Did Police Officers Have Probable Cause?
A certain amount of rowdiness is expected and is accepted when the Rangers face off against the Bruins at Madison Square Garden. But what happens when a Billy Joel concert-goer gets into a fight?
Ari Ganeles claimed that he sustained injuries when he was allegedly assaulted by fellow concert-goers and off-duty New York Police Department (NYPD) Officers– Joseph Brennan, Kevin Ermann, Lerone Davis, and their respective dates– during a Billy Joel concert at Madison Square Garden (MSG). And sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress, false arrest, and malicious prosecution as a result of the City of New York’s “conspiracy” to “cover up” the alleged altercation.
The City of New York and Police Officer Lerone Davis moved for summary judgment on the ground that the arrest was supported by probable cause. Ganeles opposed the motion on the ground that the complainant was not credible. Ganeles attended a concert at Madison Square Garden—where he was involved in a physical altercation with other concert goers, one of whom happened to be an off-duty New York City Police Officer. As a result of the altercation, and a statement made by Jacqueline Pirolo, Ganeles was arrested.
Ganeles was taken directly to the hospital from MSG, escorted by an NYPD police officer, and was handcuffed to the bed. He was then discharged from the hospital, taken to the precinct, where he spent approximately 7 hours when he was released with a summons.
All charges against Ganeles were subsequently dismissed and sealed.
Concerning the allegations of false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution, the Court found that the arrest and subsequent prosecution of the Ganeles were supported by probable cause as a matter of law. There was no genuine issue of material fact as to the existence of probable cause.
Proof of probable cause to arrest as a matter of law constituted a complete defense to the claims of false arrest and unlawful imprisonment, as well as to claims of malicious prosecution, assuming the initial probable cause was still present at the commencement of the prosecution. Proof of probable cause is not the equivalent of proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt but merely that it was reasonable to believe that a crime had been committed.
To succeed on a claim for false arrest and false imprisonment, a plaintiff must show that:
(1) the defendant intended to confine him
(2) the plaintiff was conscious of the confinement
(3) the plaintiff did not consent to the confinement
(4) the confinement was not otherwise privileged
The defendants prevail if they prove that the arrest and imprisonment were effectuated with probable cause.
An officer has probable cause to arrest when in possession of facts sufficient to warrant a prudent person to believe that the suspect had committed or was committing an offense. When the facts resulting in an arrest are undisputed, the existence of probable cause is an issue of law for the court to decide.
Where information is given to an officer by an identified citizen accusing the plaintiff of a specific crime, it is legally sufficient to provide the officer with probable cause to arrest.
To prevail on a claim of malicious prosecution, a plaintiff has the burden to plead and prove the following four elements:
(1) the commencement or continuation of a criminal proceeding by the defendant against the plaintiff
(2) the termination of the proceeding in favor of the accused
(3) the absence of probable cause for the criminal proceeding
(4) actual malice
A plaintiff must establish all four elements to prevail. But a defendant must only prove lack of any one of the elements to establish a prima facie entitlement to judgment.
Ganeles’ claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress was dismissed as such a claim against a governmental entity was barred as a matter of public policy. And none of the allegations in the complaint rose to the level of outrageous and reprehensible conduct not tolerated in a civilized society. His claims for negligent hiring and retention were also dismissed as it was undisputed that Officer Lerone Devis was acting within the scope of her employment.
It was undisputed that the police officers were confronted with a statement by a complaining witness. The witness claimed to have been struck by Ganeles. After everything was sorted out, Ganeles was charged with disorderly conduct and released. The Court recognized the argument that the off-duty police officers may have been treated differently than him and were not placed under arrest on the night of the incident. That, however, was not actionable.
During oral argument, Ganeles’ counsel argued that all people involved in the incident should have been arrested. However, that would still have mandated that the action for false arrest and malicious prosecution be dismissed. Moreover, that Ganeles was handcuffed to the bed at the hospital was also of no moment. As it appeared that he may very well have committed a crime, it was certainly reasonable for Ganeles to be taken for treatment while also being kept in custody during such treatment. None of that obviated the probable cause that existed at the time of the arrest.
With respect to allegations of “cover-up” and conspiracy, it was well established that the State of New York did not recognize a cause of action in tort for conspiracy.