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Walston v. City of New York

United States District Court, E.D. New York

January 10, 2018

KEVIN JAMEL WALSTON ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          PAMELA K. CHEN, United States District Judge:

         Plaintiffs Kevin Jamel Walston (“Walston”), Angelica Valentine (“Valentine”), minor child R.W., and minor child P.N. (collectively “Plaintiffs”) brought this action against Defendants the City of New York (the “City”), the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), [1] NYPD Officers David Grieco, Edgardo Carrieri, Joseph Patton, Lisa Miles, and Michael Gessner (collectively “Defendant-Officers”), and John and Jane Doe officers (i.e., the arresting officers of the 75th precinct), [2] seeking damages under Section 1983 for false arrest and malicious prosecution stemming from five separate incidents in 2013. Defendants now move for summary judgment, contending that: (1) there existed probable cause for all five arrests and prosecutions; (2) all Defendant-Officers are entitled to qualified immunity; and (3) all claims against the City should be dismissed because of the lack of any constitutional violations and the lack of any evidence of an official custom or policy that caused the alleged constitutional violations. For the following reasons, the Court finds that Defendants are entitled to summary judgment and that all of Plaintiffs' claims should be dismissed.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Relevant Facts [3]

         A. Walston's April 10, 2013 Arrest

         On December 1, 2012, non-party NYPD Officer Dillan Krasteff responded to a police dispatch radio call for assistance at the 1000 block of Belmont Avenue in Brooklyn. (Defendants' 56.1 Statement (“Defs. 56.1”), at ¶ 4.) When Officer Krasteff arrived at the location, he encountered Robert Davilla, who stated that a woman, identified as V.N., had climbed through his window seeking help. (Id. at ¶ 5.) She was bleeding and in shock. (Id.) Officer Krasteff met with V.N. in Davilla's home. (Id. at ¶ 6.) V.N. told Officer Krasteff that while she was walking to the corner store to buy cigarettes, she was confronted by a man known as “Mellow, ” who told her that she “got Reggie locked up.” (Id. at ¶ 7.) Mellow then pulled her into an apartment on the second floor of 1029 Belmont Avenue, beat her, and tried to rape her. (Id.) V.N. also stated that Mellow released two dogs on her that mauled her. (Id.) V.N. explained that she escaped by jumping off the second-floor balcony. (Id.) Officer Krasteff observed that V.N. was covered in blood and had visible bites on her body, lacerations to her legs and arms, a swollen face, and a cut around her eyes. (Id. at ¶ 8.) V.N. was admitted to Brookdale Hospital, where she received fifty stitches and was treated for a broken ankle. (Id. at ¶ 11.) Officer Krasteff prepared a complaint report. (Id. at ¶ 10.)

         NYPD Detective (“Det.”) Joseph Patton investigated the incident and interviewed V.N. at the hospital on December 10, 2012. (Id. at ¶ 13.) V.N. gave the same account to Det. Patton as she had given to Officer Krasteff. She added that when Mellow released his dogs on her, he told them to “kill the bitch.” (Id.) She identified Walston a/k/a “Mellow Yellow” as her assailant. (Id. at ¶ 14.) Det. Patton went to Walston's various known addresses “a number of times” to look for Walston, but was unable to locate him. (Id. at ¶ 16.) On March 28, 2013, the victim identified Walston in a photograph, confirming he was her attacker. (Id. at ¶ 18.) On March 29, 2013, the police department issued an I-Card for Walston, which signaled that he was wanted as a suspect or witness for questioning. (Id. at ¶ 19.) On April 10, 2013, officers from the Brooklyn North Warrant Squad brought Walston to the 75th Precinct. (Id. at ¶ 20.) Det. Patton arrested Walston for assault in violation of Penal Law §§ 120.05(1) and 120.05(1X), and swore out a criminal court complaint based on the statements made to him by V.N. (Id. at ¶¶ 20, 22.) The charges against Walston were ultimately dropped under the speedy trial provisions because the prosecutor could not locate the victim. (Defs. 56.1, at ¶¶ 23-24.)

