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Gonzalez v. Yepes

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 25, 2019

SHAWN GONZALEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
GEORGE YEPES, FREDERICK DIRGA, JUSTIN LATHROP, and MARK LEMIEUX, Defendants.

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER

          CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff 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.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The 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.

         In 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 679.

         Pro 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.

         II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         The factual allegations contained in the Complaint are recounted below, recited in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.

         Defendants 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[1] 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.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         On May 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.

         The 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.

         The 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.[2] The state also filed a civil asset forfeiture action against Gonzalez in state court for the cash and items seized from the search.[3]

         On October 3, 2018, Gonzalez was convicted of sale of narcotics by a non-drug dependent person, [4] criminal possession of a pistol or revolver, [5] and risk of injury to a child.[6] He was sentenced to twenty years of incarceration, execution suspended after twelve years, plus five years of probation.[7] He has since appealed his convictions to the Connecticut Appellate Court.[8]The appeal remains pending.[9]

         III. ANALYSIS

         Gonzalez 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.

         A. Fourth and ...


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