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Michael D. Pierce v. New York State Police (Troop D Lowville

April 1, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: George H. Lowe, United States Magistrate Judge


In this action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff Michael Pierce contends that Lewis County and New York State officers wrongfully entered his home, beat him, arrested him, searched his bedroom, and denied him medical care. Currently pending before the Court are motions by Defendants Richard Knight, Todd Galarneau, Kurt LaValley, Michael Tabolt, and the Lewis County Sheriff's Department ("County Defendants") and Defendants William C. Cross and Ricky E. Craft ("State Defendants") for partial summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Dkt. Nos. 131 and 132.) Plaintiff has opposed the motions. (Dkt. Nos. 136-139.) For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motions are granted in part and denied in part.


On the evening of August 2, 2005, at about 9:45 p.m., Defendant Lewis County Sheriff's Deputy Todd A. Galarneau received a call from the father of a seventeen year old boy, reporting that the boy had been the victim of a sexual assault earlier that day. (Dkt. No. 131-2 ¶ 16.) Just after the telephone conversation, the boy and his parents came to the Lewis County Sheriff's Department to make a formal complaint. Id.

At the station, the boy provided a supporting deposition. Id. He stated that on August 2, 2005, he had been working for a contractor measuring and documenting insect infestation in a corn field. Id. ¶ 17. A man walked into the field to see what the boy was doing. Id. While they were alone in the field, the man asked the boy whether he wanted "to have some fun." Id. When the boy asked the man what he meant, the man stepped toward him and grabbed the crotch of the boy's jeans, pushing his hand against the boy's penis. Id. The man then tried to unbutton the top of the boy's jeans. Id. The boy jumped away, telling the man not to touch him and to stay away from him. Id. The man said "I just wanna see, seeing never hurt," and stepped toward the boy. Id. The boy turned and started running. Id. The man grabbed him by the back of his shirt, but lost his grip. Id. The boy ran to his car and drove away. Id.

The boy described the man as being 5'8" tall, approximately 50 years old, with metal splints affixed to two of his fingers with tape. Id. ¶ 18. Defendant Galarneau knew that the boy's description fit Plaintiff, who was a registered level three sex offender who lived in the area of the corn field. Id. ¶ 19. Defendant Galarneau showed the boy an archival photograph of Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 20. The boy recognized Plaintiff as the man who had assaulted earlier in the day. Id.

Defendant Galarneau notified Defendant Sergeant Richard A. Knight of the complaint and investigation. Id. ¶ 21. Defendant Knight ran a criminal history report on Plaintiff. Id. The criminal history report confirmed that Plaintiff was a registered sex offender who had been arrested on two prior violent sexual felony charges. Id. ¶ 22. The criminal history report also indicated that Plaintiff had a non-sexual felony arrest history for burglary and a history of resisting arrest, intentionally damaging property, and aggravated harassment. Id. ¶ 23. He had served more than ten years in prison.*fn2 Id.

Defendants Galarneau and Knight "determined that they would attempt to interview [Plaintiff] and ascertain if he was wearing finger splints" as the boy had described. (Dkt. No. 131-2 ¶ 24.) Further, because Plaintiff had a "violent criminal history, [Defendant] Deputy LaValley was called back in and the New York State Police was contacted for back-up if necessary." Id. ¶ 25.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants arrived at his house at 12:30 a.m. (Dkt. No. 104 at 15.) Defendants do not state what time it was. Therefore, it is undisputed that the following events occurred after midnight.

The parties' accounts of what happened next vary widely. Defendants contend that upon arrival at Plaintiff's house, Defendants Knight and Galarneau went to the side door and knocked. (Dkt. No. 131-2 ¶ 26.) Defendants Craft, Cross, and LaValley remained outside. Id. ¶ 27. When Plaintiff's mother answered the door, Defendant Knight "asked her if we could come in and speak to her son . . . . The plaintiff's mother told us to go ahead and she let us into the house . . . . She yelled up to her son, but he did not answer. She then directed us up the stairs and told us that his room was to the left and then all the way to the front of the house." (Knight Decl., Dkt. No. 131-5 ¶¶ 31-34.) Plaintiff's mother "stated that she was in poor health and could not climb the stairs herself to get him." (Galarneau Decl., Dkt. No. 131-4 ¶ 28.)

