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Medina v. Police Officer Anthony Donaldson

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 14, 2014

DOMINGO MEDINA, Plaintiff,
v.
POLICE OFFICER ANTHONY DONALDSON and POLICE OFFICER CHARLES INGRASSIA, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

VERA M. SCANLON, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Domingo Medina ("Plaintiff" or "Mr. Medina") brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 ("Section 1983") alleging that Defendant Charles Ingrassia ("Officer Ingrassia" or "Defendant") and Defendant Police Officer Anthony Donaldson ("Officer Donaldson") (collectively, "Defendants") violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Mr. Medina alleged that Defendants used excessive force in his arrest and that Officer Ingrassia unlawfully arrested and maliciously prosecuted him. Mr. Medina also brought a malicious prosecution claim under state common law.[1] After a seven-day trial that was bifurcated into liability and damages stages, the jury found that Officer Ingrassia used excessive force against Mr. Medina after his arrest. The jury awarded Mr. Medina $5, 000 in compensatory damages and $16, 000 in punitive damages on this claim. Jury Damages Verdict, ECF No. 80. Defendant Officer Ingrassia moves for judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("FRCP") 50 or, in the alternative, for a new trial pursuant to FRCP 59. Defendant also moves to vacate the jury's award of punitive damages. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motions are denied. In addition, Plaintiff requested permission to file a cross-motion for judgment as a matter of law limited to the excessive force claim, specifically on a theory that Defendant failed to intervene.[2] Plaintiff's request is denied as moot in light of the Court's determination of Defendant's motions.

I. BACKGROUND

The trial concerned events of July 12, 2008, when New York City Police Department ("NYPD") officers responded to a noise complaint about a block party in Brooklyn, New York. In relevant part, the jury heard the testimony of Plaintiff, who was arrested at the party; Officer Ingrassia and Sergeant Mohammed Karimzada ("Sergeant Karimzada"), partners who arrested Plaintiff; Officer Donaldson, who transported Plaintiff to the 75th Precinct; Edgar Roberts ("Mr. Roberts"), the superintendent of the buildings outside of which the party was held and the father of the party's host; and Victor Joseph ("Mr. Joseph"), who attended the party and is Mr. Medina's brother-in-law. See Tr. ("Tr. 1"), ECF No. 70 (containing the testimony of Officer Donaldson); Tr. ("Tr. 2"), ECF No. 64 (containing the testimony of Officer Ingrassia, Mr. Roberts and Sergeant Karimzada); Tr. ("Tr. 3"), ECF No. 72 (containing the testimony of Mr. Roberts, Mr. Medina and Mr. Joseph); see also Tr. ("Tr. 4"), ECF No. 71 (containing Mr. Medina's testimony for the damages stage of the trial).[3]

According to Officer Ingrassia and Sergeant Karimzada, they handcuffed Mr. Medina after he pushed Sergeant Karimzada, causing the sergeant to suffer a cut to his knee. They further testified that Mr. Medina resisted arrest. See Tr. 2 41:6-52:1; 132:21-146:2. In contrast, Plaintiff and Mr. Roberts testified that Mr. Medina did not push Sergeant Karimzada, and that the officers pushed Mr. Medina to the ground, then punched and kicked him while handcuffing him. See Tr. 2 208:23-211:21; Tr. 3 99:2-106:4. It is undisputed that around the time of Mr. Medina's arrest, a bottle or bottles were thrown at the police officers from the nearby crowd. See, e.g., Tr. 2 42:19-25, 211:22-212:7; Tr. 3 50:18-51:4, 102:19-25. Concerning these claims, the jury found that there was no unlawful arrest and no excessive force used during the arrest. Verdict Sheet at I, ECF No. 59; Qualified Immunity Special Interrogatories ("Sp. Interrogs.") Nos. 1-3, ECF No. 60.

Defendant's motion involves events occurring between the time Mr. Medina was handcuffed and when he was transported by police to the 75th Precinct. Concerning these events, the jury found that Officer Ingrassia intentionally or recklessly subjected Mr. Medina to excessive force, in violation of Section 1983. Verdict Sheet at III. Specifically, the jury found that Officer Ingrassia used excessive force at, near or in a police car by punching Mr. Medina in his right eye, causing a black eye and a laceration to Mr. Medina's eyelid. Sp. Interrogs. Nos. 4-6.

At the close of Plaintiff's case, Defendants brought a FRCP 50 motion as to all claims, see Minute Entry, Mar. 13, 2013; Tr. 3 218:9-15. Defendant Officer Ingrassia now renews that motion, arguing that the verdict against him should be set aside as against the weight of the evidence; he also argues that the award of punitive damages was excessive. Def. Charles Ingrassia's Post-Trial Mot. ("Def. Mem.") 2, ECF No. 62; see Def.'s Reply Mem. in Further Supp. ("Def. Reply Mem."), ECF No. 75. Plaintiff opposes Defendant's motions. Pl.'s Am. Mem. of Law in Opp. ("Pl. Mem."), ECF No. 73.

