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Constitutional Torts: Dewitt v. City of Troy

By: Daily Record Staff//August 23, 2010

Constitutional Torts: Dewitt v. City of Troy

By: Daily Record Staff//August 23, 2010

U.S. District Court, Northern District of New York

Constitutional Torts

False Arrest

Dewitt v. City of Troy
Judge McAvoy

Background: Plaintiffs Jamel DeWitt and Marquese Hill commenced an instant action against the defendants, asserting claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 for denial of liberty, unlawful search and seizure, the use of excessive force, malicious prosecution and related common law claims arising out of their Jan. 18, 2008 arrest. The defendants moved for summary judgment. During an afternoon in January 2008, the plaintiffs met and drank alcohol and smoked marijuana. Later that evening, while driving around the City of Troy, Hill was in the passenger seat, they reached the area of 10th and Hoosick streets. A maroon SUV pulled up near their car. Officer Hoover was accompanied by defendant Troy City Police Officer William Bowles. Hoover and Bowles were members of the Street Crimes Unit, did not wear department issued uniforms and drove an unmarked police vehicle. Although Hill admitted being familiar with Bowles and Hoover, the plaintiffs contend they did not recognize the SUV as belonging to the police department, nor its occupants as police officers. Based on a prior stop of DeWitt, Bowles claimed to be aware that DeWitt did not have a driver’s license. It does not appear that Bowles or Hoover checked on the status of DeWitt’s license on Jan. 18. Based on information obtained from a parole officer sometime within the preceding month, Bowles and Hoover also claimed to know Hill had a parole warrant. Hoover attempted to stop the plaintiffs’ vehicle to prevent the plaintiffs from fleeing. Bowles claims he got out of the SUV and displayed his badge to the plaintiffs, who contend they did not believe the maroon SUV had anything to do with pulling them over. They deny that Bowles got out of the SUV and displayed his badge. The defendants contend the plaintiffs placed their car in reverse before proceeding forward toward I-787. When the plaintiffs eventually were stopped, the defendants claim DeWitt resisted arrest, therefore Seney executed several baton strikes to DeWitt’s leg. After a second series of strikes, Bowles and Seney handcuffed DeWitt, who then was transported back to Troy and held pending his arraignment. DeWitt denies that he resisted arrest and asserts he was pulled to the ground and beaten. With respect to Hill, the defendants contend that they ordered him several times to get down on the ground and stop resisting arrest. They claim Hill refused to comply.

Ruling: DeWitt claims he received bruises, scrapes, lumps and knots, but no bones were broken and he did not require surgery. Hill’s injuries consisted of a dime-sized laceration on his head, bruises, abrasions and a slight limp. The officers had sufficient cause to arrest on the unlicensed operation charge since, although “reasonable officers could disagree whether Bowles’s information, obtained several months previous to the arrest, provided probable cause to arrest,” Bowles knew the plaintiff did not have a license as of a certain date prior to the afternoon at issue. With arguable probable cause, the false arrest and false imprisonment claims must be dismissed. The defendants’ motion for summary judgment is denied as to the remaining allegations — including claims for the use of excessive force, assault and battery and malicious prosecution concerning the charges of marijuana possession, resisting arrest and obstruction of government administration.

Terence L. Kindlon for the plaintiffs; Aaron E. Connor for the defendants

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