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Robinson v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 1, 2017

CITY OF NEW YORK, et al., Defendants.


          LORNA G. SCHOFIELD, District Judge

         Plaintiff Yusif Robinson (“Plaintiff”) filed this action against Defendants, Police Officers Richard Allison, Hoiping Lee and Terrance Williams (collectively, “Defendants”) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for false arrest, malicious prosecution and denial of the right to a fair trial (i.e., fabrication of evidence).[1] Plaintiff seeks money damages on all of his claims against Defendants. Defendants move for summary judgement. For the reasons below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts below are drawn from the parties' 56.1 statements and other submissions on this motion, and are construed in Plaintiff's favor. See Wright v. N.Y. State Dep't of Corr., 831 F.3d 64, 71-72 (2d Cir. 2016).

         On September 12, 2013, in the evening, Plaintiff was shopping for sneakers on Eighth Avenue around 41st and 42nd Streets. Defendants Allison, Lee, Williams and other officers were in that area to perform their narcotics enforcement duties. At the time, Defendant Allison had been a police officer for eighteen and a half years, fifteen of which were spent in narcotics units, and he had received specialized narcotics training. He also had purchased narcotics as an undercover officer.

         Defendant Allison observed two individuals -- Plaintiff and Leon Carter -- walking together and began to follow them. Defendant Allison asserts that he observed Plaintiff and Carter make hand-to-hand contact, which he believed to be a hand-to-hand drug transaction. Plaintiff disputes that a hand-to-hand exchange occurred or was observed; he claims that he and Carter “dapped” (i.e., fist bumped) because Carter had complimented Plaintiff. Defendant Lee, who was walking about ten feet behind Defendant Allison, but could not see him on the crowded sidewalk, heard Defendant Allison on the police radio report that he had observed a hand-to-hand exchange, which Defendant Lee did not observe. Defendant Lee asserts that he saw Plaintiff throw $20 on the ground as the officers were about to arrest Plaintiff, and that he (Lee) retrieved the money from the ground. Plaintiff disputes that he threw money on the ground or that any officer picked up money from the ground.

         Plaintiff, the alleged seller, and Carter, the alleged buyer were arrested. The officers searched Plaintiff at the arrest scene and recovered roughly $500 from his wallet. At the precinct, Carter was searched, and two twists of crack cocaine were found in his pocket.

         Defendant Williams had been designated the “arresting officer” for the day. As such, he signed the Felony Complaint Affidavit, which states, among other things:

I am informed by Detective Richard Allison . . . that he observed [Plaintiff Robinson] hand a small object to separately charged defendant Leon Carter [and] that he observed . . . Carter hand [Robinson] an amount of United States Currency in exchange for the small object.
I am informed by Detective Hoiping Lee . . . that he recovered two (2) ten dollar bills from the ground, where he observed [Robinson] drop them.

         Plaintiff denies that these events reported by Allison and Lee occurred. Defendant Williams relayed the information and the affidavit to the Assistant District Attorney to commence a criminal prosecution against Plaintiff.

         On September 13, 2013, Carter was arraigned before Plaintiff was arraigned. Carter pleaded guilty and testified “Yes” when asked “did you give an individual by the name of Yus[i]f Robinson an amount of United States currency in exchange for crack cocaine?” Plaintiff was indicted by a grand jury on September 23, 2013, for Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Third Degree and Tampering with Physical Evidence and jailed for about 42 days. During the course of the police investigation after Plaintiff's indictment, Defendant Williams went to the New York Times building to request video footage that might have confirmed or disproved whether a hand-to-hand exchange had occurred between Plaintiff and Carter. Because Defendant Williams did not request that footage until more than 30 days after September 12, 2016, it already had been over-written and was no longer available. After a jury trial in October 2014, Plaintiff was acquitted of the charges.

         In May 2016, Carter signed two declarations recanting his statement that he had bought drugs from Plaintiff. In June 2016 he testified at a deposition that, at the time of his arrest with Plaintiff in 2013, a police officer at the precinct had told him: “[S]ay you got [the crack cocaine] from [Plaintiff] and you'll be let go.” Carter further testified that the officer “had a picture of me being wanted in the precinct. And at that time I was, yeah, okay, I'll say anything.”

         II. ...

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