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Hernandez v. Cooper

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 16, 2019

BRYAN COOPER et al., Defendants.


          Jeffrey Alker Meyer, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Francisco Hernandez is a prisoner in the custody of the Connecticut Department of Correction. He has filed a complaint pro se and in forma pauperis under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that he was subject to an unlawful strip search and false arrest. In accordance with my duty to conduct an initial review of the complaint before it may be served on the defendants, I conclude that the strip search claim should proceed but that the false arrest claim must be dismissed.


         Hernandez names four defendants: the Stamford Police Department, and three members of the Stamford Police Department's Narcotics and Crime Unit: Officer Bryan Cooper, Officer Connelly, and Officer Pennoyer. Hernandez asserts claims for an unconstitutional strip search and failure to intervene to prevent the search.

         The complaint alleges the following facts that I assume to be true solely for purposes of this ruling.[1] On October 23, 2018, Hernandez was walking down the street in Stamford when he saw a friend. The two men briefly spoke in the parking lot of 1 Southfield Avenue. Doc. #1 (¶ 1). Officer Connelly approached the men in an unmarked car and asked for identification. Id. (¶¶ 2-3).

         Officer Connelly ran their names and discovered that there was an outstanding warrant for Hernandez's arrest. Hernandez asked to see the warrant, but Officer Connelly refused. Id. (¶ 3). As Hernandez was speaking with Officer Connelly, Officers Pennoyer and Cooper approached him from behind and handcuffed him with his hands behind his back. Id. (¶ 4).

         Officer Cooper conducted a strip search of plaintiff in the parking lot. He unzipped plaintiff's jacket, untucked his shirt, opened his pants, and searched plaintiff's buttocks and genital area with his bare hands. Id. (¶ 5). While Officer Cooper was attempting to force his hand between plaintiff's buttocks he made rude sexual remarks. Id. (¶ 6). Officers Pennoyer and Connelly were laughing and encouraging Officer Cooper. Ibid. The search lasted about twenty minutes. Id. (¶ 7).

         Officer Connelly called for a transport vehicle. Officer Cooper escorted plaintiff to the back of the vehicle. He roughly pushed Hernandez into the vehicle but then immediately pulled him out and conducted a second strip search of Hernandez's buttocks and genitals, again accompanied by rude sexual remarks. Ibid.

         Officer Cooper reached into the back of the transport vehicle and retrieved a clear plastic baggie containing white and blue substances, and Hernandez claims that this evidence was planted by the police. Id. at 7 (¶¶ 8-9). Hernandez seeks money damages on grounds that that he was subject to a “gruesome” experience, that he was “deprived of my dignity in a degra[d]ing and emasculated manner in the public eye, ” as well as “being incarcerated with trumped up charges for the possession of narcotics that did not belong to me.” Id. at 7.


         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review a prisoner's civil complaint against a governmental entity or governmental actors and “identify cognizable claims or dismiss the compliant, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint-(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” If the prisoner is proceeding pro se, the allegations of the complaint must be read liberally to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest. See Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010).

         The Supreme Court has set forth a threshold “plausibility” pleading standard for courts to evaluate the adequacy of allegations in federal court complaints. A complaint must allege enough facts-as distinct from legal conclusions-that give rise to plausible grounds for relief. See, e.g., Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Notwithstanding the rule of liberal interpretation of a pro se complaint, a complaint may not survive dismissal if its factual allegations do not meet the basic plausibility standard. See, e.g., Fowlkes v. Ironworkers Local 40, 790 F.3d 378, 387 (2d Cir. 2015).

         Strip search

         The Fourth Amendment protects an arrestee against an unreasonable strip search. See Sloley v. VanBramer, ___ F.3d. ___, 2019 WL 6765762, at *4-5 (2d Cir. 2019). Although the Fourth Amendment allows the police to conduct a search of a suspect incident to the suspect's arrest, a strip search is not an ordinary search, and such a search must be justified by at least an individualized reasonable ...

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