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Mara v. MacNamara

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 30, 2017

JOHN MARA, Plaintiff,


          Robert N. Chatigny United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff John Mara brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Town of Fairfield and the following members of the Fairfield Police Department: Chief Gary MacNamara, Detective Stephen Rilling, Detective Edward Nook, Sergeant Frederick Hine, Lieutenant Michael Gagner, Sergeant Antonio Granata and Detective Jason Takacs. Plaintiff claims the defendants conspired to coercively interrogate, falsely arrest, and maliciously prosecute him, in violation of his rights under the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. He also brings state law claims for false imprisonment, false arrest, intentional infliction of emotional distress and malicious prosecution. He claims the Town is liable under a state indemnification statute. Defendants move for summary judgment. For reasons explained below, the motion is granted as to the claims against Chief MacNamara, Lt. Gagner, Sgt. Granata and Det. Takacs but denied as to the other claims.

         I. Background

         The record shows the following. At a New Year's eve party during the late evening of December 31, 2012, or early morning of January 1, 2013, Philip Blackman was struck in the head with a bottle. That morning, while Blackman was undergoing surgery, his father notified the Fairfield Police Department. Det. Rilling, acting as lead investigator, and Det. Nook spoke to Blackman's father and several people who were at the party. The attendees told the detectives they had not witnessed the assault but had heard plaintiff was responsible. Later that day, while speaking to the host of the party at her home, the detectives were approached by David O'Brien, who informed them that Luke Kazmierczak witnessed the assault.

         Later that day at the Fairfield Police Station, Kazmierczak stated that he saw the person who hit Blackman. He said it was a white male in his twenties with short, dark-colored hair. He told the detectives the suspect ran from the scene and was shirtless, highly intoxicated and out of control. Det. Rilling obtained a photograph of plaintiff from his student ID at Fairfield University (“University”). Lt. Gagner, an officer in charge of technology and building photo arrays, created a photo array including plaintiff and five other young males with dark hair and light skin. When Sgt. Granata showed the photo array to Kazmierczak, he selected a photograph of another individual with 70% certainty.

         Later that day, plaintiff's mother called Det. Rilling. She said plaintiff had been told police were looking for him in connection with the assault and he was receiving threatening phone calls from Blackman's friends. According to plaintiff, Det. Rilling told her the police wanted to speak with plaintiff, but he was not the target of their investigation or a suspect. They made arrangements for Mara to come to the police station on January 2, 2013, at 5:00 p.m. Plaintiff had class at the University until around 3:00 p.m. At some point prior to the planned meeting, William Heller, an attorney who worked for plaintiff's father, spoke with Det. Rilling. According to Heller, Rilling told him plaintiff was not a target or suspect in the investigation and did not need an attorney to accompany him to the meeting.

         On January 2, 2013, Det. Rilling, Dt. Nook and Sgt. Hine went to the University to speak with plaintiff.[1] Det. Rilling and a University Public Safety Officer were waiting for plaintiff by his car when his class ended. The officers were armed and had used their vehicles to block plaintiff's car. Det. Rilling asked plaintiff if he was willing to have the interview on campus instead of the police station and plaintiff said yes. The officers took him to a small room in the Public Safety department.

         Once in the room, the officers told plaintiff he was not under arrest but did not allow him to use his cell phone.[2] They asked him about New Years night and plaintiff admitted to attending several parties that evening, including the party where Blackman was struck. He said he was drunk that evening and couldn't remember parts of the night. From what he was told by friends, though, he believed he did not arrive until after Blackman was struck. The detectives pressed him for more information about that night and about the party. Plaintiff stated repeatedly that he did not remember assaulting Blackman, whom he barely knew, and his friends had told him he did not assault Blackman. At one point, plaintiff mentioned he would like to talk to some other people. The detectives asked who plaintiff wanted to talk to, and Mara responded “Um, my father. Um, possibly a lawyer.” Det. Rilling then stated, “So, are you saying you want to talk to a lawyer right now?” Plaintiff responded, “No, no.”

