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United States v. Gonzalez

United States District Court, S.D. New York

May 22, 2015



PAUL A. ENGELMAYER, District Judge.

On July 2, 2014, two New York Police Department ("NYPD") police officers responded to an anonymous tip to the effect that a Hispanic male, wearing distinctive clothing and located at a particular intersection in the Bronx, was in possession of a silver pistol. Moments after arriving at that intersection, and after observing that a man matching that description had a suspicious bulge in his pants, the officers stopped, questioned, and ultimately arrested the man- defendant Christian Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, who was later indicted, now seeks to suppress (1) the gun that the officers recovered from his person, (2) crack cocaine that officers recovered from him during a later strip search at the police precinct, and (3) statements he made on both occasions. He argues, on three grounds, that his constitutional rights were violated: First, he argues that the officers lacked justification to stop him. Second, he argues that the officers lacked justification to conduct a strip search. Third, he claims that he was never informed of his Miranda rights.

For the following reasons, Gonzalez's motion to suppress is denied as to the gun and associated statements, but granted as to the narcotics and associated statements.

I. Procedural History

On July 2, 2014, Gonzalez was arrested. On October 23, 2014, a Grand Jury returned an Indictment, charging Gonzalez with (1) possession of a controlled substance, crack cocaine, with intent to distribute it, and (2) possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking. Dkt. 7.

On January 9, 2015, Gonzalez filed a motion to suppress physical evidence that police officers obtained and statements he made on July 2, 2014, Dkt. 17, along with a supporting memorandum of law, Dkt. 18 ("Def. Br."), a declaration by his counsel, Dkt. 19 ("Kaminsky Decl."), and a sworn declaration from Gonzalez attesting to the events of July 2, 2014, Dkt. 20. That declaration was amended on January 12, 2015. Dkt. 21 ("Gonzalez Decl."). On January 30, 2015, the Government submitted a memorandum of law in opposition, Dkt. 25 ("Gov. Br."), and a sworn declaration from the arresting officer, Dkt. 26 ("Rios Decl.").

On March 31, 2015, the Court began a suppression hearing and heard testimony from three witnesses. See Dkt. 37 ("Tr."). On May 20, 2015, the Court concluded that hearing and heard argument.

II. Factual Findings

A. Evidence Presented

The facts found by the Court are based on the evidence adduced at the suppression hearing, which principally consisted of the testimony of three police officers.[1] Officers Luis Rios and Anthony Grosso were present for the initial stop, questioning, and arrest. Officers Rios and Joshua Mute were present for the strip search at the police precinct, although only Officer Rios was in position to testify as to the circumstances that led to the strip search. Gonzalez submitted a sworn declaration before the hearing, but he did not testify. The Court also received several exhibits, namely, an audio recording of the police radio transmission, a stop-and-frisk form completed by Officer Rios, the firearm and narcotics recovered from Gonzalez's person, an audio recording of an Internal Affairs Bureau ("IAB") interview with Officer Rios, and various photographs.

At the Court's request, the Government provided, and the Court received, supplemental exhibits after the hearing, namely, a copy of the 49th Precinct's log book from July 2, 2014, a report indicating the weight of the firearm seized from Gonzalez's pocket, Gonzalez's rap sheet, an FBI log listing when police officers have searched for Gonzalez's rap sheet, and several documents related to Officer Rios's internal disciplinary proceedings. Dkt. 33, 35, 39.

B. Credibility of Officer Rios

A central issue as to both parts of Gonzalez's suppression motion is whether to credit the testimony of Officer Rios. Officer Rios's testimony at the suppression hearing raised substantial issues as to his overall credibility. The Court therefore addresses his credibility as a threshold issue. After giving the matter close attention, the Court, regrettably, finds that Officer Rios was a sufficiently compromised witness that, except where his testimony was corroborated or had other indicia of reliability, the Court cannot generally treat the controverted parts of his testimony as truthful. This conclusion has two bases.

1. Disciplinary Violations Bearing on Credibility

In his capacity as a NYPD officer, Officer Rios has pled guilty to three internal disciplinary violations that bear on his trustworthiness.

First, Officer Rios pled guilty to wrongfully embellishing facts and circumstances surrounding an allegation that another member of the NYPD struck him with a scooter. Tr. 110. Officer Rios had claimed that another officer, Officer Glynn, hit him with a police scooter outside of the 114th Precinct in Queens. Tr. 89-90. Officer Rios's original allegation was vivid and detailed; he asserted, for example, that Officer Glynn hit him so hard that he went flying into the air, Tr. 96, and that Officer Glynn smelled like alcohol, Tr. 103. Later, however, Officer Rios admitted and pled guilty to falsely making those accusations. Tr. 94.

