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Jones v. Meehan

United States District Court, S.D. New York

January 16, 2018

ROBERT JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
DETECTIVE JAMES MEEHAN, DETECTIVE JOSE CRIOLLO, DETECTIVE ADAM SAGER, DETECTIVE GREGORY THORNTON, LIEUTENANT FELIX RIVERA, and OFFICER STEVEN MIKOLANDA, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          KATHERINE POLK FAILLA, DISTRICT JUDGE [1]

         Plaintiff Robert Jones, proceeding pro se, claims that his Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated in the course of his January 2012 arrest and prosecution for a string of burglaries. After the Court dismissed sua sponte certain parties from the case, those remaining as Defendants are the following present or former employees of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”): Detective James Meehan, Detective Jose Criollo, Detective Adam Sager, Detective Gregory Thornton, Lieutenant Felix Rivera, and Officer Steven Mikolanda (collectively, “Defendants”).[2] Pending before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. After a thorough review of the record, and after construing Plaintiff's claims liberally because of his pro se status, the Court concludes that Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on all claims.

         BACKGROUND[3]

         A. Factual History

         As will soon become relevant to the Court's analysis, Plaintiff suffers from a variety of medical ailments. Plaintiff testified during his deposition that as the result of a car accident in 1986 and an altercation with law enforcement in 1999, he suffered injuries to his neck, back, right knee, and right hip; these injuries have required at least two surgeries. (See Pl. Dep. 20:6-21:24, 26:21-27:9). In addition, Plaintiff had been using crutches for around three years as of December 26, 2011. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 13). Separately, Plaintiff suffers from high blood pressure, for which he has been prescribed Simvastatin, Metoprolol, and Enalapril Maleate. (See Pl. Dep. 23:23-24:12). And Plaintiff has been diagnosed with several psychological conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and antisocial personality disorder. (See Id. at 29:17-30:5).

         During the relevant time period, Plaintiff was on parole and living in a halfway house. (See Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 64-68). The arrest underlying his current claims resulted from an investigation into a string of burglaries in a compact area of Manhattan. The NYPD's investigation into those burglaries, as well as Plaintiff's consequent arrest and prosecution, are discussed more fully below.

         1. The Reported Burglaries

         a. December 26, 2011 Burglary at 616 Ninth Avenue

         On December 27, 2011, Detective James Meehan received a report that on the preceding day, the resident of an apartment located at 616 Ninth Avenue had returned to his apartment to find his front door open and personal items missing from the apartment. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 3-4). Those items included a 2005 Apple Macbook, a 2011 Apple Macbook, an Amazon Kindle, an iMac desktop computer, and $600.00 cash. (See Id. at ¶ 5). The resident also reported that his kitchen window, which was normally closed, was open. (Id. at ¶ 6).

         On December 29, 2011, Detective Meehan traveled to the scene to investigate the burglary. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 7). There, he found a knife that did not belong to the resident. (Id. at ¶ 8). Meehan also viewed a security video showing a black male with a crutch ascending the stairs to the floor of the resident's apartment, before descending the stairs and exiting the building “a short while later.” (Id. at ¶¶ 11-12).

         b. January 7, 2012 Burglary at 409 West 48th Street

         On January 11, 2012, the resident of an apartment located at 409 West 48th Street informed Detective Jose Criollo that on January 7, 2012, her bedroom window had been opened and her two Apple computers had been stolen. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 14-16).[4]

         c. January 11, 2012 Burglary at 405 West 44th Street

         Police also received reports of a burglary that occurred on January 11, 2012: The resident of an apartment located at 405 West 44th Street informed Detective Criollo that at 6:30 p.m., “he heard a loud bang coming from his son's bedroom”; when he entered the room, he witnessed a black male standing in the middle of the room. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 18-19). The resident reported further that upon his entrance, the black male “fled through a window and went up the fire escape to the roof of the building.” (Id. at ¶ 20). He described the culprit as a black male “with a goatee, approximately 20-30 years old, 5'10” tall, weighing approximately 180 pounds, wearing a black knitted cap.” (Id. at ¶ 21).

         Later that day, at approximately 8:38 p.m., Detective Criollo reported to scene of the burglary and surveilled the area from the rooftop of 405 West 44th Street. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 22-23). From this vantage point, Detective Criollo noticed the window of an apartment in the adjacent building, 407 West 44th Street. (Id. at ¶ 24). He then knocked on the door of the adjacent apartment and spoke with a witness who recalled that “he observed a black male with crutches go up to the roof of 405 West 44[th] Street” that same day. (Id. at ¶¶ 25-27).

         d. January 11, 2012 Burglary at 403 West 44th Street

         Also on January 11, 2012, Police Officer Victor Lopez notified Detective Criollo about a potential burglary at a different adjacent building, 403 West 44th Street. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 28). According to Officer Lopez, while Criollo was responding to the 405 West 44th Street burglary, Lopez “noticed an open door and an open window at apartment 5B at 403 West 44th Street.” (Id. at ¶ 29). At approximately 8:59 p.m., Detective Criollo contacted and interviewed the resident of the apartment, who reported that upon entering the apartment, she noticed that several cabinets that were previously closed had been opened. (Id. at ¶¶ 30-32). She also gave Criollo a black knitted cap that she found on her bedroom floor near a window, which cap was then vouchered as evidence and submitted to the NYPD Lab for DNA analysis. (Id. at ¶¶ 33-35). The NYPD recovered DNA from the cap, which on April 3, 2012, returned a positive match with DNA of a prior offender, Plaintiff Robert Jones. (Id. at ¶¶ 36-37; see DeCastro Decl., Ex. P).[5]

