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Salaman v. City of New Haven

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 23, 2019

CITY OF NEW HAVEN, et al., Defendants.



         On April 17, 2019, the plaintiff, Luis Angel Salaman, a state prisoner currently confined at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Uncasville, Connecticut, filed a civil complaint pro se and in forma pauperis against the City of New Haven, Connecticut, the New Haven Police Department (“NHPD”), the State's Attorney's Office for the judicial district of New Haven, and nine NHPD officials in their individual and official capacities: Chief Anthony Campbell, Officer James Murcko, Officer Joseph Galvan, Officer Garry Monk, Detective Luis Lopez, Sergeant Sean Maher, Sergeant Rose Dell, Sergeant Carlos Maldonado, and Lieutenant Racheal Cain. ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 4-16. The plaintiff raises a number of constitutional claims stemming from his arrest in New Haven on April 22, 2016. Id. at ¶¶ 100-09. He seeks monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief. Id. at ¶¶ 110-16. For the following reasons, the complaint is dismissed in part.

         I. Standard of Review

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review prisoner civil complaints and dismiss any portion of the complaint that is frivolous or malicious, that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Although detailed allegations are not required, the complaint must include sufficient facts to afford the defendants fair notice of the claims and the grounds upon which they are based and to demonstrate a right to relief. Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Conclusory allegations are not sufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the [C]ourt to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 556). Nevertheless, it is well-established that “[p]ro se complaints ‘must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'” Sykes v. Bank of America, 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006)); see also Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude for pro se litigants).

         II. Factual Allegations

         On April 22, 2016, at around 7:00 p.m., the plaintiff was traveling west on Putnam Street in New Haven in his red Saab. ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 17-18. When he stopped at a stop sign at the intersection of Putnam Street and Howard Avenue, he noticed a police cruiser operated by Officer Murcko parked on a driveway on Howard Street. Id. at ¶ 17. When the plaintiff proceeded onto Howard Street from the intersection, he noticed Murcko following him in his cruiser. Id. at ¶ 18. Murcko activated his lights and siren, and the plaintiff pulled over on Liberty Street. Id. at ¶ 19. He sat in his car for several minutes, but Murcko did not exit his cruiser. Id. The plaintiff then noticed another police cruiser driven by Officers Monk and Galvan approaching him at an alarming speed. Id. at ¶¶ 19-20. The plaintiff did not feel safe and sped off in fear that the officers were going to attack him. Id. at ¶ 21. The plaintiff and the officers then engaged in a pursuit throughout the streets of New Haven. Id. at ¶¶ 22-26. At various times, the police cruisers crashed into the plaintiff's Saab and caused him to drive into the oncoming traffic lane. Id. at ¶¶ 23-25. The plaintiff feared that the officers were trying to kill him. Id. at ¶ 24. Eventually, Murcko crashed his cruiser into the rear left side of the plaintiff's Saab, causing it to spin out of control and come to a stop on Long Wharf Drive. Id. at ¶¶ 26-27.

         After the Saab had come to a stop, the officers ordered the plaintiff at gunpoint to exit his vehicle. ECF No. 1, ¶ 27. The plaintiff complied by exiting his vehicle and lying face down on the ground. Id. Galvan placed him in handcuffs, searched his person, and then placed him in Murcko's police cruiser. Id. At the time, the plaintiff was in a lot of pain and had difficulty breathing. Id. As he sat down in the cruiser, the plaintiff complained to another officer that that he was in pain and could not breathe. Id. at ¶ 28. He then heard Murcko say, “I should mace you, you motherfucker, ” and Murcko slammed the cruiser door. Id. Murcko then opened his driver door and closed all of the windows in the cruiser, which caused the plaintiff to become lightheaded. Id.

         The plaintiff again complained to an ambulance technician that he was not feeling well and had difficulty breathing, and the technician cracked open the windows in the cruiser. ECF No. 1, ¶ 29. A short time later, however, Murcko closed the windows again. Id. at ¶ 30. When the technician attempted to open the windows a second time, Murcko instructed him not to touch the windows, but the technician insisted that they take the plaintiff out of the car. Id. Murcko then became upset, opened the back door, and told the plaintiff to get out of the car. Id.

