United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF
R. Underhill United States District Judge
case arises out of a police “sting” operation
conducted by members of the Waterbury Police Department that
resulted in a lengthy high-speed chase and ultimately the
arrest of Gabriel Gonzalez. Gonzalez alleges that the
defendant police officers used excessive force in the course
of taking him into custody following the high-speed pursuit.
Such conduct, Gonzalez contends, was in violation of state
law and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Following a jury trial that
resulted in a mistrial, the defendants renewed their motion
for judgment as a matter of law.
following reasons, the motion (doc. # 171) is denied.
Standard of Review
50(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows for the
entry of judgment as a matter of law if a “party has
been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the
court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally
sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that
issue . . . .” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a). If
the court does not grant the motion made under Rule 50(a),
“the movant may file a renewed motion for judgment as a
matter of law” within 28 days from the entry of
judgment or, if the motion concerns a matter not decided by a
verdict, within 28 days after discharge of the jury.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). The standard under Rule 50 is the same as
that for summary judgment: A court may not grant a Rule 50
motion unless “the evidence is such that, without
weighing the credibility of the witnesses or otherwise
considering the weight of the evidence, there can be but one
conclusion as to the verdict that reasonable [persons] could
have reached.” This Is Me, Inc. v. Taylor, 157
F.3d 139, 142 (2d Cir. 1998) (citation and internal quotation
marks omitted). Thus, in deciding such a motion, “the
court . . . may not itself weigh the credibility of the
witnesses or consider the weight of the evidence.”
Galdieri-Ambrosini v. Nat’l Realty & Dev.
Corp., 136 F.3d 276, 289 (2d Cir. 1998) (citations
omitted). In making such a determination, the court
“must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the
nonmoving party” and “disregard all evidence
favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required
to believe.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods.,
Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150-51 (2000).
short, judgment as a matter of law may only be granted if:
“There is such an overwhelming amount of evidence in
favor of the movant that reasonable and fair minded persons
could not arrive at a verdict against it.”
Galdieri-Ambrosini, 136 F.3d at 289 (quoting
Cruz v. Local Union No. 3 of the Int’l Bhd. of
Elec. Workers, 34 F.3d 1148');">34 F.3d 1148, 1154 (2d Cir. 1994))
(internal quotation marks omitted); see also Luciano v.
Olsten Corp., 110 F.3d 210, 214 (2d Cir.
Gonzalez filed a complaint against the City of Waterbury and
members of the Waterbury Police Department on March 28, 2012.
Thereafter, he made multiple amendments to his complaint.
Because Gonzalez’s fourth amended complaint was struck
for failure to comply with Rule 15, the operative complaint
is the third amended complaint, which was filed on April 4,
2014. See Doc. # 59.
5, 2015, I granted in part, denied in part, and took under
advisement in part, the defendants’ motion for summary
judgment. See Doc. # 99. On February 29, 2016, I
granted the portion of the motion that I had taken under
advisement and dismissed the City of Waterbury from the case.
See Docs. # 135, 146.
on March 14, 2016, I held a jury trial with respect to the
claims against the remaining defendants, Richard Hamel, Jason
Lanoie, Maximo Torres, and Timothy Jackson. The trial
concluded on March 18, 2016, when I declared a mistrial
because the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict.
Following trial, in accordance with Rule 50(b) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure, the defendants renewed their motion
for judgment as a matter of law. The following is a summary
of facts elicited at trial.
early hours of August 7, 2010, in Waterbury, Connecticut, the
Vice and Intelligence Division of the Waterbury Police
Department was conducting a reverse-sting operation, headed
by Waterbury Police Lieutenant Michael Ponzillo and Sergeant
Angon. The defendants, all Waterbury police officers, were
participating in the reverse sting. At approximately 2:35
a.m., Gonzalez and his cousin, Jacob Perez, interacted with a
female undercover officer posing as a prostitute. Believing
that Gonzalez and Perez were attempting to solicit the
officer, police takedown teams approached Gonzalez’s
vehicle intending to arrest Gonzalez and place him in
parties dispute exactly what happened next. For the purposes
of the remaining claims in the case, however, the only
pertinent fact is that Gonzalez led police officers on a
highspeed chase from Waterbury to Newington, Connecticut.
Once in Newington, Gonzalez drove to the end of an industrial
parking lot where he abandoned his car and began to flee on
foot. Gonzalez jumped over a six or seven foot chain-link
fence and landed in an area that the parties referred to as a
“swampy area” or “drainage ditch, ”
located adjacent to a set of railroad tracks. Some of the
officers pursued Gonzalez over the fence and then began
looking for him in the drainage ditch alongside the railroad
tracks. Others attempted to find a different access point to
the area in which they believed Gonzalez was located.
came a point in time when a number of the officers surrounded
Gonzalez while he was hiding-and possibly stuck-in the
drainage ditch. There were multiple officers alongside the
fence adjacent to the ditch and there was at least one
officer on the other side of the ditch, on or near the
railroad tracks. At that point, according to Gonzalez, the
officer on the side of the railroad tracks instructed the
other officers to turn off their flashlights. When Gonzalez
turned around to face the officer located on the
railroad-track side of the ditch, Gonzalez saw rocks flying
at him from that direction.
testified that the first rock to hit him struck him in his
midsection. The second rock struck his face. The third and
final rock struck him again in the face and rendered him
unconscious. After losing consciousness, Gonzalez testified
that he awoke to two officers punching and kicking him while
he was lying face-up on the bed of the railroad tracks.
Gonzalez testified that the same two officers subsequently
picked him up from the ground and walked him to a police
cruiser. He was thereafter taken to the police station and
then St. Mary’s Hospital to get treatment for his
injuries, which included significant facial fractures.
renew their motion for judgment as a matter of law on account
of the fact that Gonzalez has failed to identify any
particular defendant who is responsible for the use of
excessive force during the course of Gonzalez’s seizure
and arrest. Defendants also argue that, even if Gonzalez
could identify which officer participated in what conduct,
Gonzalez has failed to identify which injuries were caused by
what conduct. Gonzalez contends that there were sufficient
facts elicited at trial in order to hold the defendants
liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
well established that “personal involvement of
defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a
prerequisite to an award of damages under § 1983.”
Wright v. Smith, 21 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1994)
(quoting Moffitt v. Town of Brookfield, 950 F.2d
880, 885 (2d Cir. 1991)) (internal quotation marks omitted);
see also Costello v. City of Burlington, 632 F.3d
41, 49 (2d Cir. 2011). “Proof of an individual
defendant’s personal involvement in the alleged wrong
is, of course, a prerequisite to his liability on a claim for
damages under § 1983.” Gaston v.
Coughlin, 249 F.3d 156, 164 (2d Cir. 2001).
police officer is personally involved in the use of excessive
force if he either: (1) directly participates in an assault;
or (2) was present during the assault, yet failed to
intercede on behalf of the victim even though he had a
reasonable opportunity to do so.” Jeffreys v.
Rossi,275 F.Supp.2d 463, 474 (S.D.N.Y. 2003),
aff’d sub nom. Jeffreys v. City of New York,