         In the course of his investigation on January 11, Detective Criollo received several corroborating reports of a black male on crutches exiting 403 West 44th Street. Specifically, another officer reported that while Criollo was at 405 West 44th, the officer “observed a black male on crutches” exit 403 West 44th Street. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 38). Mayor's Office Investigator George Tsatsaronis also reported observing “a black male with a goatee, on what appeared to be one crutch, exit 403 West 44th Street.” (Id. at ¶ 40).

         e. January 11, 2012 Burglary at 319 West 47th Street

         Police also received reports of a third burglary in the area on January 11, 2012: The resident of an apartment at 319 West 47th Street reported that upon returning to his apartment, and in similar fashion to the other burglaries, he found a rear window open. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 41-42). He noted further that a Nikon camera, a Nikon camera lens, a JVC camcorder, and a camera bag had been stolen from the apartment. (Id. at ¶ 43).

         f. January 20, 2012 Burglaries at 407 West 50th Street

         One week later, on January 20, 2012, the NYPD received three complaints from residents of apartments at 407 West 50th Street, reporting burglaries of their respective apartments on January 19, 2012. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 44, 48, 53; see DeCastro Decl., Ex. S, T). The first victim reported that he returned to the apartment to find a window over his fire escape open and that several personal items were missing, including a Mac Laptop. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 45-47). The second victim reported that she returned to her apartment to find her door chain-locked from within and the window above her fire escape open. (Id. at ¶¶ 49-50). She initially reported that jewelry was missing from her apartment, and later reported that an Apple iPod was also missing. (Id. at ¶¶ 51-52). The third victim reported that he returned to his apartment to find a window open and a Mac Laptop missing. (Id. at ¶¶ 54-55).

         g. January 24, 2012 Burglary at 947 Amsterdam Avenue

         On January 24, 2012, the resident of an apartment at 947 Amsterdam Avenue reported to police that he returned to the apartment to find a candle on his living room windowsill knocked to the floor. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 56). He also reported that various items were missing from the apartment, including a Mac Laptop and iPad. (Id. at ¶ 57). The victim informed Detective Criollo that the “Find My [iP]hone” feature of his laptop had located his computer in the area of 581 Glenmore Avenue, in Brooklyn; this address was approximately 174 feet from 571 Glenmore Avenue, the address of a halfway house at which Plaintiff then resided. (See Id. at ¶¶ 58-60).

         2. The Continued Investigation and Plaintiff's Arrest

         a. The Dissemination of the Police Sketch

         On January 24, 2012, the NYPD created a sketch of the individual suspected of committing the January 11, 2012 burglaries, based on witness descriptions of the individual they observed exiting 403 West 44th Street. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 61). The sketch became a wanted poster that was distributed to various NYPD Precincts, and the following day, Lieutenant Seamus McHugh of the 77th Precinct, located in Brooklyn, informed Lieutenant Felix Rivera that a detective in his precinct had stopped an individual resembling the sketch. (Id. at ¶¶ 62-63). That individual was Plaintiff, who at the time was on parole and sharing a room with three roommates at the halfway house at 571 Glenmore Avenue. (Id. at ¶¶ 64-68).

         Armed with this information, on January 25, 2012, at approximately 10:45 p.m., Detective Gregory Thornton and Lieutenant Rivera, along with non-party Detective Robert Hahn, appeared at 571 Glenmore Avenue and received consent from the halfway house manager to enter the residence. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 69-71). The manager led Detectives Thornton and Hahn to Plaintiff's second-floor room, where Detective Hahn observed Plaintiff sitting on the bed “using one of the computers that was reported as stolen.” (Id. at ¶¶ 72-73). Hahn also observed other electronics in the room and Plaintiff's crutches. (Id. at ¶ 74).

         b. Plaintiff's Questioning and Arrest

         Plaintiff was then transported to the Midtown North Precinct for questioning. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 75).[6] Plaintiff contends that his questioning at the Midtown North Precinct lasted “16 hours and 15 minutes, ” during which the police deprived Plaintiff of blood pressure and psychiatric medication, water, and the use of a toilet. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 4; see Pl. Br. ¶¶ 25, 67, 86).[7] He further maintains that Defendants sought to deprive Plaintiff of these necessities in order to force him to drink water from a white styrofoam cup, from which the officers then retrieved a sample of his DNA to compare with samples from unsolved burglaries, “which y[i]elded a neg[a]tive result.” (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 6; see Pl. Br. ¶¶ 82-84). More importantly, Plaintiff contends that this deprivation caused him to develop Renal Insufficiency Syndrome, which was diagnosed during his stay at Rikers Island in July 2012. (See Pl. Br. ¶¶ 26, 28, 67).

