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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Undercover Owes $20K for Account of Drug Arrest

MANHATTAN (CN) — The Second Circuit upheld a jury award of $20,000 in damages to a man who was acquitted on drug charges — after eight months in jail — based on statements fabricated by an undercover New York City police officer.

Kwame Garnett was arrested five years ago in East Harlem after an undercover officer believed Garnett had been involved in a drug sale police busted - either as the lookout or as the "manager" of the dealers.

While the names of the officers are redacted in Friday's ruling, it quotes Undercover Officer C0039 as writing in his report that Garnett had entered the bodega where the sale during the sale and told the two dealers: "Yo, hurry up. Y'all ain't done yet? Get that money. I'm not looking to get locked up tonight."

The other undercover said he could not hear exactly what was said, however, and Garnett has consistently denied ever being involved with the sale or making the statement.

It turned out, however, that UC-39 and Garnett had a past.

Garnett had been convicted when he was 17 years old of trying to rob the undercover officer at gunpoint in a housing project. UC-39 testified that he not connected Garnett to his attempted robbery three years earlier until after the arrest.

The officer was barred from testifying against Garnett at his criminal trial on the drug charges, and he was acquitted on all charges.

Garnett secured another court victory in 2014 when a federal jury found that the officer had denied him a fair trial by fabricating evidence In.

The court awarded Garnett $1 in nominal damages and $20,000 in punitive damages. The Second Circuit affirmed on Sept. 30, extending 1997 precedent.

In Ricciuti v. N.Y.C Transit Authority, the court said officers who fabricate a defendant's confession and forward that information to prosecutors, even if there is probable cause for the arrest, "violates the accused's constitutional right to a fair trial, and the harm occasioned by such a un unconscionable action is redressable in an action for damages."

"This case calls for us to consider where Riccuiti requires the same result when the fabricated information at issue is the officer's own account of his or her observations of alleged criminal activity which he or she conveys to prosecutors," U.S. Circuit Judge Rosemary Poole wrote for a three-judge panel.

"We hold that it does."

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