Four Unknown, Named Narcotics Agents


P brought an action for damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that the defendants, four New York City police officers, violated his civil rights by falsely arresting him, beating him, and failing to provide him with prompt and adequate medical care.

At trial, P testified that he had assisted several officers of the narcotics division of the New York City Police Department in investigating narcotics trafficking in Jamaica, Queens, and that he had applied to become a paid informer. On March 4, 1988, the date of the events in question, at approximately 10:00 p.m., P entered a vacant building in Jamaica, which he knew to be a drug "shooting gallery," in an effort to obtain information. While he was there, he observed two hypodermic needles abandoned on the floor and a person receiving a drug injection from the operator of the shooting gallery. Moments later, a contingent of police officers arrived, causing the other people at the scene to flee the premises. P testified that he was seized, arrested, and handcuffed, and then placed in an unmarked car with the four defendants. During the ride to the station house, he attempted to convince the officers that he was a police informant and that he had been on the premises attempting to collect information for the police. P further testified that if allowed to make a telephone call he could clear up the misunderstanding but that the defendants reacted by punching him in the face with their fists and a hand-held police radio until he lost consciousness, bleeding from his mouth, the left side of his face, and his left ear. At the precinct house he was booked on charges of burglary in the second degree, unlawful possession of a hypodermic needle, and resisting arrest.

P's second witness at trial was New York City Detective Wayne Carrington, who had worked with P prior to the incident. Carrington testified that he had asked P to gather information concerning drug trafficking in the city and that at the time of P's arrest, he was processing P's application to become a paid informer. Carrington also testified that when he learned of P's arrest, he visited him in the detention center and that P told him that the defendants had beaten him after placing him under arrest. Carrington then testified that he contacted the assistant district attorney handling the case to ask if he could check the records to see exactly what the officers said compared to what P said. The following colloquy then took place:

Q: Now, after you spoke to the Assistant District Attorney, what did you do if anything next in regard to the case?

A: I attempted to contact the arresting officer.

Q: And how did you do that?

A: I called Mr. Meel.

Q: What happened when you made that phone call? What command are you talking about?

A: I believe it was the Street Crime Unit.

Q: When you called the Street Crime Unit, what happened?

A: I asked for the arresting officer, and he wasn't available, and whoever answered the phone said they'd put me in contact with his partner and I spoke to--

Defendants' counsel: Objection.

Q: Did you seek [sic] his partner?

A: I--

Court: Sustained.

Q: Did you seek [sic] his partner?

Court: Yes, or no. That is all.

Defendants' counsel: Objection.

Court: Just yes or no whether he spoke to him or not.

Q: Did you speak to his partner? Would you please answer that yes or no?

Defendants' counsel: Objection.

Court: I didn't hear that last part.

Plaintiff's counsel: He objected to what you said. I asked--I asked if he spoke to his partner, yes or no.

Court: He may answer it only yes or no. Period. Nothing else.

A: I don't know.

Q: Well did somebody take the phone call--the person--when they said they were going to put you in touch with his partner, did they transfer you to another officer?

A: Another officer got on the phone.

Q: Did that officer tell you he was his partner?

A: Yes, he did.

Q: And did you ask that officer if he was present on the night of the arrest of P at the scene?

A: Yes, I did.

Q: What did he say?

Defendants' counsel: Objection. May we approach the bench?

(Whereupon, the following discussion was held at the side bar:)

Defendants' counsel: Your honor, we contend that any of this--

Court: None of this is relevant.

Plaintiff's counsel: Your honor, can I say one thing? I can't say it?

Court: The only issue in this case is whether the policemen were there, had probable cause or reasonable cause to make the arrest and believed that a crime had been committed. That is it. That is where we are at, not what he thinks or what he said or what somebody told him.

Plaintiff's counsel: Can I say one thing, your honor? He stated his officer told him he was the partner of the arresting officer, and he was present at the arrest which makes him one of the defendants in this case.

Court: No it doesn't.

Defendants' counsel: No foundation.

Court: It does not help.

Plaintiff's counsel: That was my point. Then there is an admission. I am going to ask him about that. That was my point.

Court: Is he a defendant in this case?

Plaintiff's counsel: I beg your pardon?

Court: Is he a defendant in this case?

Plaintiff's counsel: I beg your pardon?

Court: Is he a defendant in this case?

Defendants' counsel: Who?

Plaintiff's counsel: Yes, that is my contention.

Defendants' counsel: There has been no foundation for the question.

Court: Yes.

Plaintiff's counsel: Respectfully except.

Court: Okay.

Defendants contend that the exclusion of the conversation was proper because P failed to satisfy the authentication or identification requirements of Rule 901(a). Was the trial judge's ruling correct?

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