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Walker v. City of New York

United States District Court, E.D. New York

June 26, 2017

JAMES WALKER, Plaintiff,
CITY OF NEW YORK, NYPD Officer Jarrett Dill (TAX ID4940094), NYPD Sergeant Jose Capella (TAX ID#9 15058), NYPD Officer Stephen Penaranda (Tax ID# 937263) and NYPD Officer Vermell Avenger, Defendants.


          NINA GERSHON United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff James Walker brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that defendant NYPD Sergeant Jose Capella, along with Police Officers Stephen Perananda and Vermeil Avenger, violated his Fourth Amendment right to remain free of unreasonable search and seizure when they arrested him without probable cause. Plaintiff also alleges that Police Officer Jarrett Dill failed to intervene to prevent his unlawful arrest. Defendants move for summary judgment on all claims. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion is granted. Defendants' unopposed motion to file under seal is granted, but defendants are directed to file redacted versions of the papers on this motion on the public docket.

         I. Facts

         Except as otherwise noted, the facts are undisputed. A complaining victim[1] called the police at about 9:55 a.m. on April 22, 2014, to report that he had been chased by two individuals with guns. The complainant testified at his deposition that, when an officer arrived at his apartment, he told the officer, "James Walker pulled a gun on me and told me he was going to kill me." The complainant also pointed out his fifth-floor window to an individual outside on the street who he believed to be James Walker. When the Police Officer stuck his head out the window to see the individual the complainant had pointed out, the individual started walking away.

         Officer Avenger testified that, when she arrived at the complainant's apartment, the complainant informed her that Walker-who the complainant identified by name-and another perpetrator menaced him with a gun. The complainant described Walker as a black male, heavy set. After the complainant gave his description, Sergeant Capella arrived on the scene accompanied by his driver, Officer Penaranda. Officer Avenger briefed Sergeant Capella on the incident, and the complainant, who was looking out the window, stated that he saw Walker and the other perpetrator. Officer Avenger went over to the window and saw plaintiff walking away from the complainant's housing development, and saw another individual who she assumed to be the other perpetrator walking back toward the development.

         Sergeant Capella then put out a description over the radio so that other officers in the area could canvass for the perpetrator. It is undisputed that the description that went out over the radio was that of a black, heavyset man wearing a green baseball cap with a yellow brim, who had fled toward a particular intersection.[2] The Officers testified that this was consistent with the description given to them by the complainant-that Walker weighed between 300 and 350 pounds, had his hair in dreadlocks, and was wearing a green and yellow hat. At his deposition, the complainant testified that the perpetrator had been wearing a green and red hat.

         Several minutes later, a call came over the radio stating that an individual fitting the description Sergeant Capella had provided had been stopped at the intersection. Sergeant Capella and Officer Penaranda accompanied the complainant to the intersection in their vehicle. When they reached the intersection, Sergeant Capella instructed the complainant to look at the person who had been stopped and inform him if that was the person who had chased after him with a gun. The complainant identified plaintiff as the person who had chased after him with a gun.[3] Sergeant Capella radioed that the complainant had identified the person who had been stopped as the perpetrator, and the non-party officers who stopped the plaintiff placed him under arrest. Officer Avenger was not one of those officers; she was still on her way to the intersection at the time the identification was made. It is undisputed that no gun was recovered from plaintiff or the surrounding area.

         After plaintiff had been arrested, Officer Avenger reviewed camera footage from the housing development where the incident had allegedly taken place. The camera footage showed plaintiff and another individual sitting in front of the complainant's building, but did not show any interaction between plaintiff and the complainant, nor was it apparent from the video that plaintiff was in possession of a firearm. Additionally, the arrest report indicated that plaintiff lived in that housing development as well.

         After plaintiffs arrest, the complainant was taken to a precinct where he was re-interviewed by defendant Officer Jarrett Dill, who completed the paperwork for plaintiffs arrest based on the information provided by the complainant, including that plaintiff had menaced him with a gun and threatened to kill him. It was Officer Dill who swore out the criminal complaint against plaintiff charging plaintiff with Menacing in the Second Degree, NY Pen. L. § 265.01; Menacing in the Third Degree, NY Pen. L. § 240.26(1), Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree, NY Pen. L § 120.15, and Harassment in the Second Degree, NY Pen. L § 240.26. The criminal complaint states that the complainant informed Officer Dill that on April 22, 2014, plaintiff and another individual chased after him, while lifting their shirts to display what appeared to be firearms in their respective waistbands. Nothing in the criminal complaint appears to be based on any first-hand observations by Officer Dill, who was never at the scene of plaintiff s arrest and did not meet plaintiff until plaintiff had already been arrested, handcuffed, transported to the precinct, searched, and placed in a holding cell. Plaintiffs allegation of wrongdoing against Officer Dill is based on the fact that Officer Dill was aware, when he completed plaintiffs arrest paperwork, that the video check had been negative, meaning that the video cameras in the housing development had not captured the incident.

         Plaintiff was prosecuted until January 20, 2015, when all the criminal charges were dismissed. He subsequently filed this action.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Defendants are entitled to summary judgment only if "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Only disputes relating to material facts-i.e., "facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law"-will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of fact is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating "the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Once the moving party has asserted facts showing that the non-movant's claims cannot be sustained, the nonmoving party must "come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Electric Ind. Co., LTD. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In determining whether to grant summary judgment, the court must "construe all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, drawing all inferences and resolving all ambiguities in its favor." Dicker son v. Napolitano,604 F.3d 732, 740 (2d Cir.2010). However, "[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiffs position will be insufficient; there must be ...

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