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Chamberlain v. City of White Plains

United States District Court, S.D. New York

December 10, 2013

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN, JR., as the Administrator of the Estate of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF WHITE PLAINS, WHITE PLAINS HOUSING AUTHORITY, POLICE OFFICER ANTHONY CARELLI, POLICE OFFICER STEVEN HART, POLICE OFFICER MAURICE LOVE, POLICE OFFICER STEVEN DEMCHUK, POLICE OFFICER MAREK MARKOWSKI, SERGEANT STEPHEN FOTTRELL, SERGEANT KEITH MARTIN, and LIEUTENANT JAMES SPENCER, Defendants

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For Plaintiff: Randolph M. McLaughlin, Debra S. Cohen, Jeffrey M. Norton, Newman Ferrara LLP, New York, New York.

For City of White Plains, Love, Demchuk, Markowski, Fottrell, Martin, and Spencer, Defendants: Peter A. Meisels, John M. Flannery, Lalit K. Loomba, Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker LLP, White Plains, New York.

For White Plains Housing Authority, Defendant: Lance H. Klein, Jaclyn G. Bernstein, Keane & Beane, P.C., White Plains, New York.

For Hart, Defendant: Albert W. Cornachio III, Pappalardo & Pappalardo, LLP, Rye Brook, New York.

For Carelli, Defendant: Andrew C. Quinn, The Quinn Law Firm, PLLC, White Plains, New York.

OPINION

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OPINION AND ORDER

Seibel, J.

Before the Court are the Motions to Dismiss of Defendants City of White Plains (the " City" ), Police Officers Maurice Love, Steven Demchuk, and Marek Markowski,

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Sergeants Stephen Fottrell and Keith Martin, and Lieutenant James Spencer (collectively, the " City Defendants" ), (Doc. 45), Defendant White Plains Housing Authority (" WPHA" ), (Doc. 58), Defendant Police Officer Anthony Carelli, (Doc. 65), and Defendant Police Officer Steven Hart, (Doc. 62). For the reasons set forth below, the City Defendants' Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART, WPHA's Motion is GRANTED, Carelli's Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART, and Hart's Motion is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

For the purposes of the instant Motions to Dismiss, I accept as true the facts, but not the conclusions, as set forth in the Amended Complaint (" Complaint" or " AC" ), (Doc. 36), and accompanying audio and video recordings of the incident in question.[1]

On the morning of November 19, 2011, Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. (" Chamberlain" ) was in his apartment at 135 South Lexington Ave., part of the Winbrook Houses development, in White Plains, New York. (AC ¶ 10.) Chamberlain, a 68-year-old man with serious health problems, had a " Life Aid" medical alert device that was monitored around the clock. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 10-11.) At approximately 5:00 a.m., Chamberlain's alert device was accidentally triggered, sending a notification to the Life Aid monitoring center and activating a two-way communication device in his apartment that immediately began recording communications between the monitoring center and the apartment. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 10, 12.) Chamberlain can be heard in the background stating, " You can't hide from me. What I'm gonna do is give you a good ass wuppin . . . Give you a good . . . Well, I'll give you a good ass wuppin." (Life Aid Transcript 1.) When Chamberlain did not respond to the Life Aid operator over the communication device, Life Aid contacted the White Plains Department of Public Safety (" WPDPS" ) to report the unanswered medical alert, and an ambulance was dispatched along with Defendant Love. (AC ¶ ¶ 13-15.) Upon running a computer check on Chamberlain and his home address, the WPDPS dispatch officer learned that there had been several " emotionally disturbed person calls" involving Chamberlain and his address, and he dispatched Defendants Markowski and Martin to join Love at the scene, advising the responding officers of the possibility of encountering an emotionally disturbed person (" EDP" ). ( Id. ¶ 16.)

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Chamberlain refused entry to the responding officers and paramedics, telling them through his door that he had not called for them and was not in need of assistance. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 17, 27, 31.) Nevertheless, the officers banged on the door,[2] demanding that Chamberlain admit them because they had to visually confirm that he was not in need of assistance. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 26, 28, 30.) The Life Aid operator established contact with Chamberlain, and repeatedly advised him to open the door for the police so that they could confirm he was all right. (Life Aid Transcript 4-5.) Chamberlain steadfastly refused, stating, " I did not call the police. I did not call the police . . . I will not open my door . . . . No, I will not open my door. I will not open my door. I will not open my door. This is an alert . . . This is an alert . . . This is an alert, this is an alert from Washington, D.C. An all points bulletin all areas. I am being overrun by the White Plains Police Department. They're pounding on my door and I did not call for them." ( Id.)