         Murcko walked the plaintiff to a nearby intersection where Sergeant Maher was present. ECF No. 1, ¶ 31. He then searched the plaintiff a second time and, during the pat down, grabbed the plaintiff's testicles and squeezed them so hard that it caused the plaintiff to cry out loud in pain. Id. Murcko said, “What's this?” and the plaintiff responded, “Why [are] you doing this? You can't touch me there at all.” Id. Murcko told him to “shut the fuck up” and then instructed the ambulance technician to take him away. Id.

         The plaintiff was taken to Yale New Haven Hospital, where he was evaluated and given medical treatment, and then transported to the New Haven police station. ECF No. 1, ¶ 33. He was released on bail that same night. Id.

         On April 25, the plaintiff obtained a ten-page police report written by Galvan and noticed several factual inaccuracies. ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 34-37. Four days later, on April 29, the plaintiff appeared in state court for a preliminary hearing. Id. at ¶ 38. There, he filed a motion for discovery of any video footage taken during the arrest, including traffic camera footage, and the court ordered the State to preserve any such footage. Id. at ¶¶ 39, 44. The plaintiff asked his attorney to review the footage, which he believed would show that the officers were untruthful in their account of the pursuit. Id. at ¶¶ 41-44. The plaintiff later fired his attorney, and the court appointed Special Public Defender Beth A. Merkin to represent him. Id. at ¶ 46. He briefed Merkin on the court's order for the preservation of the videos and told her that he believed the NHPD officers were targeting him. Id. at ¶ 47.

         On October 7, 2016, the plaintiff filed a civilian complaint with the NHPD Internal Affairs Unit for police misconduct during his arrest. ECF No. 1, ¶ 42. He received a letter on October 19 from Lieutenant Cain stating that an investigation into his allegations had been opened, and that Sergeant Maldonado would be in contact with the plaintiff regarding its status, but the plaintiff was never contacted regarding his complaint. Id.

         On December 19, 2016, the plaintiff obtained from Merkin the full police reports from Officers Galvan and Murcko and a Uniform Police Crash Report filed by Sergeant Maher. ECF No. 1, ¶ 48. Again, the plaintiff noticed several untruthful statements in the reports. See Id. at ¶¶ 49-59.

         On January 9, 2017, the plaintiff posted bail and was released from custody. ECF No. 1, ¶ 61. A short time later, he went to the NHPD to check on the status of his civilian complaint because no one from the NHPD had ever contacted or interviewed him. Id. A clerk there told him that Lieutenant Cain would be contacting him, but that never occurred. Id. The plaintiff tried to contact Cain the following month but was unsuccessful. Id. at ¶ 62. When he went to the NHPD a second time to check on the status of the complaint, the clerk there handed him a letter written by Maldonado stating that the Internal Affairs Unit was closing his complaint because the claims stated therein were unfounded, and the Unit determined that no policies were violated. Id.

         The plaintiff informed Attorney Merkin of the outcome of the civilian complaint. ECF No. 1, ¶ 64. During their discussions, the plaintiff told Merkin that he recalled Officer Galvan waving something in his hand on the night of his arrest and shouting, “Call Lopez. Tell him we got him.” Id. at ¶ 67. Merkin also handed the plaintiff another summary report written by Maldonado in which he stated that he had reviewed the police radio transmission logs from the night of the arrest. Id. at ¶¶ 65, 68. In one of those logs, Sergeant Maher asks why they were pursuing the plaintiff's car, and someone responds that it was related to a drug investigation and that Detective Lopez “wants him.” Id. at ¶ 71. In his police report from April 22, 2016, Officer Galvan stated that the officers were pursuing the plaintiff because his Saab “did not have a proper illuminated marker plate, ” in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 14-18, but omitted any reference to a drug investigation. Id. at ¶¶ 73-74. Maldonado also stated in his report that Lopez had an interest in the plaintiff's vehicle as part of a narcotics investigation. Id. at ¶ 76.

         The plaintiff believes that Lopez had targeted him for arrest on April 22, 2016 because (1) at that time, he was awaiting trial for an unrelated criminal case from 2014 in which Lopez was the arresting officer, and (2) he had previously dated Lopez's ex-girlfriend. ECF No. 1, ¶ 77. The plaintiff believes that Lopez directed Murcko and Galvan to attack him on April 22, 2016. Id. at ¶ 78.

         The plaintiff later learned from Sergeant Dell, who specializes in accident reconstruction, that traffic camera footage is only preserved for two weeks, and because the plaintiff did not file his civilian complaint until October 2016, there was no available footage of the arrest. ECF No. 1, ¶ 84. However, the state ...

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