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Taylor v. City of New York

June 19, 2006

HORACE TAYLOR PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, P.O. BRENDAN DONOHUE, SHIELD NO. 30330, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, P.O. JAMES SEPULVEDA, SHIELD NO. 25657, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, DET. SALVADOR GONZALEZ, SHIELD NO. 6563 AND "JOHN DOE" #1-10 ("JOHN DOE" BEING FICTITIOUS AS THE TRUE NAMES ARE PRESENTLY UNKNOWN), INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert L. Carter, District Judge

OPINION

Plaintiff Horace Taylor brings this action against the City of New York, New York Police Department ("NYPD") officers Brendan Donohue ("Donohue") and James Sepulveda (Sepulveda") and police detective Salvador Gonzalez ("Gonzalez" and collectively the "defendants"). Plaintiff alleges claims of false arrest, malicious prosecution, denial of a fair trial and malicious abuse of process, all in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn1 In addition, plaintiff alleges municipal liability on the part of the City of New York. The defendants now move for summary judgment on all claims.

BACKGROUND

On March 4, 2002, plaintiff was driving in Manhattan near the intersection of West 136th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Def.'s 56.1 Statement at 1. There were two people in the car with the plaintiff. Id. Robert Barnes ("Barnes") was in the passenger seat and in the back was a man identified by the plaintiff only as "Pete." Deposition of Horace Taylor, dated July 9, 2004 ("Taylor Dep.") at 44. Sepulveda and Donohue, both in plain clothes and in an unmarked police car, initiated a vehicle stop of plaintiff's car at approximately 9:30 p.m. Def.'s 56.1 Statement at 3. There is not much after this point about which the parties agree.

1. Defendants' Version

According to Donohue and Sepulveda, they stopped the car because plaintiff was not wearing his seatbelt. Def.'s 56.1 Statement at 4--5. Donohue further asserts that plaintiff exhibited nervous behavior after his car was passed by a marked police car. Id. at 5. The parties agree that Sepulveda approached plaintiff's door and asked for his license and registration. Taylor Dep. 47; Mapp/Huntley Hearing Transcript, New York v. Taylor, Indictment No. 1291/02, September 19, 2002 ("Hearing Transcript") at 8. It is also agreed that plaintiff gave Sepulveda his license and the car's rental contract. Id. According to the officers, after the stop plaintiff began moving around in the car and reaching inside his jacket. Hearing Transcript at 9. Sepulveda asked plaintiff to stop making these movements but the plaintiff continued. Id. Sepulveda then asked plaintiff to step out of the vehicle in order to determine whether plaintiff had a weapon. Id. The other occupants remained in the vehicle. Id. at 32. Outside the vehicle, plaintiff continued to make reaching movements. Id. at 9--10.

While attempting to frisk the plaintiff, Sepulveda heard something fall to the ground. Id. at 10. Sepulveda looked down and saw a small brown paper bag. Id. Sepulveda asked Donohue to pick up the bag.*fn2 Donohue peered inside the paper bag and found a clear plastic bag filled with of cocaine. Hearing Transcript at 10. Sepulveda then arrested plaintiff. Id. The other occupants were then ordered out of the vehicle one at a time and frisked by Donohue. Hearing Transcript at 63. Donohue testified that after being patted down, Pete asked if he was under arrest. Donohue replied that he was not, and "Pete" took a few steps backwards and fled. Id. Donohue did not give chase.

It is agreed that plaintiff was taken to the 26th precinct, where he was surrendered to Gonzalez for processing. Taylor Dep. at 66--67. Gonzalez read plaintiff his Miranda rights and plaintiff initialed a warning form indicating that he understood them. Taylor Dep. at 66--67; Trial Transcript, New York v. Taylor, Indictment No. 1291/02, January 13, 2003 ("Trial Transcript") at 81. Gonzalez also informed plaintiff that he was being charged with a serious felony. Id.

Gonzalez contends that plaintiff was amenable to questioning. Gonzalez testified that although he was aware that the cocaine brought in by Donohue weighed only 42 grams, he told plaintiff that it had been weighed at 52 grams and that plaintiff was facing a twenty--five year to life sentence. Trial Transcript at 83, 90. According to Gonzalez, plaintiff then responded that he had bought 42 grams, not 52 grams. Id. at 83. On the back of the Miranda form, Gonzalez wrote, "[s]tated that he purchased 42 grams = 1 1/2 oz -- that he did not buy 52 grams!" Id.; Def.'s 56.1 Statement, Exhibit G. When asked if the statement was an exact quote from plaintiff, Gonzalez said, "[p]retty much, that is what he said, yeah." Deposition of Salvatore Gonzalez, dated October 7, 2004 ("Gonzalez Dep.") at 20. Yet Gonzalez concedes that it was not plaintiff but "one of the other officers that were [sic] present at the precinct told me 42 grams equals one and a half ounces"; thus, some of the allegedly self-incriminating statement was not actually attributable to plaintiff. Gonzalez Dep. at 20. Plaintiff's confession was not confirmed, witnessed or documented in any other way. Gonzalez Dep. at 23--24; Trial Transcript at 91--92.

2. Plaintiff's Version

Plaintiff, Barnes and "Pete" were returning from shoe shopping when they were stopped. Taylor Dep. at 44. Plaintiff was driving a rental given to him by the dealership because his car was under repair. Taylor Dep. at 104. Plaintiff insists that he and everyone in his vehicle were wearing their seatbelts at the time of the stop. Id. at 47. Plaintiff contends that he made no nervous movements after the marked police car passed or after being stopped. Taylor Dep. at 47. He stated that after the vehicle stop, all the occupants were ordered out of the car together. Id. at 51. According to plaintiff, he and Barnes were placed in front of the vehicle with their hands on the hood of the vehicle. Taylor Dep. at 52. It is not completely clear from plaintiff's testimony where the third passenger, "Pete", was in relation to plaintiff and Barnes at that time.

Plaintiff contends that after Sepulveda frisked him, Sepulveda began searching the inside of the car. At this point officer Donohue began a frisk of Barnes. Id. 52. While Sepulveda was searching the inside of the car and Donohue was frisking Barnes, "Pete" ran away down the street. Donohue did not give chase but walked in the direction that "Pete" had run. Id. at 99. "Pete" had not been searched. Id. at 52. After engaging in some discussion near the rear of the vehicle, the police officers handcuffed and arrested plaintiff. Id. at 55--57. Plaintiff alleges that he never had drugs in his possession that night. Id. at 58. Plaintiff claims that after he was read his rights at the precinct, he made no statement and refused to answer any questions posed by Gonzalez or any other officers. Id. at 66--68.

Plaintiff was indicted by a grand jury for criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree on May 10, 2002.*fn3 Plaintiff was subsequently tried before a jury, and acquitted of all charges. Certificate of Disposition, Def.'s 56.1 Statement, Exhibit H. In sum, plaintiff spent approximately 11 months incarcerated before, during and immediately after trial. Shortly after ...


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