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Pinet v. The County of Onondaga

United States District Court, Second Circuit

November 26, 2013

TASHARA PINET, as the Administrator of the ESTATE OF RAUL PINET, JR., Plaintiff,
THE COUNTY OF ONONDAGA et al., Defendants.

BRIAN M. DRATCH, ESQ., Franzblau, Dratch Law Firm, New York, NY, for the plaintiff.

KATHLEEN M. DOUGHERTY, ESQ., Onondaga County Department of Law, John H. Mulroy Civic Center, Syracuse, NY, for the defendants.


GARY L. SHARPE, Chief District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Tashara Pinet, as the Administrator of the Estate of Raul Pinet, Jr., commenced this action against defendants the County of Onondaga, the Onondaga County Sheriff's Office, Kevin E. Walsh, Richard Carbery, Kevin Brisson, and several John Does, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, and claims under New York State law for wrongful death, negligent retention and hiring, and assault and battery. (Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 5.) Pending before the court are defendants' motion for summary judgment, (Dkt. No. 19), Pinet's cross motion to amend/correct and for partial summary judgment as to liability, (Dkt. No. 29), and defendants' motion requesting that Pinet's request to submit videos be denied, (Dkt. No. 33). For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted, Pinet's cross motion is denied, and defendants' motion regarding Pinet's submission of videos is denied as moot.[1]

II. Background[2]

Plaintiff Tashara Pinet was married to Raul Pinet ("decedent") on April 17, 2005. (Defs.' Statement of Material Facts (SMF) ¶ 2, Dkt. No. 19, Attach. 6.) On August 6, 2010, the City of Syracuse Police Department responded to a 911 call. ( Id. ¶ 18.) When they arrived at the scene, the responding officers were told that a strange male, identified as decedent, had attempted to gain entry to another's residence, at which point the officers observed decedent inside a residence and heard the occupants yelling for help. ( Id. ¶¶ 18-19.) At that point, the officers advised decedent that he was under arrest and attempted to effectuate his arrest. ( Id. ¶ 20.) Decedent resisted the arrest, and began physically struggling with the officers. ( Id. ) The police officers were ultimately able to subdue decedent and place him into a van, by which he was transported to the Onondaga County Justice Center, where he was to be temporarily detained prior to arraignment. ( Id. ¶¶ 21-22.)

Upon arrival at the Justice Center, the arresting officers advised members of the Onondaga County Sheriff's Office working at the Justice Center that decedent had been aggressive and combative during his arrest. ( Id. ¶¶ 23-25.) The police van was received at the Justice Center by Onondaga County Sheriff's Deputy Alissa Coglitore Moore and Sergeant Rhonda Salvagni, who attempted to convince decedent to exit the van, as he was reluctant to do so. ( Id. ¶¶ 25-26.) Moore and Salvagni noticed that decedent was sweating, had abrasions to his face and arms, and was acting erratically; this led them to believe that he was under the influence of drugs. ( Id. ¶¶ 26-29.) Justice Center personnel were unable to convince decedent to exit the van, so Deputy Moore requested that Lieutenant James Barrella and Sergeant Mark Casselmon, members of the Sheriff's Emergency Response Team (SERT), report to the carport. ( Id. ¶¶ 33-34, 37.) The SERT unit is responsible for moving noncompliant, violent, or combative arrestees, and SERT members receive specialized training for these particular tasks. ( Id. ¶¶ 35-36.)

Lieutenant Barrella and Sergeant Casselmon then attempted to convince decedent to cooperate and voluntarily exit the van, which decedent began to do. ( Id. ¶¶ 41-43.) However, shortly after exiting the van, as he was being escorted into the Justice Center, decedent again began struggling with the officers, attempting to break their hold, and spitting. ( Id. ¶¶ 43, 45, 51.) The SERT members present responded by taking decedent to the ground in an attempt to gain control of him, placing him in emergency response belt restraints, and handcuffing his arms and legs. ( Id. ¶¶ 44-46, 49-51.) A spit hood was also placed on decedent's head. ( Id. ¶ 52.) Decedent was then carried to the Justice Center's time-out room, a room fitted with windows and cameras which allow Justice Center personnel to observe the occupant. ( Id. ¶¶ 54-56.) Decedent was placed face down in the time-out room, while still in restraints, in order to permit a nurse to safely examine him. ( Id. ¶ 56-57.)

Shortly after decedent was placed in the time-out room, he was observed by Nurse Sonya Santana. ( Id. ¶ 57.) Santana lifted the spit hood from decedent's face to observe his injuries; she observed that decedent was responsive and in no apparent distress, and there were no indications that he had any difficulty breathing. ( Id. ¶ 59.)

Following the examination by Santana, the SERT team attempted to remove the restraints and handcuffs from decedent, but he continued to be combative. ( Id. ¶ 62.) Decedent requested that the spit hood be removed from his head, and he was informed that he could remove it himself when the SERT team had left the room. ( Id. ¶ 63.) The SERT team then removed decedent's restraints and performed a "non-compliant exit" because decedent remained combative. ( Id. ¶¶ 64-66.) A "non-compliant exit" involves placing the individual in a figure four leg lock and controlling his hands so that officers can safely exit the room. ( Id. ¶¶ 64-65.) Upon performing the exit, some of the SERT team members returned to their original posts, while Sergeant Salvagni, Deputy Moore, Sergeant Casselmon and Lieutenant Barella remained at the door of the time-out room to monitor decedent. ( Id. ¶¶ 67-68.)

While observing decedent from outside of the time-out room, these officers noticed that decedent was not moving, and remained in a seemingly unnatural position after the SERT team exited the room. ( Id. ¶¶ 69-70.) While Sergeant Casselmon speculated that decedent may be dead, Sergeant Salvagni expressed concern that decedent was faking unconsciousness in an attempt to get the officers to re-enter the room. ( Id. ¶ 71.) When the officers' attempts to startle decedent failed to cause him to move, they decided that the SERT team should be reassembled to enter the room and check on decedent's condition. ( Id. ¶¶ 72-73.) Approximately seven minutes elapsed between the time that the SERT team first exited the time-out room and the time when they were re-assembled and entered the room for a second time to check on decedent. ( Id. ¶ 74.) Upon re-entry, SERT members discovered that decedent was unresponsive, and an ambulance was called. ( Id. ¶¶ 75-76.) Nurse Santana and SERT team members performed CPR until medical personnel arrived and took decedent to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. ( Id. ¶¶ 78-80.)

The parties dispute the actual cause of decedent's death. Following decedent's death, the Onondaga County Medical Examiner's office conducted an autopsy and concluded that the cause of death was sudden cardiac arrest due to cocaine induced excited delirium syndrome, with decedent's prone restraint as a contributory condition. ( Id. ¶ 87.) However, Dr. John Kirby, an expert retained by Pinet, opined that decedent's death was due to asphyxia during his restraint. (Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts (SMF) ¶ 19, Dkt. No. 29, Attach. 3 at 5-7; Dkt. No. 29, Attach. 9 at 2.) The Final Report of the New York State Commission of Correction regarding its investigation into the incident indicates the same. (Pl.'s SMF ¶ 16; Dkt. No. 29, Attach. 7 at 2.)

Pinet served a notice of claim on either October 18 or October 20, 2010, (Defs.' SMF ¶ 1; Dkt. No. 24, Attach. 1 at 2-5), commenced this action on November 8, 2011, ( see generally Compl., Dkt. No. 1), and filed an Amended Complaint on December 14, 2011, (Am. Compl.). ...

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