         B. Walston's May 25, 2013 Arrest

         On May 25, 2013, non-party NYPD Det. Radoslaw Terepka received a telephone call from a tipster advising Det. Terepka that the tipster had information about an illegal gun. (Defs. 56.1, at ¶ 25.) Det. Terepka and Defendant Officer Grieco went to meet the tipster that same day. (Id.) The tipster informed them that an individual by the name of “Mellow” had a gun in the basement of 1029 Belmont Avenue in Brooklyn.[4] (Id.) Det. Terepka stated that he knew from his experience in the 75th precinct that “Mellow” was Walston, who at the time was living at 1029 Belmont Avenue. (Id.) Det. Terepka communicated this information to the other police officers on his team. (Id. at ¶ 26.)

         In the early morning hours of May 25, 2013, Det. Terepka received a phone call from one of his fellow officers that he had recently seen Walston exiting the basement of 1029 Belmont Avenue. (Id. at ¶ 27.) Det. Terepka and Officer Grieco went to 1029 Belmont Avenue and spoke with non-party NYPD Officer Greg Minardi, who said that he had seen Walston leaving the building. (Deposition of David Grieco (”Grieco Dep.”), Dkt. 41-7, at 109:10-110:7.) A police officer entered the basement at 1029 Belmont Avenue and recovered an unloaded revolver wrapped in a sock. (Defs. 56.1, at ¶ 29.) Officer Grieco arrested Walston for criminal possession of a firearm in violation of Penal Law § 265.02(1). (Defs. 56.1, at ¶¶ 30-31.) Officer Grieco signed the criminal court complaint. (Id. at ¶ 33.) The District Attorney ultimately dismissed the case on May 31, 2013. (Id. at ¶ 34.)

         C. Plaintiffs' July 9, 2013 Arrest

         On July 4, 2013, a NYPD officer was shot in East New York. (Id. at ¶ 35.) Brooklyn North Homicide received an anonymous tip that the shooter was hiding inside 1029 Belmont Avenue. (Id.) M.M., the owner of 1029 Belmont Avenue, provided the NYPD with written permission to enter and search the building. (Id. at ¶ 36.) M.M. advised the police that no one was supposed to be living in any of the apartments. (Id.) On July 9, 2013, Emergency Service Unit (“ESU”) officers went to 1029 Belmont Avenue to search the building. (Deposition of Angelica Valentine (“Valentine Dep.”), Dkt. 41-9, at 39:9-20.) The ESU found Plaintiffs Walston, Valentine, and their two children, living in one of the apartments. (Id.) Defendant Officer Carrieri was informed by his fellow NYPD officers that M.M. had informed them that no one was supposed to be living in the building. (Deposition of Edgardo Carrieri (“Carrieri Dep.”), Dkt. 41-8, at 53:5-13, 60:18-61:12.) Upon discovering Plaintiffs' and their children in the apartment, Officer Carrieri's partner, Sargent Diego Dotres, called M.M. to confirm that Plaintiffs were not supposed to be living at the premises, which M.M. confirmed. (Id.) Officer Carrieri did not recall whether he asked Walston or his family if they had a lease for the apartment. (Id. at 49:17-50:16.) He arrested Plaintiffs for trespass in violation of Penal Law § 140.15(2), and signed a criminal court complaint. (Defs. 56.1, at ¶¶ 47, 56.) M.M. also signed a supporting deposition to accompany the criminal court complaint. (Id. at ¶ 57.)

