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Sloane v. Kraus

September 3, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert P. Patterson, Jr., U.S.D.J.


On July 17, 2006, Plaintiff Derek Sloane ("Plaintiff"), a prisoner in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections, filed a complaint against his arresting officer, Police Officer Joseph A. Kraus ("Defendant"), John Does 1-3, the Westchester County Department of Public Safety, and the County of Westchester alleging various incidents of mistreatment in conjunction with Plaintiff's arrest on May 7, 2006.

On October 29, 2008, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint ("Am. Compl.") alleging excessive force under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and asserting claims under New York state common law for assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, naming as Defendants Kraus, the Westchester County Department of Public Safety, the County of Westchester, Detective Frank Tirri, Detective Simone Giuseppe, and Sergeant John Lodge. Plaintiff, who has previously brought civil actions*fn1, has failed to serve the last three defendants.

On December 17, 2009, after the discovery cutoff, Defendants moved for summary judgment seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint.

On May 11, 2010, the Court denied the Defendants' motion for summary judgment as it pertained to Defendant Kraus. Sloane v. Westchester County Police Department, et al., No. 06 cv. 5372, 2010 WL 1914857 (S.D.N.Y. May 12, 2010). The Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims against the Westchester County Department of Public Safety and Westchester County.

On July 26 and 27, 2010, the Court held a two-day bench trial on the merits of the Plaintiff's excessive force claim and the common law claims of assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Kraus. Plaintiff seeks compensatory relief in the amount of $250,000 and punitive damages of $500,000. Am. Compl. at 17-18. Plaintiff, Defendant, William McLane (one of Plaintiff's roommates at the shelter), Detective Tirri, Sergeant Lodge, and Detective Giuseppe all testified at trial.

On August 3, 2010, both parties filed post-trial findings of fact and conclusions of law. This opinion constitutes the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a).

I. Testimony Presented by Plaintiff

a. Testimony of Derek Sloane

Plaintiff Derek Sloane is 45 years old, and was raised in foster homes and is a graduate of Ossining High School. Sloane Tr. 30-31. Sloane stayed at the Volunteers of America ("VOA") Shelter in Valhalla, New York, in early 2006 following his release from a sentence for criminal possession of stolen property, until he was able to move into a building where he was working as a watchman and maintenance man. Sloane Tr. at 32-33.

On May 6, 2006, Sloane moved back into the VOA Shelter after the building where he had been living had to be vacated. Id. Sloane drove a pickup truck to the Shelter between 8:30 and 9 p.m. Sloane Tr. at 34. Upon his arrival, Sloane was assigned a bed in Room 204 by the Shelter staff. Sloane Tr. at 36. Entering the Shelter, Sloane passed through the metal detector and scanned his belongings through the X-Ray machine at the Shelter's entrance. Sloane Tr. at 37. After unloading his belongings and bringing them up to Room 204, Sloane returned to the vehicle and parked it on the other side of the building. Sloane Tr. at 39. When parking the vehicle, Sloane observed a county police car parked in the back of the Shelter. Sloane Tr. at 39. Sloane then exited the vehicle and proceeded to the Shelter, going through the metal detector at the entrance once again, and continued directly to Room 204, where he took a shower and went to bed. Sloane at Tr. 40-41. He ultimately fell asleep in his bed. Sloane Tr. at 36, 41.

After falling asleep, the next thing Sloane remembered was that "I was hit in my legs. All that I remember is hit, me being hit. And I jumped up from the bed not out of the bed, but sit up in the bed and I stated, what is this, what's going on?" Sloane Tr. at 41. He felt "like somebody was hitting [him] with an object." Id. He received at least two blows on the bony part of his shin, which was covered by only a "thin white sheet." Sloane Tr. at 41, 43. He experienced "pain in both of [his] legs." Sloane Tr. at 44. Later that day he observed that his legs were "kind of swollen" as a result of these blows to his shins. Id. As he was struck he heard someone twice state, "[G]et the fuck up." Sloane Tr. at 47.

Upon sitting up, Sloane saw three police officers. Sloane Tr. at 44. One of these individuals was carrying "a long black flashlight," which Sloane recognized as the object that most likely had been used to strike him. Sloane Tr. at 42. Sloane stated that he did not observe which individual was holding the flashlight at that time.Sloane Tr. at 45.

The officers then grabbed Sloane under his arm and shoulder and pulled him out of bed. Sloane Tr. at 46. In a state of "confusion," Sloane asked "can I get dressed? Let me get my shoes on." Id. An officer responded, "[W]here you're going, you won't need to get dressed." Sloane Tr. at 47.

