Man Can Sue Over Alleged Police Screw Up | Courthouse News Service
Monday, December 4, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Man Can Sue Over Alleged Police Screw Up

(CN) - A man who says he spent nine months in jail because police misidentified him as a much shorter, tattooed armed robber can proceed with his civil rights lawsuit, a federal judge ruled.

Paublo Rivera sued the City of Worcester, Mass., its chief of police and three police officers for false imprisonment, negligence and civil rights violations in Boston Federal Court.

Rivera claimed police identified him as the man who robbed a Honey Farm Store in Worcester on May 8, 2010, though the victim said the robber was about 4 feet 11 inches tall.

Still photographs of the suspect taken from the store's surveillance camera were posted in the police station. The photos showed that the suspect had a tattoo on his hand.

But defendant Dets. Richard Burgos and James O'Rourke, and Officer Francis Bartley identified Rivera as the burglar and arrested him, though Rivera is 5-foot-9 and does not have a hand tattoo.

Rivera was imprisoned for nine months until prosecutors decided the police had misidentified him.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Hillman denied the defendants' motion to dismiss.

Judge Hillman wrote: "Here, the officers clearly acted under the color of state law because they operated within the 'traditionally public function' of law enforcement and maintained a 'regulatory nexus' with government since they were employees of Worcester during the underlying events that gave rise to this action. The crucial issue remaining is whether plaintiff was deprived of a constitutional right.

"Accepting the allegations in the complaint as true, the officers used only the still photograph derived from surveillance camera footage to identify the plaintiff as the perpetrator of the May 8th armed robbery and made no other efforts, besides having had past interactions with the plaintiff, to corroborate the seemingly blatant discrepancies in physical features between the plaintiff and the suspect."

Hillman cited 2nd Circuit precedent that a court's "deferential standard" for law enforcement "does not force [a] court to swallow the plaintiff's invective hook, line, and sinker; bald assertions, unsupportable conclusions, periphrastic circumlocutions, and the like need not be credited."

Hillman ruled that the City of Worcester may be held liable for the officers' actions, if a jury finds that "the officers acted negligently during their investigation to establish the probable cause required for obtaining the arrest warrant."

Hillman denied all four motions to dismiss, with leave to amend one of them.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.