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Blair v. City of New York

March 31, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Townes, United States District Judge*fn1


Plaintiff, Teddy Blair, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988 and state law against the City of New York, New York City Police Department Detectives Edward Hendrickson and Charles Schmidt, and unnamed police officers (collectively, the "Defendants"), alleging violations of his civil rights. Defendants now move for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.


Except as otherwise indicated, the following facts are not in dispute. Joy Tucker ("Joy")*fn2 lived with her mother in an apartment on the 13th floor of 163-15 130th Street, one of the twenty apartment buildings which comprise Rochdale Village, a development in Queens, New York. Declaration of Rose W. Weber ("Weber's"), Ex. A, at 57; Declaration of Liora Jacobi ("Jacobi's"), Ex. B, at 47-48; Plaintiff's Statement pursuant to Rule 56.1(b) ("Pl.'s 56.1 Statement") at ¶ 3; Defendants' Statement pursuant to Rule 56.1 ("Defs.' 56.1 Statement") at ¶ 3. On September 3, 1998, at around 10:00 p.m., Joy and a visiting friend, Shateka Washington ("Shateka")*fn3, went to the lobby of Joy's building. Pl.'s 56.1 Statement at ¶ 5; Defs.' 56.1 Statement at ¶ 5. There, at around 10:04 p.m., Joy was shot. Jacobi's Ex. C. Fatally injured, Joy left the lobby, waving her hands and gasping for air, and walked towards a security booth manned by Rochdale Village security guards Jesus Rosario and Barrington Dwyer. Pl.'s 56.1 Statement at ¶¶ 25, 54; Defs.' 56.1 Statement at ¶¶ 25, 54. Joy was subsequently removed by ambulance to Mary Immaculate Hospital. Jacobi's Ex. B, at 198; Jacobi's Ex. B, at 49-51.

Defendant Schmidt, a detective at the 113th Precinct, was assigned to be the lead detective on the case. Pl.'s 56.1 Statement at ¶ 28; Defs.' 56.1 Statement at ¶ 28. He went to the scene shortly after the incident and was told, by an unidentified source, that a friend of the victim, Shateka Washington, witnessed the shooting. Pl.'s 56.1 Statement ¶ 30; Defs.' 56.1 Statement at ¶ 30. Detective Schmidt told Shateka that he wanted to interview her and placed her in the back of his unmarked car. Pl.'s 56.1 Statement at ¶ 31, Defs.' 56.1 Statement at ¶ 31; Weber's Ex. B, at 197.

The parties disagree as to what happened next. Detective Schmidt testified that Shateka left the car when he went to tell his partner that he was returning to the precinct to interview a witness. Defs.' 56.1 Statement at ¶ 32; Jacobi's Ex. B, at 197-198; Jacobi's Ex. F, at 30. Shateka, on the other hand, testified that she spoke to two detectives for about 20 minutes in the car, and that she did not leave until they said she could. Pl.'s 56.1 Statement at ¶ 32; Weber's Ex. A, at 168. She recalled telling the detectives that she had been visiting Joy that evening, and had gone to the lobby of Joy's building to await her boyfriend, plaintiff Teddy Blair, who had agreed to bring her carfare. Blair delivered the money but, according to Shateka, then left the lobby. Shateka and Joy remained in the lobby for about ten minutes thereafter, conversing, before three men entered the building. Shateka did not recognize the three men, and could give only a general description of them, saying that all were brown-skinned, that two were dark and that they were wearing hats and coats. Weber's Ex. A, at 138-153.

According to Shateka, one of the men approached Joy and said, "Let me talk to you." He and Joy then started arguing. Shortly thereafter, the man pulled something that appeared to be a gun from his waistband, prompting Shateka to run outside. Id.

Detective Schmidt next attempted to talk to Joy at Mary Immaculate Hospital. Pl.'s 56.1 Statement at ¶ 33; Defs.' 56.1 Statement at ¶ 33. He arrived at the hospital to find Joy, unconscious and unresponsive, being treated in the trauma room by numerous physicians. She never regained consciousness and expired shortly thereafter, before she could be questioned. Jacobi's Ex. B, at 198.

