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Cop’s Lies to Grand Jury Are Untouchable

(CN) - The 2nd Circuit declined Tuesday to disturb a ruling that says a New York police officer has some immunity despite perjuring himself before a grand jury.

Craig Buonara, a former Floral Park police officer, faces a civil-rights allegations on Long Island from a man who purportedly beat a weapons charge because Buonara's testimony to the grand jury was exposed as a lie.

The plaintiff behind the complaint, Darryl Coggins, says the charges against him were filed after the scene of an Oct. 9, 2004, traffic stop.

As he ran, the other officer on the scene allegedly told Buonara, "Shoot him in the back!"

The third amended complaint alleges that Buonora and this other officer told the Nassau County district attorney that they heard a "metal noise" while chasing Coggins, and that Buonora found a gun at the scene.

While charges were pending against Coggins, for resisting arrest and criminal possession of a weapon, an unnamed third officer allegedly revealed that the officers were lying since he was the one who found the gun.

Coggins says the charges against him were dropped, and that Buonora pleaded guilty to perjury.

Looking at Coggins' civil rights action, U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco found in December 2013 that Buonora has absolute immunity from any claim under Section 1983 based solely on any perjury before the grand jury.

The ruling did, however, deny Buonara immunity as to such claims unrelated to that grand-jury testimony, and the 2nd Circuit affirmed on that point Tuesday.

"Buonora asserts that, at its core, Coggins's claims all 'involve his grand jury appearance,'" Judge Richard Wesley wrote for a three-member panel. "We disagree."

Indeed, Coggins' claims take aim at "defendant's police reports, the statements of the unnamed Floral Park police officer, Buonora' knowledge of the falsity of [another officer's] police report, Buonora's statements to the district attorney, and police radio transmissions," the decision continues.

These allegations concern conduct before Buonora testified in front of the grand jury, according to the ruling.

"The fact that Buonora's grand jury testimony paralleled information he gave in other contexts does not mean that Coggins' malicious prosecution claim was 'based on' Buonora's grand jury testimony," he wrote. "Rather, it was based on Buonora's conduct that laid the groundwork for Coggins' indictment."

The federal appeals court in Manhattan also upbraided Buonara for relying on the Supreme Court's 2012 decision in Rehberg v. Paulk, which concerns immunity for prosecutors who present perjured testimony to a grand jury.

"Buonora's interpretation of Rehberg would set a dangerous precedent: Any police officer could immunize for § 1983 purposes any unlawful conduct prior to and independent of his perjurious grand jury appearance merely by testifying before a grand jury," Wesley wrote. "Such an outcome would also be inconsistent with the limitations Rehberg explicitly imposes on the scope of the absolute immunity, which the Supreme Court instructed was not to "extend[] to all activity that a witness conducts outside of the grand jury room." (Emphasis in original.)

The 15-page decision emphasizes that "it makes sense to afford [police officers] less protection in contexts other than the grand jury room."

Buonara had contested other issues but the 2nd Circuit declined to exercise jurisdiction over those claims.

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