After Defendant's motion was briefed, Plaintiff requested permission to file a crossmotion for judgment as a matter of law concerning the excessive force claim, on the theory that Defendant failed to intervene. Pl. Letter ("Pl. Letter 1"), ECF No. 76. As discussed infra, Defendant objected that Plaintiff failed to raise a FRCP 50 motion prior to the case being submitted to the jury. Def. Letter ("Def. Letter 1"), ECF No. 77. Plaintiff thereafter provided additional argument in opposition to Defendant's motion but did not reiterate his request to file a cross-motion. Pl. Letter ("Pl. Letter 2"), ECF No. 78. Defendant also provided additional argument in support of his motions. Def. Letter ("Def. Letter 2"), ECF No. 79. To the extent Plaintiff did not abandon his request to file a cross-motion, this Court addresses that request infra, Section II.D.

Concerning Defendant's motions under FRCP 50 and 59, the Court will now summarize the witnesses' testimony, focusing on the post-arrest events.

A. Mr. Medina's Trial Testimony

Mr. Medina testified to a violent arrest, during which he was lifted off his feet and dropped to the ground, hit and/or kicked while being handcuffed, and lifted painfully off the ground by the chain of the handcuffs. Tr. 3 103:8-105:25. According to Mr. Medina, after he was handcuffed, one officer held him, supporting and slightly carrying him, as he was escorted to a police car. Id. at 174:3-25. Mr. Medina did not remember which officer escorted him to the police car. Id . Before he was pushed into the police car, Mr. Medina recalled being violently pushed against the trunk of the car. Id. at 106:15-107:7. Mr. Medina testified that after he was placed in the car, he lay down on his right side and "[s]ome time" passed. Id. at 108:18-109:10. Two officers then opened the rear car doors, one on the right side and one on the left side. Id. at 109:5-112:21. The officer on his left held Mr. Medina's legs down while the officer on his right hit him around his head, neck and back. Id . The officers then closed the doors, but "a couple of seconds" later, three officers reached into the car, one each from the front, left and right, and began hitting him. Id . The officer on his right punched Mr. Medina in his eye area, causing a cut to the area of his right eye and forehead. Id . Mr. Medina was "dazed" and "saw black and blue, like colors, " from the blow. Id. at 113:7-16. Mr. Medina heard his brother-in-law, Mr. Joseph, say from outside the police car, "I see that, I see that. Why are you doing that to him?" and the beating stopped. Id. at 109:5-112:21. During this last encounter, Mr. Medina admittedly kicked out a car window. Id. at 109:5-112:21.

Mr. Medina also testified that he did not interact with Officer Donaldson until he was at the police precinct. Tr. 3 185:24-186:3. Throughout his testimony, he did not identify by name or by sight the individual officers who attacked him in the back of the police car.

B. Mr. Roberts's Trial Testimony

Mr. Roberts, who prior to the block party had never seen Mr. Medina, testified that a police officer grabbed Mr. Medina by the shoulder, then Mr. Medina "went to the floor." Tr. 2 208:23-211:21; Tr. 3 22:20-23:3. He saw officers punching and kicking Mr. Medina while he was on the ground being handcuffed, then he saw an officer pull him off the ground by his handcuffs. Tr. 2 208:23-211:21.

After observing Mr. Medina's arrest, Mr. Roberts observed Mr. Medina being led to the police car. Tr. 3 50:51-21. He stopped following Mr. Medina, and he told the crowd not to throw bottles. Id .; Tr. 2 213:25-214:6. He then observed Mr. Medina in the police car and saw that one of the car windows was smashed. Tr. 3 50:51-21. At that time, he was about fifteen to twenty feet away from the car. Tr. 2 213:17-20. He observed one officer outside of the car, kicking into the car, one officer in the front of the car punching Mr. Medina, and one officer on the other side of the car, punching Mr. Medina. Tr. 2 214:1-17. He did not see the punches land on Mr. Medina, but he saw the "action of punches." Tr. 3 50:12-51:21.

C. Mr. Joseph's Trial Testimony

Mr. Joseph observed Mr. Medina lying on the ground being hit by police officers; Mr. Medina appeared to be "partially unconscious, like he was going in and out of consciousness." Tr. 3 128:11-129:17. Mr. Joseph then saw Mr. Medina being "dragged" to a police car. Id.

Mr. Joseph also testified to seeing officers hitting Mr. Medina in the police car. Id. at 129:14-130:14. Mr. Joseph observed two officers in the back of the car and one in the front of the car. Id. at 132:12-25. Mr. Joseph was about one-and-a-half car lengths from Mr. Medina at that time. Id. at 129:14-130:14. Mr. Joseph told three different officers (not the officers attacking Mr. Medina), "I see what you all are doing to him" and/or "I'm standing right here watching you guys, " and they replied "it wasn't us" and/or "we are not the ones doing it." Id. at 130:20-131:7, 132:12-25. After Mr. Joseph spoke up, the officers attacking Mr. Medina stopped. Id. at 131:9-17; 132:12-25. Mr. Joseph believed that Mr. Medina "was going in and out of consciousness, " and he saw Mr. Medina kick out a car window. Id. at 132:12-25. Mr. Joseph moved within "three, four footsteps" of the car to see how badly Mr. Medina was injured, and Mr. Medina was then driven away. Id. at 132:12-133:14.

