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McLean v. Brown

June 25, 2010

ALVIN MCLEAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RICHARD BROWN, THE CITY OF NEW YORK, THE QUEENS COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, KEVIN FOGARTY, GREGORY PAVLIDES, JOHN CASTELLANO, MARK KATZ, STEVEN CHANANIE, LINDA CANTONI, AL GARCIA, CHERYL HONE, LISA DRURY, ROBIN FORSHAW, YOUNG C. LEE, WILLIAM R. HORWITZ, GEORGE FREED, JOSETTE SIMMONS-MCGHEE, GARY FIDEL, MERRI TURK LASKY, JOHN DOES, JANE DOES, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Alvin McLean brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, contending that the Queens County District Attorney's Office ("the D.A.'s Office") has violated and continues to violate his constitutional rights by failing to give him certain documents relevant to his 1993 state-court criminal trial. The defendants, who include the City of New York, the D.A.'s Office, and various Assistant District Attorneys who worked on McLean's case over the years, have moved to dismiss the action for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. After the motion to dismiss was filed, McLean sought leave to amend the complaint to include additional allegations against the defendants. For the reasons stated below, I grant the defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint in its entirety, and deny McLean's cross-motion to amend the complaint.

BACKGROUND

This action is the latest move in McLean's campaign to challenge convictions arising from a Queens jury's determination that he participated in a 1987 murder. McLean's efforts have produced two prior opinions of this Court; those opinions contain more detailed histories of the underlying proceedings. See McLean v. McGinnis, No. 97-CV-3593, 2008 WL 312765(E.D.N.Y. Feb. 4. 2008); McLean v. McGinnis, 29 F. Supp. 2d 83 (E.D.N.Y. 1998). Here, I set forth the facts relevant to McLean's latest action.

A. The Shootings of Andrew Garret and James Garcia

In August 1987, fifteen-year-old James Garcia was staying with his friend Andrew Garret in the basement of a house in Queens, New York. Garret and Garcia formerly worked for a marijuana distribution gang named "Slice," but had switched their allegiances to a rival organization called "Pillow." On the night of August 3, 1987, two other men entered the basement. One of these men was Garfield Wright, a member of Slice. The two men shot Garret and Garcia, and took money from Garret's pocket. Garret died, and Garcia was seriously injured.

B. McLean's Trial, Conviction, and Direct Appeal

The authorities soon suspected that McLean was the second shooter. McLean was arrested and charged with the shootings, but he escaped from custody while awaiting trial. More than four years later, he was apprehended by the FBI after a high-speed car chase through the streets of Miami.

At the trial, Garcia testified that McLean was the second shooter. In addition, NYPD Detective Robert Cianfrone testified that Garcia had identified McLean from a photo-array while recovering from the shooting in the hospital.

The defense's theory of the case was that the second shooter was not McLean but Peter Young, a leader of Slice who was also known as "Mack." By the time of McLean's trial, Mack had died in prison. In support of the defense theory, McLean's counsel offered the testimony of Mack's younger brother, Jeffrey Young, as well as the testimony of Wright and of Tyrone Lawrence (known as "Tee"), who stated that McLean was not a member of Slice and that Mack was responsible for the murder. As part of its challenge to the government's case, the defense contended that Garcia himself had initially identified Mack from a photo-array, before being persuaded by the police to implicate McLean. Tee testified that he was present at the disputed identification in his capacity as a government informant. The defense attorney sought to elicit testimony from Tee that Garcia initially selected a picture of Mack, rather than one of McLean. The trial court, however, ruled that Tee's testimony concerning the photo-array was inadmissible hearsay.

On November 19, 1993, the jury convicted McLean of second-degree murder, attempted murder, first-degree robbery, assault, and criminal possession of a weapon. McLean was sentenced principally to a prison term of twenty-five years to life for murder and to a consecutive term of eight-and-one-third years to twenty-five years for attempted murder.

McLean appealed to the Appellate Division, Second Department, which affirmed the convictions. People v. McLean, 640 N.Y.S.2d 265 (2d Dep't 1996). On June 20, 1996, a Judge of the New York Court of Appeals denied McLean's application for leave to appeal. People v. McLean, 88 N.Y.2d 938 (1996) (Levine, J.).*fn1

C. McLean's Habeas Petition

On June 19, 1997, McLean filed a petition in this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his convictions by claiming that various evidentiary rulings deprived him of his constitutional right to present a defense. On October 21, 1998, I denied the petition. McLean v. McGinnis, 29 F. Supp. 2d 83, 90-100 (E.D.N.Y. 1998). Though I agreed that the trial court had erred in one respect -- namely, by refusing to admit Tee's hearsay testimony for the purpose of impeaching Garcia's claim that he identified McLean in the hospital -- I concluded that this evidentiary mistake did not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Limiting Tee's testimony did not deprive McLean of a fundamentally fair trial, because the defense had ample opportunity to impeach Garcia's testimony in numerous other ways. In any event, the error was harmless because "the evidence of [McLean's] guilt was overwhelming." Id. at 99.

I granted McLean a certificate of appealability on the issue of whether limiting Tee's testimony deprived him of a fair trial. The Second Circuit concluded that it did not, and affirmed my denial of the habeas petition. McLean v. McGinnis, No. 98-3753, 1999 WL 642925 (2d Cir. Aug. 20, 1999) (summary order). The appellate court agreed that any error was harmless, given that Tee's testimony would have been largely cumulative of other evidence upon which the defense was able to rely at trial. Id. at *1-2. McLean's petition ...


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