Officer Stabile even "participated" in
plaintiffs arrest; assuming that he did, however, his actions
are immune from suit because it was objectively (even
unobjectively) reasonable for him to do what he did. Thus,
Officer Stabile is entitled to qualified immunity on the First
Cause of Action, and to summary judgment dismissing the
complaint as against him.
C. Detective Suarez
Detective Suarez, the police officer who searched plaintiffs
car and found the notebook, is entitled to summary judgment
dismissing the First Cause of Action against him — the Federal
claim of false arrest — on qualified immunity grounds.
The undisputed evidence shows that he, too, heard Officer
Ciamarra's report about a naked man in the Yonkers Avenue area
of Tuckahoe. Thus, Suarez, like Stabile, was entitled to act in
reliance on his fellow-officer's report, and assist in the
investigation of plaintiff for possibly indecent exposure.
However, Detective Suarez more actively participated in
plaintiffs arrest by searching the interior of plaintiffs car.
If this search was illegal, it may have resulted in an illegal
arrest, and Detective Suarez would not be immune from plaintiffs
claim of false arrest.
New York law permits a limited search of a vehicle incident to
a lawful arrest, People v. Barclay, 201 A.D.2d 952,
607 N.Y.S.2d 531 (4th Dep't 1994). "Incident to a lawful arrest,
police may search the area within the arrestee's control for
contraband, instrumentalities or evidence, without a warrant,
because a minimally intrusive, spatially limited,
contemporaneous search does not encroach appreciably more on the
arrestee's privacy than the
arrest." Grinberg v. Safir, 181 Misc.2d 444, 452, 694 N.Y.S.2d 316,
323 (N.Y.Sup. 1999) (citing Chimel v. California,
395 U.S. 752, 89 S.Ct. 2034, 23 L.Ed.2d 685 (1969)); People v.
DeSantis, 46 N.Y.2d 82, 412 N.Y.S.2d 838, 385 N.E.2d 577
(1978). However, the facts are in dispute as to whether
Detective Suarez searched plaintiffs car before or after he was
handcuffed (and therefore arrested) by Ciamarra. According to
plaintiff, he was only handcuffed and arrested after Detective
Suarez searched his car and found (presumably) his brother's
notebook. If this is true, the search was illegal, and,
regardless of whether Detective Suarez relied on Officer
Ciamarra's report of a naked man, this search resulted in an
improper arrest. Since the facts are disputed, I can not find
that the search was proper as one incident to a lawful arrest.
However, Detective Suarez' search was proper under the
"automobile exception." Police officers may conduct a
warrantless search of a motor vehicle without violating the
Fourth Amendment when the officers have probable cause to
believe that a vehicle contains contraband, instrumentalities or
evidence of crime. Pennsylvania v. Labron, 518 U.S. 938, 116
S.Ct. 2485, 135 L.Ed.2d 1031 (1996); United States v.
Arbalaez, 98 CR 941, 1999 WL 980172, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 27,
1999); People v. Blasich, 73 N.Y.2d 673, 543 N.Y.S.2d 40,
541 N.E.2d 40 (1989); Grinberg v. Safir, 181 Misc.2d at 452,
694 N.Y.S.2d 316. This exception still applies even after a vehicle
has been immobilized. Labron, 518 U.S. at 940, 116 S.Ct. 2485.
Detective Suarez reasonably relied on Officer's Ciamarra's
description of the complaint against plaintiff. He was told that
plaintiff was an off-duty police officer who was suspected of
exposing himself near a children's dance studio. With this
(albeit somewhat false) information, Detective Suarez had
probable cause to believe that plaintiff, allegedly a police
officer, had a weapon (contraband) inside the car, or that he
may find some evidence of a crime within the car.
When Suarez searched the car, he discovered a notebook that
contained the following:
THE MINIATE I TACH YOU I GET NOUCKED OFF MY
FEET. THE SMOUTHN'S OF YOUR SKIN, AND THE SMELF OF
YOUR HAIR THE LOOK IN YOUR EYE'S. LOVE IT IS ALL
THEREIN ONE BEAUTIFUL WOMEN. LOVE IF THE SUN REVUSE
TO SANE I WOULD STILL LOVE YOU TO THE END OF TIME.
CAN'T YOU SEE I HAVE MADE UP MY MANDE I WENT TO
MAKE YOU MINE.
Def. 56.1 ¶ 24; Ex. C. Other papers in the notebook had
information about the classroom assignments for teachers at a
local elementary school, id. ¶ 26. Coupled with the report
that Suarez heard of a possibly naked man in the car, this
discovery gave Suarez probable cause to participate in
plaintiffs arrest. At the very least, reasonable officers could
have differed on the question, which provides Detective Suarez
with the shelter of qualified immunity on the Federal false