After Chamberlain's continued refusal to open the door, Martin contacted Defendant Spencer, the ranking officer at police headquarters, and requested that tactical officers respond to the scene. (AC ¶ ¶ 17, 22.) Spencer dispatched Defendants Carelli, Demchuk, Fottrell, and Hart, directing them to take tactical gear with them. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 17, 19.) Carelli and Hart were part of the Neighborhood Conditions Unit, a tactical unit of the White Plains Police Department assigned to patrol the area including the Winbrook Houses. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 23-24.) WPHA, the municipal agency responsible for the Winbrook Houses, had previously provided the Neighborhood Conditions Unit with a master key to that complex, affording the police the ability to access apartments when necessary without resorting to forced entry. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 6, 25.) In addition to this master key, the officers outside Chamberlain's apartment were now equipped with an axe, a Halligan tool (similar to a crowbar), pepper spray, a riot shield, Tasers, a beanbag shotgun, and their standard sidearms. ( Id. ¶ 21.)

The encounter between Chamberlain and the police continued to be recorded by the Life Aid communication device in Chamberlain's apartment, even as the Life Aid operator repeatedly urged him to open the door so the police could see that no one was in need of medical attention. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 29-31.) Chamberlain repeatedly stated to the police and the Life Aid operator that he had not activated his alert device and that he was fine and wanted the police to leave, and so the Life Aid operator called WPDPS again in an attempt to cancel the medical alert. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 31, 33.) The police refused to abide by Life Aid's request to cancel the call and informed the Life Aid operator that they intended to enter the apartment using the master key. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 33-34; Life Aid Transcript 7.) Either Hart or Martin used the key to open the door to Chamberlain's apartment, but Chamberlain had engaged his safety chain lock that prevented the officers from opening the door more than a few inches. (AC ¶ ¶ 41.)[3] Martin wedged the Halligan tool through the partially open door to keep it ajar. ( Id. ¶ 42.)

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Life Aid was able to make contact with Chamberlain's sister Carol Matthew, his emergency contact, who informed the operator that her daughter Tonyia Greenhill,[4] Chamberlain's niece, lived in the same building. ( Id. ¶ 35.) While on the phone with the Life Aid operator, Matthew called Greenhill, who went to Chamberlain's door. (Life Aid Transcript 11-12.) The officers would not allow Greenhill to speak to Chamberlain, (AC ¶ ¶ 36-37), but Greenhill told her mother and the Life Aid operator that " Uncle Kenny is going crazy in there . . . he's talking like real crazy out of his head," (Life Aid Transcript 11). Greenhill handed her cell phone to Officer Carelli, and Matthew informed him that Chamberlain " does have a mental problem," to which Carelli responded, " Ok, yeah, that's what we kinda wanna check out we just wanna make sure he's ok." ( Id.) Later, the Life Aid operator speaks to Matthew again, who states that " he's on medication . . . psychiatric medication." ( Id. at 37-38.)

As the confrontation continued for more than an hour, the Life Aid recordings capture how Chamberlain became increasingly agitated, having multiple delusions or hallucinations. (AC ¶ ¶ 38, 45.) At one point Chamberlain stated, " Go the fuck on home, go home . . . . Go home to your wives, go home to your wives and your children . . . . You kidnapped my grandchildren, you kidnapped my wife, you, you, you, raped my daughter." (Life Aid Transcript 15.) The officers are alleged to have continued to speak loudly and threateningly to Chamberlain through the door, mocking him, disrespecting him, and using at least one racial slur. (AC ¶ ¶ 39-40.)[5] The recordings indicate that Chamberlain made several threats to the officers outside his door. ( See Life Aid Transcript 15 (" C'mon in, shoot me if you want to, shoot me but I'm gonna get one of you motherfuckers. I'm gonna get one of you motherfuckers." ); id. at 16 (" The first one coming through that door I'm gonna kill." ); id. at 17 (" [Y]ou see I'm standing here with the coup de gras." ); id. at 22 (" Ok. Somebody's gonna die tonight. It may be me, but somebody else is gonna die." ); id. at 35 (" That shield you got ain't gonna stop nothing." ).)

