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Williams v. Wood

January 23, 2009

JEFFERY WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JAMES WOOD; ALBANY POLICE OFFICER, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas J. McAvoy, Sr. U.S. District Judge

DECISION and ORDER

Plaintiff Jeffery Williams commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Albany Police Department Officer James Wood ("Defendant"), alleging false arrest, the excessive use of force and racial profiling arising out of an incident that occurred on November 22, 2005. Presently before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 (c) seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's claims.

I. FACTS

The following is taken from the parties' affidavits, depositions, declarations and respective Local Rule 7.1(a)(3) statement of facts and are construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.

Plaintiff's version of the facts is as follows. On November 22, 2005 at approximately 11:30pm, he was riding in a brown and tan Ford Ranger pick-up driven by Mr. Joseph Szot. Plaintiff Depo. at 22. Szot was driving Plaintiff from a local auto garage to 45 South Ferry Street, a residence where Plaintiff was then staying. Id. at 25. Before reaching their destination, Plaintiff and Szot stopped in front of a house located on First Street. Plaintiff got out of the vehicle and, while standing in the street, engaged in a "brief conversation" with two unidentified individuals who had been sitting in front of the house. Id. at. 28-30. Plaintiff does not recall the length of this conversation, though Szot estimates it lasted "about as long as it took me to roll and smoke my cigarette." Szot Statement at 2. Plaintiff then returned to Szot's vehicle and proceeded to drive for a few blocks at which time they were pulled over by the police.

Plaintiff contends that Defendant approached the vehicle, opened Plaintiff's car door and pulled him out of the vehicle by his right arm in a "violent and out of control" manner. Depo. at 36; Plaintiff's Complaint at 7. Standing to the side of the truck, Defendant then searched Plaintiff's person. In the course of this search, Plaintiff alleges that he was hit and pushed by Defendant. Depo.at 38, 42. Plaintiff was then placed in handcuffs. Id. After being placed in handcuffs, Plaintiff contends that Defendant searched the vehicle and planted a glass tube ("stem") containing a quantity of crack cocaine inside Plaintiff's eye glass case as it rested in the vehicle. Id. at 43-44. Plaintiff claims Defendant told him to "take this as a lesson." Complaint at 7. Plaintiff did not sustain any physical injuries from the arrest and later described the event as "a little, light rough-up, that's all." Depo at 35.

The facts as stated by Defendant are as follows. Defendant and Albany Police Detective Al Martin were in an unmarked car performing surveillance of 299 1/2 First Street, Albany, New York. Affidavit at 1. This surveillance was in connection with "Operation Impact," an investigation of crimes involving illegal guns and drugs. An earlier search of 299 1/2 First Street revealed the presence of narcotics, related paraphernalia, and a shot gun. Id. Based on the results of this earlier search, Defendant and Detective Martin believed that illegal drugs continued to be present at that location. Id.

In the course of the surveillance, Defendant observed Szot's pick up truck traveling east on First Street at a slow rate of speed. The vehicle stopped in front of 299 1/2 First Street. Defendant contends that he observed Plaintiff emerge from an area at or around 299 1/2 First Street and approach Szot's pick up truck. Id at 2. Defendant watched as Plaintiff stood in the street conversing with Szot, the driver of the pick-up truck. According to Wood, Plaintiff then got into the passenger side of the pick-up truck and the vehicle resumed traveling east on First Street. Id

Believing a drug transaction had occurred, Defendant and Detective Martin followed the pick-up truck for one to three blocks before signaling the vehicle to pull over. Id. at 2,3. With the vehicle stopped, Defendant approached the passenger side of the pick-up truck where Plaintiff sat. Defendant alleges that because Plaintiff's right hand was hidden from view, resting near his waistband and underneath his coat, he asked Plaintiff to place his hands where they could be seen. Id. at 4. According to Defendant, Plaintiff refused this request. Id.

Defendant next contends that he requested Plaintiff to exit the vehicle to perform a pat-down search. As Plaintiff exited the pick-up truck, Defendant contends that he "maintained control over [Plaintiff's] right hand because it was still not visible." Id. at 4. Defendant next asserts that Plaintiff elbowed him in the chest area, attempted to push him, and acted in a combative manner. Id. With the assistance of Detective Martin, Defendant was able to restrain Plaintiff and perform a pat down search of his person. In the course of the search, Defendant alleges that he found the stem containing crack cocaine on Plaintiff's person.

Szot presents a third verison of the events. According to Szot, he was driving Plaintiff, they stopped, Plaintiff "got out of the truck and approached a group that was sitting out on the front steps of a house" and "he talked to them for about as long as it took for me to roll and smoke my cigarette." Stoz Statement at 2. Plaintiff then got back into the truck. After driving for a few blocks, the police pulled them over. Id. Szot contends that he heard Plaintiff and Defendant "having words," believed Plaintiff was "being wise with [the police]," and that Plaintiff said "F-You or something like that." Id. Plaintiff denies using vulgar language, though he acknowledges being "upset." Depo at 42. Szot asserts that "[a]fter the cops hit [Plaintiff] a couple of times they were able to get him handcuffed. After they had him finally handcuffed, the cops showed me a crack pipe that they found under his seat." Stoz Statement at 2.

Plaintiff was subsequently arrested for loitering in the first degree in violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 240.36, criminal possession of a controlled substance in violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 220.03, and resisting arrest in violation of N.Y.§ Penal Law § 205.30. On May 23, 2006, all charges against Plaintiff were dropped. Plaintiff commenced the instant action asserting claims of false arrest, the excessive use of force, and racial profiling.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

It is well settled that on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must construe the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, see Tenebaum v. Williams, 193 F. 3d 581, 593 (2d Cir. 1999), and may grant summary judgment only where "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and ... the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV.P. 56(c). An issue is genuine if the relevant evidence is such that a reasonable ...


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