Plaintiff contends, citing only his verified complaint, that Defendants Galarneau, Knight, Craft, Cross, and LaValley all "barged into" his house at the same time and "bullied their way past [P]laintiff's elderly mother." (Dkt. No. 138 ¶¶ 26-28, 30.)

Defendants contend that they entered Plaintiff's room, saw that he had splints on his fingers, and began to question Plaintiff about the boy. (Dkt. No. 131-2 ¶¶ 31-33.) Plaintiff became agitated, raised his voice, and did not comply when he was instructed to turn around and put his hands behind his back. Id. ¶¶ 34-36. Defendants contend that Plaintiff "resisted arrest so pepper spray was used." Id. ¶ 36. Defendant LaValley heard raised voices through the open bedroom window and heard that pepper spray was going to be used, so he and Defendants Cross and Craft "entered the house to render assistance." Id. ¶ 37. Defendants contend that "[w]hen LaValley, Cross, and Craft arrived at [Plaintiff]'s bedroom, pepper spray had been applied, and [Plaintiff] was on his feet, in the grasp of Deputy Galarneau, resisting his effort to pull his hands behind his back and place them in cuffs. During the struggle to put handcuffs on [Plaintiff], Deputy Galarneau and Trooper Cross fell to the floor on top of him." Id. ¶ 38. Defendant LaValley then "assisted by helping Trooper Cross handcuff [P]laintiff." Id. ¶ 39.

Plaintiff denies that he resisted Defendants. (Dkt. No. 138 ¶¶ 33-34.) Plaintiff declares that when Defendant LaValley entered the bedroom, he grabbed both of Plaintiff's arms "and restrained them behind his back, causing great pain." (Dkt. No. 137 ¶ 8.) While Defendant LaValley restrained Plaintiff, Defendant Knight "stood in front of him, held a flashlight directly into his face, and questioned him. During the questioning, Knight called [Plaintiff] a liar, . . . closed his fist, and punched [Plaintiff] in the abdomen." Id. ¶¶ 9-10.

Defendant Galarneau began to question Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 13. Plaintiff responded by asking Defendants if they had a warrant and telling them they should leave if they did not. Id. ¶ 14. Defendant Knight then punched Plaintiff again in the abdomen with a closed fist. Id. ¶ 15. Defendant Galarneau said "We do not need a fucking warrant," and punched Plaintiff in the ribs. Id. ¶ 17. Plaintiff could hear and feel his ribs break. Id. ¶ 18.

During these events, Defendant Cross "stood by but did not intervene, did not restrain his fellow officers, or assist" Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 21. Although Plaintiff was not resisting, Defendant Cross said that he had "better quit resisting us and tell us what we want to know or I will teach you a lesson about resisting us." Id. ¶ 19. Defendant Craft "removed his can of pepper spray and sprayed [Plaintiff] while he held the can directly upon his face." Id. ¶ 22.*fn3 Observing this, Defendant Cross said "That's not enough, do it again." Id. ¶ 23. Defendant Craft "again held his pepper spray against [Plaintiff]'s face" and discharged it. Id. ¶ 24. Defendant Cross told Defendant Craft to do it a third time, and Defendant Craft did. Id. ¶¶ 25-26. Defendant Craft then punched Plaintiff with a closed fist in the area of his left kidney. Id. ¶ 27. Defendant LaValley, who still had Plaintiff restrained, slammed Plaintiff's head into his dresser. Id. ¶ 29. Defendant Knight drove his elbow into Plaintiff's back, driving Plaintiff to the floor. Id. ¶ 30. He then kicked Plaintiff in the buttocks, picked him up off the floor, grabbed his hands behind his back, and handcuffed him so hard that the cuffs cut off circulation to Plaintiff's left wrist. Id. ¶¶ 31-34.

Plaintiff declares that Defendants LaValley, Galarneau, Cross, and Craft searched his bedroom. (Dkt. No. 137 ¶¶ 35-38.) Defendants contend that they did so after "Plaintiff and his mother consented verbally to the search . . . " (Dkt. No. 131-2 ¶ 40.)