D. Officer Ingrassia's Trial Testimony

Officer Ingrassia testified that when Sergeant Karimzada was unplugging the speakers, Mr. Medina pushed Sergeant Karimzada to the ground, causing a cut to Sergeant Karimzada's knee; Mr. Medina also swung at Sergeant Karimzada, and they wrestled in front of the speakers. Tr. 2 37:13-38:5, 45:9-46:9. Officer Ingrassia then lifted Mr. Medina so that his feet were off the ground, then he "got Mr. Medina to the ground." Id. at 49:2-50:7. Mr. Medina kicked Officer Ingrassia while Mr. Medina was being handcuffed on the ground. Id.

Officer Ingrassia did not recall whether he was the only person holding Mr. Medina as he walked him to Officer Donaldson's police car. Id. at 53:23-54:5, 83:18-19. Mr. Medina struggled and tried to pull away while being walked to the police car. Id. at 53:13-22. Officer Ingrassia stated that,

At that point the situation was so irate and everything else, I had tunnel vision. I could not hear. You could see and smell stuff, but you couldn't - I couldn't hear what was going on, which [sic] I'm struggling with Mr. Medina moments before and attempting to put him in a - put him in a police car and get him to a safe environment before he enticed [sic] a riot with a bunch of drunk people from a party, that had been drinking alcohol and doing drugs.

Id. at 101:8-21.

Officer Ingrassia put Mr. Medina in the car and closed the door behind him. Id. at 83:22-25. He did not recall from which side of the car Mr. Medina entered. Id. at 54:23-25. Officer Ingrassia denied hitting Mr. Medina in the police car, and he denied seeing anyone hit Mr. Medina. Id. at 54:14-17. Officer Ingrassia testified that he and Sergeant Karimzada stayed in the area of the police car for approximately five minutes before Mr. Medina was driven to the precinct. Id. at 54:6-13. He stayed close to the vehicle because "somebody has to watch the person, the prisoner, at that point so that they can't escape or somebody else can't open the door and let them out, " and this was Officer Ingrassia's responsibility. Id. at 84:7-12. He testified that during this time, he observed Mr. Medina hit a window with his head several times until the window broke; Mr. Medina also kicked another window which did not break. Id. at 55:8-56:20, 66:11-67:4, 84:17-85:4. At trial, Officer Ingrassia also confirmed as accurate his Civilian Complaint Review Board ("CCRB") interview testimony that he "just let [Mr. Medina] kick out the windows, " and "it was not like we were going to stop him." Id. at 67:20-69:17.

According to Officer Ingrassia, after he put Mr. Medina in the police car and closed the door, neither he nor anyone else opened the car door or touched Mr. Medina, including before and after Mr. Medina broke the car window. Id. at 55:1-22; see id. at 83:22-25. Sergeant Karimzada then ordered Officer Donaldson to take Mr. Medina back to the precinct, and Officer Ingrassia went to voucher the speakers. Id. at 84:13-16, 85:5-21.

E. Sergeant Karimzada's Trial Testimony

Sergeant Karimzada testified that as he was unplugging the speakers, Mr. Medina pushed him to the ground, causing him to suffer a cut to his knee. Tr. 2 132:25-138:17. Sergeant Karimzada then stood up and saw Officer Ingrassia "trying to subdue Mr. Medina." Id . He saw Mr. Medina push Officer Ingrassia. Id. at 173:11-174:13. Sergeant Karimzada and Officer Ingrassia attempted for "[a] couple of minutes" to put Mr. Medina in handcuffs while he was standing up, then they "decided that he [was] not going to cooperate, " and they "had to bring him down to the ground." Id. at 132:25-138:17; see id. at 174:9-13 ("Officer Ingrassia got him to the ground."). Sergeant Karimzada testified that Mr. Medina kicked Officer Ingrassia while he was on the ground, being handcuffed. Id. at 169:2-173:5. During the arrest, Sergeant Karimzada and Officer Ingrassia were the only officers on the scene. Id . 162:14-16.

Sergeant Karimzada and Officer Ingrassia walked Mr. Medina to the police car, with Sergeant Karimzada walking on the left side. Tr. 2 146:4-19. Sergeant Karimzada could not say whether he was holding Mr. Medina along with Officer Ingrassia, but testified that "[n]ormally, we do." Id . After Mr. Medina was placed in the car, Sergeant Karimzada left to deal with the crowd while staying "not too far" from the police car because Mr. Medina "was acting violently in the vehicle and [Sergeant Karimzada] just wanted to make sure that he was removed from the scene as quickly as possible." Id. at 146:25-147:17. Sergeant Karimzada testified both that he observed Mr. Medina "head-butting" one car window and kicking the other window with both feet, id. at 147:16-148:1, ...


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