United States District Court, D. Connecticut
INITIAL REVIEW ORDER
CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Shawn Gonzalez, currently incarcerated at the Cheshire
Correctional Center in Connecticut, has filed a civil rights
complaint pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
against four Middletown police officials in their individual
and official capacities: Sergeant George Yepes, Detective
Frederick Dirga, Detective Justin Lathrop, and Detective Mark
Lemieux. Doc. 1 ("Compl.") at 2-3. Gonzalez claims
that the Defendants violated his rights under the Fourth,
Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States
Constitution. Id. at 3. For the following reason,
the Complaint is dismissed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court must dismiss a complaint "in which a prisoner
seeks redress from a governmental entity[, ] or officer or
employee of a governmental entity," that "is
frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted." See 28 U.S.C. §
1915A(a)-(b); Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d
Cir. 2007). Although detailed allegations are not required, a
complaint must "must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to 'state a claim that is plausible on
its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has
facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content
that allows the Court to draw the reasonable inference that
the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."
Id. This plausibility standard is not simply a
"probability requirement," but imposes a standard
higher than "a sheer possibility that a defendant has
acted unlawfully." Id.
undertaking this analysis, the Court must "draw all
reasonable inferences in [the plaintiff's] favor, assume
all well-pleaded factual allegations to be true, and
determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement
to relief." Faber v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 648
F.3d 98, 104 (2d Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks
omitted). However, the Court is "not bound to accept
conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as
factual conclusions," id., and "a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action
will not do." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Ultimately, "[d]etermining whether a complaint states a
plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific
task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its
judicial experience and common sense." Id. at
se submissions "are reviewed with special
solicitude, and 'must be construed liberally and
interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they
suggest.'" Matheson v. Deutsche Bank Nat'l
Tr. Co., 706 Fed.Appx. 24, 26 (2d Cir. 2017) (quoting
Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471,
474 (2d Cir. 2006) (per curiam)). See also Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) ("A document filed
pro se is 'to be liberally construed,' and 'a pro
se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, mus t be held to
less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by
lawyers.'" (internal citations omitted)). This
liberal approach, however, does not exempt pro se
litigants from the minimum pleading requirements described
above: A pro se plaintiff's complaint still must
"'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'" Mancuso v. Hynes, 379 Fed.Appx. 60,
61 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).
Therefore, even in a pro se case, "threadbare
recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by
mere conclusory statements, do not suffice," Chavis
v. Chappius, 618 F.3d 162, 170 (2d Cir. 2010) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted), and the Court may not
"invent factual allegations" that the plaintiff has
not pleaded, id.
factual allegations contained in the Complaint are recounted
below, recited in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.
Sergeant George Yepes, Detective Frederick Dirga, Detective
Justin Lathrop, and Detective Mark Lemieux are all employees
of the Middletown Police Department in Middletown,
Connecticut. Compl. at 6. The Defendants submitted two
affidavits on April 27, 2017 and May 30, 2017, in
support of an application for a search and seizure warrant to
be executed at the homes of Gonzalez's wife, Courtney
Gonzalez, and that of his girlfriend, Baughnita Leary, both
located in Middletown, Connecticut. Id. The
Defendants also applied for a warrant to search a U-Haul
storage unit in Middletown and for a tracking device to be
placed on Courtney Gonzalez's car. Id. In the
affidavit, the Defendants claimed that Gonzalez had been the
subject of a narcotics investigation over the course of
several months and that they had arranged for two
confidential informants ("CIs") to purchase cocaine
from Gonzalez. Id. The affidavit also stated that
the CIs had communicated with the Plaintiff via a cellular
phone that he had provided them. Id.
Defendants omitted several facts from their affidavits. They
failed to mention how much money they had given the CIs, how
much cocaine was purchased, or whether they had recorded any
phone conversations between the CIs and Gonzalez.
Id. at 7. The Defendants never sought a warrant to
utilize any electronic surveillance or place a recording
device on the Plaintiff's phone that he had allegedly
provided to the CIs. Id. Instead, the affidavits
were based solely on the Defendants' visual observations.
Id. Neither informant testified at Gonzalez's
criminal trial, which the government stated was to protect
them from the risk of physical retaliation and to allow their
assistance in future cases. Id.
Defendants also provided a false statement in their
affidavits. They alleged that Gonzalez was the president of a
local outlaw motorcycle club known as the "Dog Pound
Rydaz," which was affiliated with the "Hells
Angels," "Ruthless for Life," and other outlaw
gangs in the area. Id. at 8. Gonzalez's
pre-sentence investigation report later stated that this
allegation was untrue. Id.
31, 2017, the defendants executed a search and seizure
warrant at Gonzalez's wife's apartment. Id.
Gonzalez alleges that during the search the Defendants
planted 3.6 grams of cocaine in a dresser for their canine to
find. Id. The Defendants later claimed that they
found a loaded Taurus .38 Special revolver in a storage
container among Gonzalez's belongings. Id.
However, Gonzalez alleges that the revolver was not loaded,
and Gonzalez had no knowledge of its presence. Id.
at 8-9. The revolver was actually a gift to Gonzalez's
wife from her uncle. Id. at 9. During his criminal
trial, the state court did not permit Gonzalez's wife to
testify on his behalf as to this fact. Id.
Defendants also seized a digital scale from the basement of
the apartment, which did not belong to anyone in
Gonzalez's family. Id. at 9. They also claimed
that they had found used “drug baggies, ” but
that claim was untrue and unsupported by any fingerprint or
DNA evidence. Id. In addition, the Defendants seized
$2, 661.00 from Gonzalez's wife's dresser as well as
two Michael Kors watches and three motorcycles from Gonzalez.
Id. The watches and motorcycles had all been
purchased legally. Id. The Defendants have not
returned any of the seized property. Id.
same day, the Defendants executed a search and seizure
warrant at the residence of Baughnita Leary, Gonzalez's
girlfriend. Id. at 10. Leary was out of the country
at the time of the search. Id. The Defendants broke
through the door and ransacked the residence, leaving it in
complete disarray. Id. No drugs were found in the
residence, and no property was seized. Id. Gonzalez
was arrested the same day. The state also filed a civil asset
forfeiture action against Gonzalez in state court for the
cash and items seized from the search.
October 3, 2018, Gonzalez was convicted of sale of narcotics
by a non-drug dependent person,  criminal possession of a
pistol or revolver,  and risk of injury to a
child. He was sentenced to twenty years of
incarceration, execution suspended after twelve years, plus
five years of probation. He has since appealed his convictions
to the Connecticut Appellate Court.The appeal remains
claims that the Defendants' false statements and
omissions in the warrant affidavits and fabrication of
evidence violated his Fourth Amendment protection against
unreasonable searches and seizures and his Fourteenth
Amendment right to due process. Compl. at 10-11. He further
contends that the Defendants "targeted [him] because
[he] was a black man that had some nice motorcycles and gold
watches," and caused him and his family
"post-traumatic stress," thereby violating his
Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual
punishment. Id. at 10. As discussed below, this
Court lacks jurisdiction over his Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendment claims, and his Eighth Amendment claim is
insufficient to proceed.
Fourth and ...