This is an action for false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and civil rights violations which stems from plaintiff’s arrest in the Village of Lake Placid, Essex County, on 2 November 1995 for rape and sodomy in the first degree.
The criminal complainant was a woman that plaintiff had met at a party the previous evening. At approximately 3:30 A.M. on 2 November 1995, plaintiff arrived at the cottage where the complainant was staying—an encounter which he claims was prearranged—and was led to the complainant’s bedroom by her cousin, CS. After some small talk, according to plaintiff, they engaged in consensual oral sex and sexual intercourse which did not last for long because the complainant became sick. When she did not respond to his inquiries about “what was going on”, plaintiff got mad and left to drive JC, a friend who had accompanied him to the cottage, home. When plaintiff returned to the cottage shortly thereafter to check on the complainant, she was crying and had told CS that plaintiff raped her. After contacting the police, the complainant was taken to a local hospital by two Village of Lake Placid patrolmen for a rape kit examination.
Thereafter, she was taken to the police station and interviewed by Village of Lake Placid Police Detective D. She gave him an oral statement accusing plaintiff of having nonconsensual sexual intercourse with her, which was later reduced to writing, albeit after plaintiff’s arrest.
Upon learning that the police were looking for him in connection with the complainant’s allegations, plaintiff voluntarily presented himself to the police station between 8:45 and 9:00 A.M. on 2 November 1995. He too gave an oral statement to D, claiming that he engaged in consensual sexual relations with the complainant a few hours earlier. D’s questioning of plaintiff stopped when he requested the presence of an attorney. At approximately 9:50 A.M. that day, D placed plaintiff under arrest. After the complainant had second thoughts about pursuing the charges, the District Attorney ultimately decided not to prosecute the matter, finding insufficient credible evidence to support a prosecution. Plaintiff’s action against defendant followed. Supreme Court’s order denying defendant summary judgment has prompted this appeal.
The dispositive issue on appeal is whether there was probable cause, as a matter of law, to arrest plaintiff akin to Saunders v County of Washington. The presence or absence of probable cause—defined as such grounds as would induce an ordinarily prudent and cautious person, under the circumstances, to believe that plaintiff had committed the crimes as held in Smith v County of Nassau—can be decided as a matter of law where the facts leading up to an arrest and inferences to be drawn therefrom are not in dispute based on Parkin v Cornell Univ. Kramer v City of New York. The parties agree that the essential facts leading up to plaintiff’s arrest are not in dispute. Defendant claims that such facts establish as a matter of law that D had probable cause to arrest plaintiff, and plaintiff claims otherwise.
The court agrees with defendant and, accordingly, reverses the judgment.
In the case at bar, the complainant reported the alleged crime within hours of its occurrence, endured a rape kit examination at the local hospital and presented herself in such a way that D believed her accusations to be true. According to D, based on the demeanor of plaintiff, as well as the complainant’s demeanor, her state of mind, how she looked, how she acted, and what she told him and the fact that she said it was truthful, he believed that plaintiff had raped her and, accordingly, placed him under arrest.
The court notes that information provided by an identified citizen accusing another individual of the commission of a specific crime is sufficient to provide the police with probable cause to arrest as also ruled in People v Lee, Kramer v City of New York and People v Gonzalez. Defendant’s denial of the acts notwithstanding, the court finds that the facts and circumstances reasonably justified D’s belief that plaintiff was guilty of the charged crimes akin to Coleman v City of New York and Minott v City of New York.
It is the plaintiff’s contention that because D was faced with conflicting statements he lacked probable cause to arrest him. The court disagrees. Police officers are routinely called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct and, in the face of conflicting versions of events, make determinations whether probable cause exists to believe that crimes have been committed. Thus, the scenario with which D was presented was certainly not atypical, particularly where the offense alleged to have been committed was a sexual assault to which there are usually no witnesses.
As noted by the Court of Appeals in Gisondi v Town of Harrison, in any investigation the police are likely to encounter discrepancies. These matters may impair their ability to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, but they generally have little bearing at preliminary stages where the only relevant concern is whether there is sufficient evidence to show probable cause to believe the defendant committed the crime.
Plaintiff further claims that the written statements of JC and CS contradicted the complainant’s accusations proved that the intercourse was indeed consensual and thereby negated probable cause.
Upon the court’s review of these statements, it does not find that they refute the complainant’s allegations. Neither stated that he or she was in the room when the alleged crimes took place. Moreover, SC’s statement confirmed many aspects of the complainant’s version of events. According to SC, who readily acknowledged in her statement that she did “not know what went on”, when plaintiff left the complainant’s bedroom that morning, the complainant was crying and accusing him of rape.
The court further notes that SC’s statement contradicted plaintiff’s version of events to police. According to SC, plaintiff told her he only had oral sex with the complainant. As noted, plaintiff told D that he had oral sex and sexual intercourse with the complainant. In short, the court is satisfied that probable cause existed to arrest plaintiff such that summary judgment should have been granted to defendant.
The court reverses the order, on the law, with costs, grants summary judgment to the defendant and dismisses the complaint.
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