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Gathers v. White

February 8, 2007

ANTWAN GATHERS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DEBORAH WHITE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John Gleeson, United States District Judge

PUBLICATION ONLY

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This claim, filed on December 16, 2004, arises from the February 28, 2002 search and arrest of Antwan Gathers, a parolee in New York. Gathers claims that the search, arrest, and subsequent prosecution for a violation of parole violated his constitutional rights. He names three members of the Department of Parole as defendants, and seeks compensatory damages for mental and emotional trauma and for lost wages. He also seeks the reassignment of two of the defendants. The defendants now move for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, summary judgment is granted in favor of the defendants.

BACKGROUND

A. The Facts

Gathers was released on parole from state prison in New York on December 20, 2001. Gathers was assigned on January 18, 2002, to parole officer Hector Ruiz. On January 28, 2002, he first reported to Officer Ruiz, and underwent a urine test. The test indicated that Gathers had recently used marijuana, and Gathers signed a statement to that effect. Officer Ruiz arranged for Gathers to begin attending a drug treatment program on February 22, 2002. Ruiz informed Gathers that if he tested positive for drug use again, his parole would be violated and revoked.

On February 1, 2002, Gathers called Ruiz to request permission to attend the funeral of a family member in Georgia. Ruiz granted the permission, and Gathers attended the funeral. During his next scheduled visit to the parole office, Gathers claims that Officer Ruiz "verbally abused" him.*fn1 At the same meeting, Ruiz instructed Gathers to obtain a medicaid card to use in gaining entry to the drug treatment program. Gathers soon obtained the card.

Soon after, Gathers was given approval to move from his Queens residence to a residence in Brooklyn where his aunt and uncle lived. On February 22, 2002, Gathers attended the drug treatment program appointment that Officer Ruiz had scheduled, but was informed that he would not be admitted to the program because his medicaid card was inactive. On the same day, Officer Ruiz learned that Gathers's card had been rejected.*fn2 Less than a week later, members of the New York City Police Department indicated to Ruiz that Gathers was a suspect in an armed robbery and double murder investigation.

On February 28, 2002, Ruiz and another parole officer went to Gathers's Brooklyn residence while he was at home and informed him that they were there to verify his new home address. Gathers buzzed the parole officers into the building. When he opened the door of the apartment to let them in, the officers handcuffed Gathers and then radioed for several police officers to come up to the apartment. At that time, Officer Ruiz asked Gathers where his belongings were, and Gathers told him they were in the bedroom to the left of the doorway. Ruiz asked for permission to search the bedroom, and Gathers told him he didn't sleep in the room, so he was not in a position to grant the officers permission to search it. The parole officers searched in the bedroom and discovered an unloaded handgun as well as ammunition for the gun inside a clothes dryer in the room. The police took Gathers into custody.

On March 1, 2002 Ruiz served Gathers with a Notice of Parole Violation. The violation report listed four charges against Gathers: (1) possession of a weapon; (2) possession of a lethal weapon and behaving in a way that compromised the safety of others; (3) use of a controlled substance; (4) purposely failing to obtain a medicaid card and thereby sabotaging his acceptance into a program as directed by his parole officer. On the same day, defendant Burdick -- a parole supervisor -- authorized an arrest warrant and the initiation of parole revocation proceedings against Gathers.

At a preliminary hearing on March 14, 2002, the hearing officer found probable cause for the violation, since Gathers had admitted using marijuana. Over the course of the next year, parole revocation hearings were repeatedly scheduled and adjourned, due to requests from both Gathers and the parole authorities. During this period, the state did not bring murder and robbery charges against Gathers. However, Gathers remained in custody due to his pending parole violation charges.

The final parole revocation proceedings -- prosecuted on behalf of the Department of Parole by defendant Deborah White -- went forward on January 31, 2003 and March 18, 2003. White prosecuted the first three charges, but did not pursue the charge alleging that Gathers purposely failed to obtain a medicaid card. The hearing officer determined that there was insufficient evidence to connect Gathers to the gun, and also found that the "positive test for marijuana use on 1/28/02 is not sustained as a violation in an important respect." The parole violation charges were therefore dismissed.

B. The Claims at Issue

Gathers alleges in his complaint that the above events violated his constitutional rights. In his response brief, Gathers claims his Fourth Amendment rights were violated because the search of his residence was conducted for the "prime purpose" of enabling the police to circumvent constitutional requirements rather than for the purpose of supervising his parole. In an affirmation in opposition to the motion for summary judgment, Gathers states that his complaint centers on his claim that he was unjustifiably violated because the defendants were acting as agents of the police department, and that the parole violation charges were unjustified because they were "trumped up charges to detain me until the police ...


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