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Butler v. Sampognaro

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 6, 2019

HAROLD TRENT BUTLER, Plaintiff,
v.
KYLE SAMPOGNARO et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JEFFREY ALKER MEYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Harold Trent Butler has filed this lawsuit against numerous police officers of the police department in Hamden, Connecticut. He claims that he was subject to false arrest and malicious prosecution in violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment. Because the officers had at least arguable probable cause to arrest and initiate the prosecution of Butler, they are entitled to qualified immunity, and I will grant their motion for summary judgment.

         Background

          The following facts are drawn from the parties' statements of undisputed facts as well as from the Court's review of the bodycam video exhibits relied on by both parties. Harold Trent Butler and his then-girlfriend Kamiya Knox shared a house in Hamden, Connecticut. On the night of December 10, 2016, Jacqueline Perez-a friend of Knox-placed a 911 call to the police to report that Butler was at the house where he was assaulting Knox.

         When the police arrived, Knox answered the door. She was wet and wearing only a towel, and she came outside the house. Butler then appeared in the doorway in his underwear, and he tried to close the storm door on the police but was stopped by the officers. Butler was then handcuffed and temporarily detained in a police cruiser pending further investigation by the police at the scene.

         The officers questioned Knox and Butler, who provided very different accounts about what had happened. Knox claimed that Butler was upset that she had been at a New Haven night club with her friends and had been sending her angry texts. She asked her friends to bring her home, and when they got to the house Butler was verbally abusive. Almost immediately after her friends left, Butler grabbed her by the hair and dragged her to the basement where he kicked and/or stomped her when she tried to get off the floor. Knox also showed the officers that one of her fingers was dislocated. Knox told the officers that she thought she “was going to die, ” that Butler “is a monster, ” and that she was “scared” of him.

         By contrast, Butler claimed that he was the victim-that he had been “jumped” by three to four females, two of them armed with knives, one of whom stabbed him. He showed officers a wound on his neck. When asked about the wound to Butler's neck, Knox denied placing her hands on Butler or harming him.

         The officers saw signs inside the house that were consistent with some kind of physical struggle. They saw droplets of blood in the basement, kitchen, and bedroom, and they also observed smashed glassware in the kitchen and that the basement furniture was in disarray.

         While still on the scene, the police contacted two of Knox's friends who had come to the house with Knox that night (including Jacqueline Perez who had placed the 911 call) and interviewed them in the parking lot of a nearby McDonalds restaurant. Although the parties dispute some of the details about what Perez said, Butler does not dispute that Perez told the police that there was an altercation in which both Butler and Knox were on the floor and that Perez and two other female friends tried to keep them apart.[1]

         Butler was arrested and charged shortly thereafter with disorderly conduct, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-182, and third-degree assault, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-61.[2] The prosecution was later terminated by means of nolle prosequi, and Butler filed this lawsuit against the defendant police officers pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that he was subject to false arrest and malicious prosecution in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Defendants have now moved for summary judgment.[3]

         Discussion

         The principles governing the Court's review of a motion for summary judgment are well established. Summary judgment may be granted only if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed R. Civ. P. 56(a). I must view the facts in the light most favorable to the party who opposes the motion for summary judgment and then decide if those facts would be enough-if eventually proved at trial-to allow a reasonable jury to decide the case in favor of the opposing party. My role at summary judgment is not to judge the credibility of witnesses or to resolve close contested issues but solely to decide if there are enough facts that remain in dispute to warrant a trial. See generally Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 656-57 (2014) (per curiam); Pollard v. N.Y. Methodist Hosp., 861 F.3d 374, 378 (2d Cir. 2017).

         The Fourth Amendment protects the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. See U.S. Const. amend. IV. A plaintiff may generally claim a violation of his right to be free from unreasonable seizure if he has been subject to a false arrest or malicious prosecution. See, e.g., Jocks v. Tavernier, 316 F.3d 128, 134 (2d Cir. 2003). But the existence of probable cause is a complete defense to any claims for false arrest and malicious prosecution. See Betts v. Shearman, 751 F.3d 78, 82 (2d Cir. 2014); Manganiello v. City of New York, 612 F.3d 149, 161- 62 (2d Cir. 2010).

         Where, as here, an officer is subject to a lawsuit for money damages on grounds that he has violated a suspect's rights under the Fourth Amendment, the officer may assert a defense of qualified immunity. Qualified immunity shields government officials from claims for money damages unless a plaintiff shows the officer has violated clearly established law such that any objectively reasonable officer would have understood that his or her conduct ...


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