Sloane was led out into the hallway, placed face first against the wall and handcuffed. Sloane Tr. at 48. Sloane did not see which officer handcuffed him. Sloane Tr. at 48. The handcuffs were "pretty much tight and uncomfortable." Sloane Tr. at 49. Without reading Sloane his Miranda rights, Kraus asked Sloane questions regarding the truck, including its ownership, each of which Sloane answered. Sloane Tr. at 49, 50. One of the officers asked "Where are the keys to the truck?" and Sloane replied "I don't know what you're talking about." Sloane Tr. at 50. An officer responded "this guy wants to play games." Id. The officers, including Kraus, led Sloane into the communal bathroom down the hall, where Sloane was placed face first against the wall. Sloane Tr. at 51. One of the officers again asked about the keys to the truck, and Sloane replied "I don't know what you're talking about." Sloane Tr. at 52. Then, "[s]ome type of object was placed in [his] back." Id. "It felt like a metal object pressed against my back. So the only thing running through my mind was, he pulled his gun out." Id. Sloane did not identify any officer as having his gun out of its holster. Sloane Tr. at 51-53.

Upon further questioning, Sloane told the officers the location of the keys, and the officers retrieved the keys from Sloane's room. Sloane Tr. at 53. Sloane testified that they then led Sloane out of the shelter in leg irons and handcuffed behind his back, barefoot, and wearing nothing but the sweatpants and sleeveless T-shirt in which he had slept. Sloane Tr. at 54. It was dark outside when Sloane exited the Shelter. Sloane Tr. at 58-59. Later in his testimony, Sloane instead indicated that "an officer" applied leg irons to Sloane's ankles at the police cruiser outside. Sloane Tr. at 56. Sloane testified that the leg irons were "pretty tight. I would say the same tightness that the handcuffs was on." Sloane Tr. at 57. Kraus then drove Sloane to police headquarters to be detained until his arraignment later that day. Sloane Tr. at 58.

Sloane arrived at police headquarters sometime during the night. Sloane Tr. at 59. Upon arrival, Kraus led Sloane inside, in handcuffs and leg irons, and placed him in a holding cell consisting of a steel "cage." Sloane Tr. at 59-60. Sloane remained in the cage in handcuffs and leg irons. Sloane Tr. at 61. During his time in the cage, he asked a desk officer to use the bathroom, but was told that they did not have the keys. Sloane Tr. at 62-63.

In the morning of May 7, 2006, Sloane was taken out of police headquarters in order to travel to his arraignment in Mount Pleasant Court. Sloane Tr. at 63. Sloane was transported to the arraignment barefoot, handcuffed and leg irons. Sloane Tr. at 64. When the police vehicle arrived at Mount Pleasant Court, Kraus ordered Sloane to get out of the vehicle. Sloane Tr. at 65. Sloane refused to get out of the vehicle, and informed Kraus that he would not exit the vehicle because he was not wearing shoes, and did not want to risk cutting his feet. Id. Kraus then went into the Mount Pleasant Police Department and returned with two other officers. Sloane Tr. at 66-67. One of the officers placed a taser on Sloane's neck and told Sloane that if he did not exit the vehicle, he would be tased. Id. Sloane did not testify that he was tased, or identify the officer who made this threat. Id. Sloane also did not testify that Kraus was present at the time of this incident. Id.

Sloane was then escorted to Mount Pleasant Court in Valhalla and after being placed in a room in handcuffs and leg irons, he was arraigned before a judge. Sloane Tr. at 68. After arraignment, Sloane was escorted back to the police vehicle, and as he was getting into the vehicle, someone punched the right side of his face, just below the eye. Id. Sloane testified that he did not see who struck him. Id.

Sloane was then transported to the Westchester County Jail at about 6:30 or 7 a.m. Sloane Tr. at 69. His handcuffs and leg irons were removed upon arrival at the Westchester County Jail. Sloane Tr. at 70. Sloane states that both his hands were red and that his "right foot was very numb" and very red. Sloane Tr. at 71. This severity of numbness persisted for a week or two and slowly disappeared within the month of June. Sloane Tr. at 71-72. The numbness stopped when Sloane was at Downstate on February 27, 2007. Sloane Tr. at 72. Sloane sometimes feels numbness when he "lays down and sleeps on a certain side." Sloane Tr. at 74.

At the Westchester County Jail, Sloane sent a sick call sheet to the jail medical department. He saw a nurse, who did not treat him and was told that "they do not deal with nerves," and that the "[b]est thing for me to do was just run warm water on it." Sloane Tr. at 75-76.

b. Testimony of William McLane

William McLane never reviewed Plaintiff's Complaint or deposition testimony in this action, and has not spoken with Plaintiff since his arrest at the Shelter. McLane Tr. at 120-121, 123.

On May 6, 2006, McLane was residing at the VOA Shelter in Valhalla, New York, where he had been residing since December 2005. McLane Tr. at 104. McLane was assigned to Room 204 the night of May 6, 2006. Id. McLane testified that he was awake in Room 204 and speaking on his phone when Kraus "came in the room like he was chasing somebody. . . [s]lamming, slamming the door open." McLane Tr. at 107. The next thing Kraus did was to start grabbing Sloane by his legs. [Id.]

Q: When you say grabbing, can you be more specific?

A: Like trying to pull him, like it was hitting him.

Q: How many times did Officer Kraus hit Mr. Sloane in the legs?

A: I'd say three to four times.

Q: What did Officer Kraus use, if anything, to hit Mr. ...

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