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John v. City of New York

United States District Court, E.D. New York

April 2, 2014

DARIO COLON and MICHAEL ST. JOHN, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, LIEUTENANT PATRICK RYAN, DETECTIVE ANDREW PRENDERGAST (Shield #3769), DETECTIVE WILLIE JOHNSON, DETECTIVE CHRISTOPHER WARD and POLICE OFFICERS JOHN DOE 1-5, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

MARGO K. BRODIE, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Dario Colon and Michael St. John brought the above-captioned action against Defendants City of New York, Lieutenant Patrick Ryan, Detective Andrew Prendergast, Detective Willie Johnson, Detective Christopher Ward and Police Officers John Doe 1-5 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and New York state law for false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution, unlawful search, failure to intervene, denial of their rights to a fair trial and municipal liability. (Docket Entry No. 1.) Plaintiffs withdrew their municipal liability and state law false arrest claims. (Minute Entry dated Nov. 30, 2012.) Defendants subsequently moved for partial summary judgment seeking to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims for malicious prosecution, unlawful search, failure to intervene and denial of the right to a fair trial, as well as dismissing Johnson and Ward as Defendants. At oral argument on November 8, 2013, the Court granted Defendants' motion in part, denied it in part and reserved decision in part. The Court denied summary judgment as to Plaintiffs' malicious prosecution and denial of fair trial claims against Ryan, Prendergast and Johnson, and failure to intervene claim as to all Defendants. The Court granted summary judgment on Plaintiffs' unlawful search claim against Johnson. The Court also dismissed Plaintiffs' malicious prosecution and denial of fair trial claims against Ward and Plaintiffs' unlawful search claim against Ryan, Prendergast and Ward because they were abandoned by Plaintiffs. (Minute Entry dated Nov. 8, 2013.) The Court reserved decision on Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to Ward and Johnson on the basis of the collective knowledge doctrine in view of Defendants' request to submit additional briefing on the issue.[1] ( Id. ) For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to Ward and Johnson on the basis of the collective knowledge doctrine.

I. Factual Background

a. Events leading to Plaintiffs' January 14, 2008 arrests

On January 14, 2008, Ryan, Prendergast, Johnson and Ward were on patrol. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 1-2; Pl. 56.1 ¶¶ 1-2.) Ryan and Prendergast were patrolling together in one vehicle, and Johnson and Ward were assigned to a second vehicle known as the prisoner van. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 1; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 1.) Ryan was the supervisor. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 2; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 2.) At approximately 7:00 p.m., Ryan and Prendergast were in their car patrolling in the vicinity of Sheffield and Livonia Avenues in Brooklyn. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 3; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 3.)

According to Defendants, while at the corner of Sheffield and Livonia Avenues, Ryan and Prendergast observed Plaintiffs take turns walking to a vehicle parked nearby, pick up an object from the rear wheel well of the vehicle, put the object in their waistbands, walk to the street corner, return to the vehicle and return the object to the rear wheel well of the vehicle. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 4; Ryan Dep. 64:9-65:6, 73:9-20.) Plaintiffs dispute that they performed these acts. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 4.)

While Ryan and Prendergast were observing Plaintiffs, Johnson and Ward were three or four blocks away. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 5; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 5.) Ryan telephoned Johnson and told him of a possible investigation into two individuals who were "going back and forth from messing around near a car tire."[2] (Ryan Dep. 78:18-21; Johnson Dep. 17:14-17, 24:13-25:1.) Ryan told Johnson to come to the Sheffield and Livonia area, (Johnson Dep. 17:3-7), and Johnson instructed Ward, who was driving, to proceed to that area, (Ward Dep. 5:2-11). Ward understood that they were going to the location "because we were conducting an investigation, " ( id. at 6:5-9), however when asked if there was "any particular reason why [he] w[as] instructed to report to that particular location at that time, " Ward did not remember, ( id. at 6:10-12). Once Johnson and Ward were nearby, Ryan told Johnson to move in, but did not tell him why. (Johnson Dep. 19:7-25.) Johnson and Ward stopped Plaintiffs and interviewed them, asking for pedigree information. (Ward Dep. 6:23-8:6.)

b. Recovery of firearm and arrest of Plaintiffs

According to Defendants, once Plaintiffs were stopped, Ryan instructed Prendergast to walk over to the vehicle and Prendergast recovered a firearm from the top of a rear tire. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 8.) Plaintiffs contend that Defendants searched for approximately five to seven minutes in the vicinity of Sheffield and Livonia Avenues before showing Colon a firearm. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 8.) Plaintiffs did not observe the recovery of the firearm. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 9; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 9.) Plaintiffs assert that Johnson, not Prendergast, recovered the weapon. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 10; Pl. Opp. 11-12.) According to Colon, the officer who recovered the weapon was African-American and was not present at his trial. (Colon Dep. 203:15-21; 181:4-182:4.) Prendergast testified at Colon's trial. (Prendergast Dep. 115:15-19.) Counsel for Defendants confirmed at oral argument that Prendergast and Johnson were the African-American officers involved in Plaintiffs' arrest. (Oral Arg. Tr. 32:8-14.)

Prendergast was the arresting officer and he approached and "cuffed" Plaintiffs. (Ward Dep. 8:5-13; Def. 56.1 ¶ 10.) At the time Plaintiffs were handcuffed, Ward did not have any knowledge of why Plaintiffs were being arrested, and had not seen Prendergast recover a weapon nor had he been shown a weapon. (Ward Dep. 8:10-24.) Ward did not personally observe the Plaintiffs engage in any unlawful acts. ( Id. at 4:21-23.) At some point in time Johnson received information about Plaintiffs being in possession of a firearm from another officer, but neither Johnson nor Ward had observed Plaintiffs in possession of a firearm. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 11.)

Following the arrest of Plaintiffs, Johnson prepared the arrest reports, which state that "at t/p/o [time place occurrence] deft was observed with apprehended other [sic] in possession of a loaded firearm." (Def. Exs. 8, 9.) Johnson admits that this information "might be inaccurate, because I don't believe anybody seen them with the gun." (Johnson Dep. 43:3-22.) Johnson also prepared a complaint report in which he stated that "at t/p/o [time place occurrence] defendants w[]ere observed placing a loaded firearm on [the] tire of a[n] automobile." (Def. Ex. 10.) In the arrest reports, Johnson wrote that the manufacturer of the firearm recovered at the scene was "American Arms Inc." (Def. Exs. 8, 9.) Photographs of the weapon show that it is stamped "N.E.F. Co., Inc." and "H & R Mag, " (Def. Ex. 12), and the "Evidence Collection Team Report, " and two "Request(s) for Laboratory Examination Reports" prepared following Plaintiffs' arrest describe the weapon as an "H & R Mag., " (Def. Exs. 13, 14).

c. Plaintiffs' indictments and criminal trials

Plaintiffs were indicted by a Grand Jury for Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second and Fourth Degrees. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 12, 15; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 12, 15.) On October 4, 2010, following a criminal trial, St. John was found "not guilty" as to the charges of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree. (Def. Ex. 19.) In a separate trial, Colon was found "not guilty" as to the charges of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree. (Def. Ex. 20.)

II. Relevant History of Proceeding

The Court heard oral arguments on Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment on November 8, 2013. (Minute Entry dated Nov. 8, 2013.) The Court denied summary judgment on Plaintiffs' malicious prosecution and denial of fair trial claims against Ryan, Prendergast and Johnson. The Court found that, based on the evidence in the record, a reasonable jury could find that false ...


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