         Despite plaintiff's repeated denials, the detectives continued to press him. Det. Rilling posited that surveillance footage existed from the party and would show what happened, including whether plaintiff was guilty. The officers discussed their experiences with other suspects and said plaintiff would later look like a “sociopath” if he was lying. They said he could be “locked up” in Bridgeport if he was guilty. Det. Rilling stated,

You're going to Bridgeport court and you're going to have to hang out with all the people that are drug addicts, that commit crimes and all that. There's a chance that you are going to get locked up for a little bit. You're going to end up with some guy that killed somebody, that robbed somebody, that likes to smoke crack, that likes to do drugs and cocaine, whatever. That's not you. That's not you. That's what I am saying to you. You don't belong there. That's why you need to make a decision right now of how we're leaving this. Because I am getting aggravated, I'm getting aggravated because you're closed off and you're not wanting to tell me.

         Plaintiff responded, “But I've told you everything I know.” Det. Rilling then asked why so many people were picking him as the one who committed the assault. Plaintiff responded, “I'm not sure. I would love to find out if I actually did it, I would have loved to find out from someone.” After the detectives continued to press plaintiff, he eventually said, “I was drunk and I don't remember some, like a lot of the night, so there's a chance it could have happened.”

         According to plaintiff, he was afraid of Det. Rilling. In the interrogation room, plaintiff was in a corner and Det. Nook was blocking the door. Plaintiff thought Det. Rilling was being aggressive, and in the small room, he felt he had no choice but to talk to the officers. Plaintiff later stated in his deposition,

It made me question myself. I mean, it was something I knew I did not do. They just got into my head so much that, you know, I could be going to jail for something that I -- had no involvement in. . . . He was trying to get me to believe I did it, and they messed with my head so much that when I left, I was doubting myself. Even though going into it I knew I did not do this, they - - they messed with my head so much while I was in there that I was questioning myself.

         He said that when he asked to speak to a lawyer, “I got a horrible response from them . . . it was aggressive, loud. They made me feel like if I got up and left, they would be sending me to jail in Bridgeport with murderers and that's why I decided to stay because of what they said and how they said it.” Plaintiff's father testified that when he saw his son after the interrogation, plaintiff started crying.

         Upon meeting plaintiff in person, Det. Rilling thought he looked different than in his student ID photo, so he took an updated photo during the interview. This photo was provided to Lt. Gagner, who prepared a second photo array including plaintiff and five other young males with dark hair and light skin. Plaintiff was the only person who appeared in both arrays. Kazmierczak returned to view the second photo array and selected plaintiff's photo with 100% certainty. He later provided a sworn statement that plaintiff was the assailant.

         On January 3, 2017, David O'Brien went to the Fairfield Police Department. O'Brien reported that he was at the party at the time of the assault. Though he did not witness the assault, he said Kazmierczak pointed out the assailant at the party soon after the assault. Det. Takacs showed O'Brien the second photo array and asked him whether he could identify the person Kazmierczak had pointed to. O'Brien selected the photo of plaintiff with 100% certainty. He gave a sworn statement that Kazmierczak had pointed to plaintiff. He also said he had taken a photo of plaintiff that night after Kazmierczak identified him as the person who struck Blackman.

         Det. Rilling also interviewed Daniel Langlais, who attended the party with Blackman and knew plaintiff from class. He said he saw Blackman being pushed out of the house. Langlais intervened but was tackled. When he got up, he saw a group of people standing around Blackman. He heard someone shout his name and saw it was plaintiff, who had no shirt and was “jumping around crazy.”

         Not all the people interviewed by defendants pinned the assault on plaintiff. Plaintiff's friend Kyle Cullam told Det. Rilling that plaintiff and his friends all arrived at the party after the assault occurred. Two other friends confirmed this version of events. Plaintiff's brother, Sean Mara, stated that the assault occurred before he and his brother arrived at the party. He also stated his brother was drunk, shirtless for part of the evening ...

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