Later that night, Detective Schmidt interviewed Rochdale security guard Jesus Rosario, who said that he saw Joy and Shateka in the lobby with a group of about six men shortly before the shooting. He saw the group of men leave the building, then saw another man enter the lobby. That man began arguing with Joy and slapped her in the face. Rosario and his partner, Dwyer, then ran towards the building, but heard three shots before they reached the lobby. Although Rosario did not see the shooting itself, he recalled seeing the man flee up the stairs inside the building and seeing Shateka and Joy leave the lobby. Joy ran towards him and then collapsed, falling to the ground. He tried to get some information from the victim but did not succeed. Jacobi's Ex. E.

Detective Wilkowski interviewed Dwyer at 2:00 a.m. on September 4, 1998. Dwyer's account was identical to Rosario's except in the following respects. Dwyer specified that the man who fought with the victim was one of the men who had exited the building moments earlier. Dwyer also stated that a second girl had attempted to break up the argument between the man and the victim. Dwyer said that he asked Joy who shot her and he thought, but was not one hundred percent sure, that she said it was "Tony." Jacobi's Ex. E.

While Detective Wilkowski was interviewing Dwyer, Shateka's mother brought Shateka to the precinct. Jacobi's Ex. F, at 51, 57. Detective Schmidt was busy and asked Detective Panchin to interview Shateka. Id., at 51, 56. Since neither party produced a DD-5 report relating to this interview, it is unclear precisely what Shateka told the detective. According to Detective Schmidt, Detective Panchin told him that Shateka was "definitely sedated," definitely did not want to talk to him, and provided no useful information. Id., at 56. Shateka recalled being medicated and sleepy, but claimed that she told a detective that Joy told her she had been threatened by one Fox and that the police should "look for him first" if anything ever happened to her. Weber's Ex. A, at 96-97.

On the afternoon of October 4, 1998, police were alerted by someone who identified himself as "Phil" that there was another witness to the shooting -- Tequan Henry. Jacobi's Ex. H.

Phil informed the police that Henry frequented her grandmother's apartment, which was in the same building in which Joy had been shot. Jacobi's Ex. H. Defendant Schmidt contacted Henry's grandmother and arranged to meet with Henry and her grandmother at the U.S.A. Diner on Merrick Boulevard in Rosedale, New York.

At this October 6, 1998 meeting, Henry told Detective Schmidt that on the night of September 3, 1998, at about 10:00 p.m., while passing through the lobby of her grandmother's building, she witnessed an argument involving Plaintiff, whom she knew as "Polite," Joy and Shateka. She told detectives that she knew "Polite" to be the boyfriend of Shateka, whom she knew from high school. Jacobi's Ex. G, at 8. Henry then saw the argument escalate into a physical fight between Polite and Joy. As she walked out the front door of the lobby, Henry heard three shots behind her. She looked back and saw Shateka and Joy running out the front door towards the security guard booth, but did not see Polite. Supplemental Declaration of Liora Jacobi to Defendants' Reply Memo of Law ("Jacobi's Supp."), Ex. F, at 64-67.

At about 6:25 p.m. October 6, 1998, Detectives Schmidt and O'Connor met with Henry and asked her to view a photo array. Henry viewed the array and identified a photograph of Plaintiff Blair as the man she knew as "Polite." Jacobi's Ex. H.

Thereafter, the police made efforts to locate Blair. On October 8, 1998, they visited his last known address -- 145-11 167th St. -- where he had been living in the basement as the guest of the owner, Herbert Spaulding. Pl.'s 56.1 Statement at ¶¶ 68, 69; Defs.' 56.1 Statement at ¶¶ 68, 69; Jacobi's Ex. K, at 9-10. Spaulding permitted the police to search his basement, where the police uncovered photographs of Blair and others holding firearms. Id., at 5-7; Pl.'s 56.1 Statement at ¶ 73, Defs.' 56.1 Statement at ¶ 73; Jacobi's Ex. M. Spaulding told the police that he had not seen Blair for several days. Jacobi's Ex. L, at 7-8. Blair corroborated this, testifying at his deposition that he never returned to 145-11 167th St. after the shooting because he knew that he would be arrested there. Jacobi's Ex. I, at 209.

