United States District Court, E.D. New York
BRIAN M. COGAN, District Judge.
Plaintiffs bring this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming violations of their constitutional rights resulting from police searches of a house in Brooklyn (the "Premises"). Plaintiffs also allege a Monell claim and related state law claims. This opinion sets forth the basis for the Court's Order, dated December 31, 2014, granting defendants' motion for summary judgment and denying plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment.
The following facts are not in dispute. On January 30, 2013, a man was shot on Chauncey Street in Brooklyn. After receiving a radio call about the shooting at around 1 p.m., police officers from Brooklyn's 73rd Precinct, a few of whom are defendants, responded to the scene. Upon their arrival, the officers learned from several witnesses that the shooter ran into the Premises, a three story residential building where all plaintiffs were either residing or visiting that day. Defendant Sergeant Shafidiya relayed this message to defendant Deputy Inspector Gulotta, the commanding officer of the 73rd Precinct, who was not yet on scene. Deputy Inspector Gulotta ordered the establishment of a perimeter around the Premises to ensure that nobody entered or left. An Emergency Services Unit ("ESU") team was brought in to search the Premises for the shooter.
Prior to the ESU's initial search, one precinct member, defendant Officer Van Pelt, was assigned to conduct surveillance on a rooftop near the Premises. Before he went up on the roof, another officer stationed in the park behind the Premises reported to him that an unidentified witness said that someone jumped over the back fence of the Premises. Officer Van Pelt reported this information to defendant Sergeant Tavares.
Once the ESU arrived, they conducted a "perp search", which consisted of a floor-byfloor search of the rooms, to locate and detain the shooter. All occupants (including plaintiffs) were asked to leave the Premises and were detained for a period of time. Plaintiffs Brown and Farrier both resided at the Premises, but were not home at the time of the search.
Defendants temporarily detained all plaintiffs. Although plaintiffs Chambers and Dawkins saw and heard the police escorting people out of the Premises, they returned to Chambers' room and closed the door. When the officers entered Chambers' room, both Chambers and Dawkins were seated. Chambers jumped from his chair, which was within arms' reach of the officer. The officer knocked Chambers down with his shield, hitting Chambers' left wrist. Plaintiff Dawkins also stood from his seat, and was knocked to the floor by an officer's shield. Dawkins suffered a cut to his lip.
While exiting the basement of the Premises, plaintiff Martins was pushed down and bent over in order to be handcuffed. He suffered no physical injuries. Defendants encountered plaintiff Arnon while he was exiting the basement. He informed the police that he was in possession of a phone and a knife. As he was removing an item from his pocket - his phone - police slapped it out of his hand. Plaintiff Arnon suffered no physical injuries.
The initial "perp search" did not reveal the shooter. However, ESU officers observed contraband during their search and conveyed this information to Deputy Inspector Gulotta. Once the "perp search" concluded, control of the Premises was given to the 73rd Precinct.
After the ESU departed, and within 30 minutes after the initial sweep, officers from the Precinct conducted a "secondary search" of the Premises to make sure that the shooter was not still inside and to protect the Precinct officers instructed to remain at the Premises while a warrant was being obtained. During this sweep officers observed marijuana in the basement and three rooms on the first floor of the Premises. In addition, they observed a firearm in a basement hall closet accessible to all occupants. Rather than seize the contraband, Deputy Inspector Gulotta instructed the officers to leave it and continue sweeping the Premises for additional occupants.
Once it was determined that nobody remained in the building, defendants Sergeant Tavares and Officer Fox went to the District Attorney's office to secure a search warrant for the Premises based on the presence of the contraband. A warrant was obtained at approximately 11:15 p.m. and was executed at 11:50 p.m. The contraband was collected during this search.
All plaintiffs except Brown, Farrier, and Evony Howard were brought to the Precinct for questioning. Plaintiffs Lespierre, Arnon, Martins, Adam Howard, and Myles were arrested in connection with the seized contraband. Only plaintiffs Lespierre and Arnon were charged, but the charges were eventually dismissed or adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. The remaining plaintiffs were released without charge.