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Washington v. Dewey

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 10, 2020

LAURENCE WASHINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
JUDGE DEWEY ET AL, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DKT. 46]

          Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Laurence Washington (“Washington”) asserts Fourth Amendment claims for false arrest and malicious prosecution against East Hartford Police Department (“EHPD”) Detective Frank Napolitano (“Napolitano”), EHPD Detective Daniel Ortiz (“Ortiz”), and EHPD Sergeant Francis McGeough (“McGeough”) (collectively, “Defendants”). [Dkt. 61].

         Before this Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. [Dkt. 71-1]. Washington opposed the motion. [Dkt. 76]. Defendants replied. [Dkt. 78]. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. Factual Background[[1]]

         A. Marshall Wiggins' Murder[[2]]

         Washington's claim arises from a murder he witnessed and his arrest and prosecution for his alleged role in the murder.

         Upon returning to his apartment on May 16, 2016, Washington and a friend, “Black, ” listened to music, watched basketball, drank alcohol, and smoked marijuana. [Dkt. 71-6 at 2]. A little while later, Michael Gaston (“Gaston”) knocked on Washington's door and asked Washington if he wanted to smoke together. Ibid. Washington had recently met Gaston and knew him only as “G, ” a short drug dealer around town. [Dkt. 76-16 at 3]. Washington invited him in, and the three continued to smoke, drink and watch the basketball game. [Dkt. 71-6 at 2]. At half-time, they ran out of marijuana, and Gaston said he would go out and buy some more. Ibid; [Dkt. 76-1 at ¶13]; [Dkt. 76-23 at 20:36:00-20:36:40].

         Washington decided to walk with Gaston to a convenience store about a mile from his apartment because he needed cigarettes and soda. [Dkt. 71-6 at 2; Dkt. 76-16 at 3].

         Once they arrived at the store, Gaston and a very large man later identified as Wiggins went to the back of the store and talked. [Dkt. 71-6 at 2]. Washington assumed Gaston was buying marijuana. [Dkt. 76-16 at 3]. Meanwhile, Washington bought several items and spoke with people in the store. [Dkt. 71-6 at 2-3].

         After Gaston and Wiggins returned to the front of the store, the three went outside. Id. at 3. Washington turned and began to walk toward his apartment. Ibid. Upon exiting the store, Gaston called him over to Wiggins' car. Ibid. Gaston let Washington know that Wiggins did not have enough marijuana on him, and that they would have to go with Wiggins to his house to get the amount Gaston wanted. [Dkt 76-23 at 20:53:00-20:53:30]. Gaston asked Wiggins if Washington could come along for the ride, and Wiggins said he didn't care. [Dkt. 71-6 at 3].

         Gaston got in the front passenger seat and Washington got in the back-passenger seat. Ibid. Washington felt nauseous from the combination of the heat in the car, the alcohol he had previously drank, and the marijuana he had previously smoked. Ibid. He closed his eyes and rested while Gaston and Wiggins talked. Id. at 3-4.

         The car came to a stop, and Washington opened his eyes to see Gaston pointing a gun at Wiggins. Id. at 4. Washington had had no idea Gaston was carrying a gun. [Dkt. 76-16 at 4]. Washington told Gaston he was crazy for doing this. Ibid.; [Dkt. 71-6 at 4].

         Gaston told Wiggins to give Gaston his rings and glasses. Ibid. When Wiggins did not obey, Gaston fired a shot. Ibid. Gaston then pointed the gun at Washington, gesturing to Wiggins to give Washington his glasses and rings. Ibid. Wiggins dropped his glasses into Washington's hand and simultaneously reached for the gun. Ibid.

         As Wiggins and Gaston started to fight, a shot was fired, and Washington jumped out of the car and ran. Id. at 5-6. When he reached a back street, he realized he was still gripping the glasses in his hand and threw them on the ground. Id. at 6. He also threw his sweatshirt into a dumpster. Ibid. He walked home. Ibid.

         When Washington reached his apartment, he found Black and told him what happened. Ibid. Within minutes, Gaston arrived at Washington's apartment. Ibid. Gaston told Washington that he needed Washington's help to retrieve the murder weapon. Id. at 6-7. Washington thought Gaston was lying, and that Gaston was trying to get Washington somewhere less conspicuous so Gaston could kill Washington. [Dkt. 76-16 at 4]. Washington lied to Gaston to get away from him, and then fled out of the building and down four flights of stairs to Hartford Hospital. [Dkt. 71-6 at 8]. He felt suicidal and stayed overnight at the hospital. Ibid.

         B. Washington's Report to the Police

         Washington was discharged from Hartford Hospital the next day. [Dkt. 71-2 at ¶32]. His daughter's mother, Elizabeth Reyes (“Reyes”), picked him up. Ibid. Washington told Reyes what he had seen, and she called the EHPD. Id. at ¶ 33. Washington reported that he had information on the murder, and the police arranged for Washington to provide a sworn statement at the police station. Id. at ¶¶34-36.

         At the station, Washington gave a voluntary interview and provided a written statement to Napolitano, the lead detective on the case. Id. at ¶¶37-38. Washington volunteered to submit to a gun residue kit and identified Gaston in a photo array. Id. at ¶37.

         It is undisputed that at the end of the interview, McGeough entered the room and asked Washington if he felt safe. [Dkt. 76-6 (Washington Dep.) at 69]. Washington said he did not because Gaston knew where he lived. Ibid. McGeough let Washington know that Washington could be placed into Witness Protection. Ibid. That night, it was too late to organize Witness Protection through the State's Attorney's office. [Dkt. 71-2 at ¶ 43]. Defendants took Washington to a hotel, booked him a room, and paid for his stay. Id. at ¶ 44.