Martin kicked the door several times without succeeding at breaking it open. (AC ¶ 42.) During this time, Chamberlain was continuing to hallucinate and threaten the officers, stating, " They are trying to break in to murder me . . . You can talk that shit if you wanna. I know what the deal is. I've talked to the President and Vice President Biden . . . . Secret Service is on their way . . . . Check with Judge Leak. Judge Leak knows what's going on . . . You hear that Mr. President and Mr. Attorney General. I never called the police department." (Life Aid Transcript 21-23; see also id. at 25-26 (" Ay, ay. Blackfoot. Blackfoot, USMC, Blackfoot, Semper Fi, do or die. Run 'em hard, run 'em high . . . . I'm a Nomad . . . . But I'm in God's hands. If I have to be sacrificed for the good of many, alright . . . . My marines will be here shortly." ); id. at 31 (" [W]orld wide alert. You have my sworn testimony . . . CME Church, Mount Cavalry, CME Church, you hear that Fran, Ella, Sister Mott, Sister Celia, CME Church, Pastor Wheeler, Pastor Clayton,

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the CME, the CME Church gets that money. You have sworn testimony from me. As God is my witness that's where I want that money to go." ).) Chamberlain can also be heard talking at several points as if someone else was in the apartment. ( See, e.g., id. at 23 (" Lynette, you better keep quite [ sic ]. That's right." ); id. at 25 (" Don't take Loretta." ).)

At some point, Chamberlain armed himself with a knife, and the officers repeatedly ordered Chamberlain to drop it. ( See, e.g., id. at 21 (" Drop your weapon." ); id. at 23 (" We need you to put that knife down." ); id. at 24 (" Put the knife down and let us see you and then we can go away." ).) Martin can be heard reporting to another officer that " he's got a big butcher's knife . . . We have a Halligan tool holding the door open . . . Every time we come to the door he sticks a knife out . . . he's told me 5,000 times first man who comes through the door he's gonna kill." ( Id. at 22). Chamberlain confirmed to the Life Aid operator that he had a weapon. ( See id. at 24 (" [Life Aid:] 'Ok, do you have a weapon Mr. Chamberlain?' [Chamberlain:] 'I have a weapon. I am protecting myself.'" ).)

Fottrell tried several times to explain to Chamberlain why he needed to let them in. ( See id. at 23 (" Ok, we are here now and we have to make sure that you are fine. Once we make sure you are fine then we are outta here and that will be that. Is that ok with you?" ); id. at 24 (" Mr. Chamberlain, we are not here to [] hurt you. We are here to give you a hand, help you out." ); id. at 26 (" Mr. Chamberlain, we'll take you to the hospital and make sure you are ok." ); id. at 27 (" Open the door[,] we'll talk to you, we'll have the ambulance check you out and then we'll leave. That's all it's gonna take. You're making a big deal out of this. C'mon. It's gonna take ten minutes with the ambulance to check you out and see if you are ok, and we can leave." ).) When he was unsuccessful at making progress communicating with Chamberlain, Fottrell asked Chamberlain if there was " somebody else besides me who you want to talk to?" but Chamberlain did not respond. ( Id. at 28.)

After more than an hour, Fottrell ordered Carelli to cut the safety lock using bolt cutters. (AC ¶ 42; see Life Aid Transcript 29 (" They broke the lock Mr. President. They broke my door lock, my safety lock." ).) Fottrell drew his Taser, which was mounted with a small video camera that began recording. (AC ¶ 49; see Taser Transcript.) Demchuk and Love then forcibly removed the door from its hinges, and Demchuk, Martin, and Fottrell pushed the door several times. (AC ¶ ¶ 42-43; see Life Aid Transcript 35 (" They are taking the hinges off the door. They are getting ready to break through. I hear you. They're breaking through. They're breaking through Mr. President . . . I'm outnumbered and I can't hold them." ); Taser Transcript 8 (same).) Fottrell can be heard stating, " I need some lethal cover here." (Taser Transcript 8.) As the door fell away, the video recording shows Chamberlain standing in his apartment six to eight feet away from the door, wearing only his underwear. (AC ¶ ¶ 49, 54.) The following dialogue was recorded by the Taser camera:

Demchuk: He's right here. He's right behind the door. Are you ready?
Unknown: Kenny, Kenny, Kenny.
Demchuk: We don't wanna hurt you, come on.
Chamberlain: Leave, I did not call you. I did not call you. Leave.
[Inaudible.]
Fottrell: Shield up, shield up.
Unknown: Gonna get this fucker he comes flying out.

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Fottrell: Pull that thing out.
Demchuk: I'm gonna kick it.
Fottrell: He's around it.
[TASER DEPLOYED]
Unknown: Alright, ...

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