         Officer Carrieri never saw Walston's children at 1029 Belmont Avenue or at the precinct after the arrest. (Id. at ¶ 42.) According to Valentine, an unknown officer placed her children in a cell for about an hour before they were picked up by a relative. (Id. at ¶ 41.) Valentine admitted that neither her daughter, who was less than a year old, nor her son, who was three years old, had any understanding of what was going on. (Id. at ¶ ¶ 43-44.) At their arraignment, Plaintiffs learned for the first time that they were being charged with trespass. (Id. at ¶ 58.) They ultimately produced a lease for an apartment at 1029 Belmont Avenue and the charges against them were formally dismissed eight months later, on March 20, 2014. (Id. at ¶¶ 58-60.)

         D. Walston's December 28, 2013 Arrest (First)

         On December 28, 2013 at 2:13 am, a police dispatcher reported over the radio that a 911 call had come in about a grey van driven by a woman. The dispatcher stated that a black male passenger pulled another woman into the van, strangled her, and punched her in the face.

         (Deposition of Lisa Miles, (“Miles Dep.”), Dkt. 44-13, at 19:2-16, 34:9-18.) The incident occurred near the intersection of Fulton Street and Logan Street. (Defs. 56.1, at ¶ 61.) At 2:20 am, a second caller reported an emergency at nearby 1029 Belmont Avenue. (Id. at ¶ 62.) Defendant Officer Miles heard the radio reports, and went to 1029 Belmont. (Id. at ¶ 63.) When Officer Miles arrived, she saw a grey SUV with a female driver, a female passenger, a black male passenger, and a child inside. (Id. at ¶ 64.) One of the women, S.H., was screaming that she had called the police because the male in the vehicle (Walston) had been strangling her cousin (Valentine), the other adult female. (Id.) Valentine had injuries to her face that were consistent with the dispatch radio report. (Id. at ¶¶ 67, 69.) Officer Miles spoke to Valentine, who claimed that “a group of girls” had tried to assault her at another location. (Miles Dep., at 24:9-25:4.) Officer Miles concluded that Valentine's observable injuries were consistent with what the complaining witness told her at the scene, i.e., that Walston had assaulted Valentine. (Id. at 37:7-14, 70:4-8)

         Based on this information, Officer Miles arrested Walston for criminal obstruction of breathing (i.e., choking), assault, and harassment in violation of Penal Law §§ 121.11, 120.00(1) and 240.26(1). (Defs. 56.1, at ¶¶ 68-70.) Officer Miles signed the criminal court complaint. (Id. at ¶ 75.) Officer Miles filled out the criminal court complaint incorrectly by stating that Valentine had told the Officer that Walston had hit and choked her. (Id. at ¶ 76.) Instead, the complaint should have stated that the witness S.H. provided this information to Officer Miles. (Id.) The charges against Walston were dismissed on speedy trial grounds. (Id. at ¶ 77.)

         E. Walston's December 28, 2013 Arrest (Second)

         While Walston was in the 75th precinct in connection with his arrest by Officer Miles, the police realized that there was an open complaint report against Walton stemming from an incident on December 13, 2013. (Id. at ¶ 80.) Non-party NYPD Officer Ramil Casimir had recorded in the complaint that S.A., the owner of a local gas station bodega, alleged that he had been threatened with a “firearm” by Walston. (Compl. Rep. of 12/13/13, Dkt. 41-41.)

         Defendant Officer Gessner investigated the open complaint report. (Defs. 56.1, at ¶ 80.) Officer Gessner went to the gas station to interview S.A. and confirm the information in the report.[5](Id. at ¶ 81.) S.A. identified Walston and told Officer Gessner that Walston often came into the store and took merchandise. S.A. confronted Walston about his shoplifting on December 13, 2013 and Walston responded by threatening S.A. with a firearm. (Id. at ¶ 82.) S.A. viewed a photograph of Walston shown to him by Officer Gessner, and confirmed that Walston was the person who had brandished a gun at him on December 13, 2013. S.A. signed his name to the photo. (Id. at ¶ 83). Officer Gessner then returned to the precinct and arrested Walston for menacing under Penal Law § 120.14(1). (Id. at ¶ 85.) Both Officer Gessner and S.A. spoke to the District Attorney's office. (Id. at ¶ 86.) When Officer Gessner spoke to the Assistant District Attorney, Officer Gessner advised that there was video surveillance of the incident, but that he had not attempted to view or recover it. (Id. at ¶ 84.) S.A. did not sign an affidavit to accompany the criminal complaint. The District Attorney's office dismissed the charges on January 3, 2014 because the victim did not cooperate with the prosecution. (Id. at ¶ 90.)