         On January 26, 2012, Plaintiff was placed in a lineup, and the resident of 403 West 44th Street who had encountered a burglar in his apartment identified Plaintiff as the burglar. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 76). On that same date, Detective Hahn acquired a search warrant for Plaintiff's room at 571 Glenmore Avenue; Detectives Thornton, Rivera, and Adam Sager executed the warrant at approximately 6:00 p.m. (Id. at ¶¶ 77-78). In Plaintiff's room, the detectives located the following stolen items, identified by serial number: the Mac laptop from the 409 West 48th Street burglary; two Mac laptops from the 407 West 50th Street burglary; the iPod from the 407 West 50th Street burglary; and the Mac laptop from the 947 Amsterdam Avenue burglary. (Id. at ¶¶ 79-83). All items but the first were located under Plaintiff's bed. (See id.).

         While at the Midtown North Precinct from January 26 to January 27, 2012, Plaintiff was arrested and charged with nine burglaries. (See Def. 56.1 ¶ 84; see also DeCastro Decl., Ex. B). On January 27, 2012, Officer Steven Mikolanda transported Plaintiff to Bellevue Hospital for medical clearance because the police planned to voucher his crutches as evidence. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 86). Medical records from Plaintiff's visit to Bellevue show that he related to medical personnel complaints of pain in his right knee and left hip, as well as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and anxiety. (See DeCastro Decl., Ex. KK). Plaintiff asserts that, “[a]fter the arrest, [he] didn't have access to high blood pressure medication until four days later when [he] was screened and processed in the Department of Corrections.” (Pl. Dep. 111:6-18).

         c. Defendants' Allegedly Violative Conduct

         The parties vigorously dispute the identities and conduct of the police personnel who interacted with Plaintiff during his time at the Midtown North Precinct. For his part, Plaintiff recalled that Detective Thornton transported him to the interrogation room “and refused to provide [Plaintiff] with water or medication or toilet” despite the latter's requests. (Pl. Dep. 154:8-9). He also claims that Detective Sager brought him to the precinct, conducted the lineup, and “was made aware that [Plaintiff] was in need of toileting” and had high blood pressure. (Id. at 154:13-21).

         Plaintiff testified that while he was detained at Midtown North, Detective Meehan told Plaintiff that he would be questioned, at which point Plaintiff “said to [Meehan] that [Plaintiff was] off [his] medication, ” and that he “suffer[ed] from high blood pressure.” (Pl. Dep. 62:7-22). Plaintiff contends that Meehan responded, “I'm going to question you, ” which prompted Plaintiff to refuse to answer questions and request a lawyer. (Id. at 62:16-25). Plaintiff contends further that after he was placed in the lineup, he returned to detention “for some time, ” during which “Detective Criollo stepped in and asked if [Plaintiff] was alright, ” and in response to which Plaintiff, unsuccessfully, requested water and the use of a toilet. (Id. at 65:12-25). Plaintiff testified that Detective Meehan appeared again a short time later, at which point plaintiff requested the use of a toilet and his medication, to which Meehan responded, “I don't know about the medication.” (Id. at 65:20-21). Finally, Plaintiff claims that while Officer Mikolanda transported Plaintiff to Bellevue Hospital, he denied Plaintiff medication and water. (Id. at 154:22-155:2).

         Defendants proffer markedly different recollections of events. Detective Thornton admits to investigating Plaintiff's residence at 571 Glenmore Avenue before Plaintiff traveled to Midtown North for questioning, but claims he “never deprived” Plaintiff of water or the use of a bathroom “at any point in time during which [P]laintiff was at” the Precinct. (DeCastro Decl., Ex. EE, at ¶¶ 16-17). Detective Meehan goes even further, asserting that “[a]t no point during January 25, 2012, through January 27, 2012, did [he] have any interactions with [P]laintiff.” (DeCastro Decl., Ex. D, at ¶ 14). Instead, Meehan states that his sole role in Plaintiff's case was gathering evidence related to the burglary reports and processing the arrest for one of the burglaries at the Midtown South Precinct. (See Id. at ¶¶ 2-9, 13). And although Detective Criollo admits that he arrested Plaintiff at the Midtown North Precinct after one of the burglary victims identified Plaintiff in the lineup, Criollo states that he “never deprived [P]laintiff of water” nor the “use of a bathroom, ” and that “[P]laintiff never asked [him] for any medication at any point in time during” his stay at Midtown North. (DeCastro Decl., Ex. J, at ¶¶ 23-27, 30-33).[8]

         3. Plaintiff's Criminal Prosecution

         On or about January 27, 2012, Detective Criollo filed a criminal complaint in the Criminal Court of the City of New York, New York County, charging Plaintiff with nine counts of Second Degree Burglary and eight counts of Fifth Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property. (See DeCastro Decl., Ex. LL). On or about February 1, 2012, a grand jury in the same court indicted Plaintiff. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 95). Over 21 months later, on November 14, 2013, the charges against Plaintiff were dismissed. (Id. at ¶ 96).

         B. ...


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