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Sunday, March 3, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

NYC & Officers Cannot Derail False Arrest Trial

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) - A man who was jailed for over a year before being acquitted on drug charges can pursue false-arrest claims, a federal judge ruled.

Naeem Brown claims the arresting New York City Police Department officers lied about the events leading to his 2006 arrest. He says they in fact had no reasonable reason to suspect him of selling crack cocaine.

Officers Evagelos Dimitrakis and Bobby Mohip had been sitting in a parked car on a Queens Boulevard, watching for street narcotics sales, on Nov. 16, 2006.

Brown was standing on a nearby corner, talking.

U.S. District Judge Frederic Block noted that, here, the "stories diverge."

Dimitrakis claims he saw a man "hand money to the plaintiff, and then saw the plaintiff squat down, reach into a hole in his pants, remove a bag, and hand it to" the man. He says he relayed those observations over the radio, leading a sergeant to stop the man and his female companion, and find that man in possession of crack cocaine.

Mohip "contends that he did not see this transaction with Brown and only learned about it from Dimitrakakis," according to the ruling. Dimitrakis says he then radioed in Brown's description, and that an unmarked police car then pulled into the intersection. At this point, Brown allegedly fled and the officers followed in pursuit by foot and car.

Brown contends he was "just talking to two friends on the corner," "that he did not run from the police," "that he did not squat and remove on item from a hole in pants," and that he did not even speak to the man who was arrested for possession. He says he admitted in the precinct to having marijuana on him because he was being illegally strip-searched.

His attorney, Rose Weber, says the police framed Brown to save face because the officers let whoever actually sold drugs get away.

"They had already arrested the buyer, but I would assume their real goal was to get the seller and they would look like smacked asses if they didn't," Weber told Courthouse News.

The city and Officers Dimitrakis and Mohip had sought summary judgment and to dismiss the municipal liability claim, but Judge Block mostly denied their request last week.

She tossed the claims for malicious prosecution and malicious abuse of process but let stand the claims for false arrest, unlawful search, denial of a fair trial, failure to intervene, and municipal liability.

The opinion came several weeks into the class action against New York City led by David Floyd, which seeks to dismantle a controversial stop-and-frisk policy that lets police to frisk anyone they deem suspicious. Critics have concluded that the stops represent entrenched and unconstitutional racial profiling as officers struggle to meet unreasonable arrest quotas.

Brown sees himself as a victim of this policy and says his arresting officer was trying to meet a quota when he remarked "that the officers would falsify evidence and manipulate line-ups in order to implicate him," attorney Weber told Courthouse News.

Though a jury ultimately acquitted Brown on sale and possession of a controlled substance, Judge Block said the malicious prosecution claim failed because it relied solely on Brown's own testimony.

Likewise Brown failed to show that officers had "productivity goals" in mind when they subjected him to malicious abuse of process.

The judge nevertheless found that "there are genuine disputes regarding the existence probable cause" for Brown's arrest.

"Because Mohip was sitting next to Dimitrakakis, there is a question of the fact as to whether Mohip witnessed the incident and thus had reason to believe that Dimitrakakis was lying," the 15-page ruling states.

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