         II. Procedural History

         Plaintiffs filed the initial complaint in this action on July 31, 2015 alleging a violation of their rights under Section 1983. (Dkt. 1.) Plaintiffs amended their complaint on September 3, 2015. (Dkt. 4.) Defendants answered the Amended Complaint on November 5, 2015. (Dkt. 10.) Plaintffs filed a second amended complaint on January 21, 2016. (Dkt. 13.) Defendants answered the Second Amended Complaint on May 10, 2016. (Dkt. 18.) Defendants' motion for summary judgment was fully briefed on June 9, 2017. (Dkts. 41, 42, 45.)

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “Summary judgment is appropriate where there are no genuine disputes concerning any material facts, and where the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Summa v. Hofstra Univ., 708 F.3d 115, 123 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Weinstein v. Albright, 261 F.3d 127, 132 (2d Cir. 2001)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). “Material” facts are facts that “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A “genuine” dispute exists “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. “The moving party bears the burden of establishing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact.” Zalaski v. City of Bridgeport Police Dep't, 613 F.3d 336, 340 (2d Cir. 2010) (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322). Once a defendant has met his initial burden, the plaintiff must “designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted). In determining whether there are genuine disputes of material fact, the court must “resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought.” Terry v. Ashcroft, 336 F.3d 128, 137 (2d Cir. 2003) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         The court's inquiry upon summary judgment is “determining whether there is the need for a trial-whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. “Summary judgment is appropriate only ‘[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party.'” Donnelly v. Greenburgh Cent. Sch. Dist. No. 7, 691 F.3d 134, 141 (2d Cir. 2012) (alterations in original) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Legal Standards

         A. False Arrest under Section 1983

         “A § 1983 claim for false arrest, resting on the Fourth Amendment right of an individual to be free from unreasonable seizures, including arrest without probable cause, is substantially the same as a claim for false arrest under New York law.” Weyant v. Okst, 101 F.3d 845, 852 (2d Cir. 1996) (internal citations omitted). Under New York law, to prove the elements of false arrest, a plaintiff must establish that: “(1) the defendant intended to confine the plaintiff, (2) the plaintiff was conscious of the confinement, (3) the plaintiff did not consent to the confinement, and (4) the confinement was not otherwise privileged.” Savino v. City of New York, 331 F.3d 63, 75 (2d Cir. 2003) (quoting Bernard v. United States, 25 F.3d 98, 102 (2d Cir. 1994)); Singer v. Fulton Cty. Sheriff, 63 F.3d 110, 118 (2d Cir. 1995). Because probable cause confers authority to confine a suspect, probable cause is a complete defense to a claim of false arrest. Williams v. Town of Greenburgh, 535 F.3d 71, 78-79 (2d Cir. 2008). “[P]robable cause to arrest exists when the officers have knowledge or reasonably trustworthy information of facts and circumstances that are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that the person to be arrested has committed or is committing a crime.” Jenkins v. City of New York, 478 F.3d 76, 84-85 (2d Cir. 2007) (citing Weyant, 101 F.3d at 852); see also Zellner v. Summerlin, 494 F.3d 344, 368 (2d Cir. 2007) (an officer has probable cause when he or she has “reasonably trustworthy information as to [ ] facts and circumstances that are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been . . . committed by the person to be arrested”); Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 111 (1975) (“The standard for arrest is probable cause, defined in terms of facts and circumstances ‘sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing that the (suspect) had ...


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