         The next day, they drove Washington to Hartford to be formally placed in Witness Protection. Id. at ¶44. Washington signed a Witness Protection Agreement, where he remained until his arrest in September 2016. Id. at ¶46.

         C. Additional Investigation and Gaston's Arrest, Interview, and Trial

         Before interviewing Washington, Ortiz retrieved the store surveillance footage and entered it into evidence. [Dkt. 76-13 at 2]; [Dkt. 76-16 at 2]. The defendants had also inspected the scene. [Dkt. 76-15 (Ex. 14)].

         On May 19, 2016, Napolitano drafted an arrest warrant application and affidavit for Gaston, seeking to charge Gaston with murder, felony murder, robbery in the first degree, criminal possession of a pistol/firearm, and carrying a pistol/revolver without a permit. Id. at ¶49. The arrest warrant affidavit for Gaston relied on information provided by Washington and represented that Washington was “prudent” and “credible.” [Dkt. 76-1 at ¶95]. Gaston was arrested. [Dkt. 71-2 at ¶ 51].

         On June 7, 2016, Napolitano interviewed Gaston. [Dkt. 76-1 at ¶93]. In the interview, Gaston lied repeatedly. Ibid. Gaston denied knowing who Washington was. Ibid.

         Two years later, on June 6, 2018, after a trial at which Washington testified, the jury found Gaston guilty of murder, felony murder, and robbery in the first degree. [Dkt. 71-2 at ¶53]. Though he was charged with conspiracy, the jury did not convict him and acquitted Gaston of conspiracy to rob Wiggins. Ibid.

         D. Napolitano and McGeough's Arrest of Washington

         On August 31, 2016, Napolitano drafted an arrest warrant application for Washington, in consultation with McGeough. [Dkt. 71-2 at ¶ 61; Dkt. 76-3 (Ex. 2, Application for Arrest Warrant for Laurence Washington)]. The application, asserting there was probable cause to believe that at a minimum Washington conspired with Gaston to rob Wiggins, sought to charge Washington with three separate crimes: felony murder of Wiggins, in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat § 53a-54c; first degree robbery of Wiggins violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-134; and conspiracy with Gaston to commit first degree robbery of Wiggins, in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 53a-48 and 53a-134. [Dkt. 71-2 at ¶61].

         The affidavit accompanying Washington's arrest warrant application largely repeated the affidavit accompanying Gaston's arrest warrant application. Compare [Dkt. 76-3] with [Dkt. 76-2]. The only other information police had obtained after Washington's May 16 statement was Gaston's statement, which they did not find credible. [Dkt. 76-1 at ¶¶ 61, 99].

         As submitted, the affidavit accompanying Washington's arrest warrant application stated the following:

That on 5/7/16 I interviewed Washington at EHPD. Washington stated that he was with “G”, walking to the convenience store on Main St. He said he had only recently met “G” a few weeks ago. He said, once inside the store “G” started talking to a very large black male. Wiggins is 6'8 and 350 pounds. He stated he had never met the male, but that “G” was trying to buy some “weed” from Wiggins. Washington stated he and “G” went outside and eventually got into Wiggins vehicle. Washington stated “G” got into the front passenger seat and he got into the back passenger seat. Washington stated that after doing a U-turn they drove south on Main St. for short distance before turning left onto a street that he is unfamiliar with. Washington stated that Wiggins then stopped the vehicle in a driveway. Washington stated that when the vehicle stopped, “G” pulled out a black revolver with his right hand and pointed it at Wiggins, ordering Wiggins to give him his glasses and jewelry.
That Washington stated he started yelling at “G” that he was crazy and that he wanted no part in this. Washington stated that he was scared, and could not believe what was happing [sic]. Washington stated “G” ordered Wiggins to reach back and hand him (Washington) the glasses. Washington stated that when Wiggins handed him the glasses he also started to struggle with “G.” Washington stated that “G” then started shooting Wiggins. Washington stated that he got out of the vehicle and started running, while “G” continued to shoot. He stated he heard several shots as he was running. He stated that they were the only 3 people in the vehicle.
That Washington was shown a photo array and identified Michael Gaston [redacted] as “G”, and as the person he saw shoot Wiggins. Washington also provided details that matched physical evidence, recovered video, and information that only an involved person would know. Washington further provided the location where he threw Wiggin's glasses as he was running away. Those glasses were later located by Sgt. McGeough and Det. Johnston where Washington stated they would be found. Washington provided this information in a written statement and the entire interview was audio and video recorded.
That Washington stated he had no knowledge of the intended robbery and stated that Gaston acted on his own, however, Washington admitted to running away with the victim's stolen sunglasses and acknowledged that he watched Gaston point a gun at Wiggins and order Wiggins to hand over his property. Washington was sitting in the back seat of the vehicle and could have exited the vehicle if he truly had no part in the robbery. Video also shows Washington and Gaston arrive at the convenience store, converse with Wiggins, and leave with Wiggins, together.

[Dkt. 76-3.] The affidavit made no mention of the following witness statements, all of which were known to the Defendants:

• Washington told police that Gaston and Washington were watching the NBA playoffs that night with Black and had come to the store to purchase cigarettes and liquor, and to buy more marijuana. [Dkt. 76-1 at ¶103].
• Washington told the police that, upon exiting the store, Washington turned to walk home. [Dkt. 76-1 at ¶¶ 72, 102].
• Washington told the police he had no idea that Gaston was going to rob Wiggins, and also did not know that Gaston had a gun until he pulled it ...

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