One or two months after the shooting, the police went to Shateka's home looking for Blair. Jacobi's Supp. Ex. D, at 193. Shateka explained to the police that Blair was not there and allowed them to search the apartment. Id., at 193-14. Shateka, however, did not tell the police where Blair was staying even though she was in contact with him and knew that he was staying with a friend, Anderson, in Far Rockaway. Id., at 195.

The police finally located Blair on December 9, 1998. Pl.'s 56.1 Statement at ¶ 96; Defs.' 56.1 Statement at ¶ 96; Jacobi's Ex. P. On the morning of December 9, 1998, the police raided an apartment occupied by one Jimmy Rhone, his mother and brother. Jacobi's Ex. N, at 48- 49, 97. Rhone was suspected of drug-related activity and known to be one of Blair's friends. The police arrested Rhone, his mother and brother after finding cocaine in the apartment. Id., at 21, 49-51. Sometime that morning, Rhone informed the police that Blair was staying with Anderson at 7400 Shore Parkway in Far Rockaway. Id., at 61-62. The police arrested Blair at that address at 12:30 p.m. Jacobi's Ex. P.

Sometime that afternoon, after Blair was arrested, Rhone gave the police a statement in which he stated that he and Blair had a telephone conversation on September 10 or 11, 1998, in which Blair, whom he knew as "Polite," admitted to killing Joy after an argument. Rhone's Statement (included in Jacobi's Ex. N). Rhone expressly denied that the officers had used threats to coerce him into making this statement. Id., Rhone Deposition at 87-89. Rather, by Rhone's own account, Rhone agreed to cooperate with the police after they informed him that his mother had been hospitalized and told him that he would be released if he gave a statement. Id., at 79, 82 & 87, 89. The police did not tell him what to tell them, but encouraged him to give them "something good." Id., at 110. Although Rhone alleged at his deposition that the statement he gave the police was not true, he also testified unequivocally that the officers did not know that the statement was untrue and that it was consistent with information that both Rhone and the officers had heard "on the streets." Id., at 70,79, 109-122. Blair himself also testified that he did not think that detectives knew that Rhone's statement was false. Jacobi's Ex. I, at 297.

At 10:35 p.m. on December 9, 1998, the police conducted a lineup at the 113th Precinct. Id., at 248-249; Jacobi's Ex. R; Jacobi's Ex. S. Henry, the sole witness to view the lineup, identified Blair as the man she knew as "Polite." Jacobi's Ex. B, at 82-83. Henry told the police that he was the man she had seen arguing with Joy in the lobby shortly before the shooting. Id., at 83-84.

Blair testified at his deposition that, following the lineup, officers at the 113th Precinct attempted to physically coerce him into admitting his guilt. According to Blair, his left hand was handcuffed to a pole, and he was assaulted on five separate occasions between the time the lineup ended and 2:00 a.m. on December 10, 1998. Blair alleges that on three of these occasions, defendant Hendrickson entered the interview room alone and struck him with fists and a telephone book in the ribs, back, arms and stomach. On two other occasions, Detective Hendrickson was accompanied by another, skinny detective, who also struck Plaintiff with his fists and a telephone book. Jacobi's Ex. I, at 259-271. Blair alleges that he complained to the jail medical personnel, but there is no evidence in the jail's medical records of his complaints. Weber's Ex. C, at 272-273, 279-281; Jacobi's Supp. Ex. A.

Plaintiff was charged with two counts of murder in the second degree (on both intentional murder and depraved indifference theories) and with related weapon offenses. Jacobi's Ex. P; Jacobi's Ex. X. In February 1999, he was indicted on these same charges. Jacobi's Ex. U. At his deposition, Blair speculated that Rhone testified at the Grand Jury in a manner consistent with his statement and that his testimony was critical, stating "I think that's what got me indicted." Jacobi's Ex. I, at 298. However, Blair admitted ...

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