Second, Officer Rios pled guilty to making accusations against other NYPD officers to the Civilian Complaint Review Board ("CCRB") and Office of Equal Employment Opportunity ("OEEO") with no legitimate purpose. Tr. 121. Specifically, Officer Rios had accused other officers, including supervisors, of harassing him on several occasions. Tr. 90-91. Again, he pled guilty to fabricating those allegations. Tr. 90, 121.

Third, Officer Rios pled guilty to interfering with an official NYPD investigation by lying to the IAB. Tr. 122-23. This charge arose out of the IAB's investigation of Officer Rios's allegations regarding harassment by other officers. Tr. 91. During an interview, Officer Rios told IAB investigators that he did not recall the substance of certain telephone conversations he had had with representatives from the CCRB and OEEO. Id. Officer Rios later admitted that, at the time of the IAB interview, he had, in fact, remembered the pertinent information and had falsely stated that he did not. Tr. 92.

2. False Testimony At, or Revealed By, the Suppression Hearing

Officer Rios's testimony at the suppression hearing was also problematic on its own terms. During that testimony, Officer Rios admitted to prior occasions in which he had given false testimony. Equally disquieting, several aspects of Officer Rios's testimony at the suppression hearing were, in the Court's judgment, untruthful.

First, Officer Rios, at the suppression hearing, testified that, as to two of the charges to which he pled guilty, those guilty pleas were false- i.e., when he pled guilty before the IAB, he was lying. Tr. 94, Thus, Officer Rios testified, it had in fact been true that Officer Glynn had him with a scooter, Tr. 89, and so, when Officer Rios pled guilty before the IAB to wrongfully embellishing facts relating to that accusation against Officer Glynn, Officer Rios was lying, Tr. 110. Similarly, Officer Rios testified that he had, in fact, been harassed by other officers, Tr. 91, and he had accurately reported that harassment to the OEEO (but not the CCRB), Tr. 90-91. Thus, when Officer Rios later pled guilty before the IAB to making accusations about such harassment without a factual basis, he was again lying, i.e., he was not guilty, Tr. 121. Officer Rios explained that he had falsely pled guilty before the IAB because he "wanted the case to be closed and put behind [him] for [him] to move forward." Tr. 92. To be sure, Officer Rios's testimony as to these two prior incidents left this Court uncertain on which occasion Officer Rios had lied: (1) when he entered his guilty pleas before the IAB, as he testified before this Court, or (2) when he testified before this Court to the effect that he had lied before the TAB. Regardless, Officer Rios's testimony at the suppression hearing revealed that, either before the IAB or before this Court, he had given untruthful testimony as to these important matters.[2]

Officer Rios's testimony to the effect that he had pled guilty twice despite being not guilty was sufficiently jarring that the Court explored, during this testimony, whether there was a rational explanation for doing so. The Court surmised that perhaps Officer Rios's original claim that he had been hit by the scooter of a drunken Officer Glynn had been true; that Officer Rios's accusation to that effect against Officer Glynn had triggered retaliatory harassment of him by other officers; and that, to put an end to the harassment, Officer Rios ultimately decided to renounce both his claim against Officer Glynn and his claim of harassment by other officers, even though both those claims were true. This theory would have accounted for why Officer Rios had made his initial claims against Officer Glynn and his ensuing claim of harassment. It also would have explained Officer Rios's later decision, against his apparent self-interest, to plead guilty to fabricating those claims. However, Officer Rios did not account for his guilty pleas in these terms. On the contrary, when the Court pointedly asked Officer Rios whether he had falsely pled guilty before the IAB to avoid harassment, Officer Rios responded, no, and denied that the harassment he experienced was related to the scooter incident involving Officer Glynn. Tr. 94. Officer Rios's testimony thereby foreclosed this relatively benign explanation for his decisions to plead guilty.

As to the third charge to which he pled guilty, interfering with an official NYPD investigation, Officer Rios did not dispute the factual basis for this plea. He testified on direct examination that he had lied to the IAB when he had stated that he did not remember certain calls he had made to the OEEO. Tr. 91-92. Asked about this incident on cross-examination, however, Officer Rios was evasive. For example:

Q. Could you tell us how you interfered, sir?
A. By not continuing the investigation.
Q. That's how you interfered?
A. Yes.
Q. Did you lie to the IAB?
A. In some ways.
Q. Why don't you tell us what the some ways were.
A. Again, they transferred me to the Bronx to the 49 Precinct. Due to the fact that way I plead guilty and the case gets closed, and it is put behind me and put away and I could continue my service. And I pleaded guilty to ...

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