Neither Defendants' statement of material facts nor the evidence filed supporting the statement includes any facts about what happened after the initial encounter between Plaintiff and the officers in Plaintiff's bedroom. (Dkt. No. 131-2.) Therefore, Plaintiff's version of events is undisputed. Plaintiff declares that Defendant Knight forcibly escorted him out of the house and into the rear passenger seat of the Sheriff's marked vehicle. (Dkt. No. 137 ¶ 39.) Plaintiff told Defendant Knight that his face was burning because of the pepper spray. Id. ¶ 41. Defendant Knight told Plaintiff that he would "put his face through that glass" if Plaintiff touched the glass divider between the front and rear seats. Id. ¶ 42. When Plaintiff told Defendant Knight that his handcuffs were too tight, Defendant Knight shook them violently and tightened them. Id. ¶¶ 43-44. When Plaintiff told Defendant Knight that he could not breathe, Defendant Knight told him to "tough it out." Id. ¶ 46.

Plaintiff was transported to the Lewis County Sheriff's Department. (Dkt. No. 137 ¶ 47.) He sat on a wooden bench in severe pain and had difficulty breathing. Id. ¶ 48. Defendant Galarneau "continually harassed and threatened" Plaintiff, "but offered no assistance with respect to his physical condition." Id. ¶ 49. When Plaintiff asked to see a doctor, Defendant Knight said "We are not going to spend any money on shit like you." Id. ¶¶ 51-52. Defendant Galarneau said "that another inmate would be able to tend to him medically instead of a doctor or physician." Id. ¶ 53.

An hour and a half later, Plaintiff was transported to court for his arraignment. (Dkt. No. 137 ¶ 54.) Plaintiff told the judge what had happened. Id. ¶ 55. Defendant LaValley told the judge that Plaintiff "was not going to a hospital, he was going to jail." Id. ¶ 56. Instead, the judge "called for an ambulance to provide medical care to" Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 57. Upon arriving, the ambulance provided Plaintiff with oxygen and transported Plaintiff to Lewis County General Hospital. Id. ¶¶ 58-59. At the hospital, a nurse washed the pepper spray residue off of Plaintiff's face. Id. ¶ 60. Plaintiff was diagnosed with broken ribs, a bruised and bleeding left lung, a ruptured spleen, and damage to his kidney and his liver. Id. ¶ 61. Plaintiff was taken immediately to the emergency room to address the spleen injury. Id. ¶ 62. Plaintiff remained in the hospital for eight days, six of which were spent in the intensive care unit. Id. ¶¶ 63-64.

On February 3, 2006, Plaintiff pleaded guilty to one count of attempted sexual abuse in the first degree, arising from an encounter with a 17-year-old boy on August 2, 2005. (Dkt. No. 131-3 at 10.) The plea included a waiver of appeal.*fn4 Id. at 9.


Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed the original complaint in this action on November 28, 2005. (Dkt. No. 1.) He filed the operative complaint on December 31, 2008. (Dkt. No. 104.)

The operative complaint is a notarized twenty-nine page handwritten document. (Dkt. No. 104.) It contains a jurisdictional statement, a list of parties, an eleven-page statement of facts, twelve causes of action, and a prayer for relief. Id. Plaintiff claims that Defendants committed "hate crime assault" and violated the Fourth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment, the "Fourteenth Amendment Right [to] equal protection of the laws." Id. at 15-22.

On December 29, 2009, Jason F. Poplaski, Esq., was appointed as counsel for Plaintiff "for the purposes of trial only." (Dkt. No. 119.) Mr. Poplaski filed a Notice of Appearance on January 6, 2010. (Dkt. No. 120.) On October 20, 2010, the parties consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by a United States Magistrate Judge. (Dkt. No. 127.) Trial is scheduled for April 18, 2011. (Feb. 1, 2011, Text Order.)


A. Legal Standard Governing Motions for Summary Judgment

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is warranted if "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing, through the production of admissible evidence, that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Only after the moving party has met this burden is the nonmoving party required to produce evidence demonstrating that genuine issues of material fact exist. Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 272-73 (2d Cir. 2006). The nonmoving party must do more than "rest upon the mere allegations . . . of the [plaintiff's] pleading" or "simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-86 (1986). Rather, a dispute regarding a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 ...

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