Gonzalez v. Leonard

Decision Date28 August 1980
Docket NumberCivil Action No. H76-350.
Citation497 F. Supp. 1058
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
PartiesRodolfo "Corky" GONZALEZ, Crusade for Justice, and the National American Indian Movement, Inc. v. Edward P. LEONARD, Individually and as Commissioner of the Connecticut State Police, Leonard F. Chapman, Jr., Individually and as Commissioner of the U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, and Robert Money, Individually and as Assistant District Director for Investigations, Hartford, Connecticut, Office of the U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

William M. Kunstler, New York, N.Y., Victor M. Ferrante, Bridgeport, Conn., for plaintiffs.

Paul V. McNamara, McNamara, Clancy, Kenney & Sullivan, P. C., Bridgeport, Conn., Frank Rogers, Asst. Atty. Gen., Meriden, Conn., Carl R. Ajello, Atty. Gen. of the State of Connecticut, Hartford, Conn., for defendant Edward P. Leonard.

Frank H. Santoro, Asst. U. S. Atty., Richard Blumenthal, U. S. Atty. for the District of Connecticut, New Haven, Conn., for defendants Robert D. Money and Leonard F. Chapman, Jr.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

JOSÉ A. CABRANES, District Judge:

Introduction

On June 18, 1976, the Connecticut State Police sent a telex message to other law enforcement agencies around the country, erroneously stating that Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzalez of Denver, Colorado, the National American Indian Movement, Inc. ("AIM"), and two other organizations had devised a plan to "kill a cop a day in each state" by luring police officers into ambushes. This case was brought on August 31, 1976 by Gonzalez, AIM and the Crusade for Justice, a Colorado corporation founded and chaired by Gonzalez,1 against the federal and state officials who, the plaintiffs allege, were responsible for the dissemination of the telex.

Plaintiff Gonzalez describes himself as a lecturer, poet, playright, community organizer and leader of the Mexican-American movement in Denver and elsewhere in the United States.2 The Crusade for Justice, which is based in Denver, is described in the plaintiffs' complaint as "an independent civil rights, social action and community services organization, dedicated to the betterment of the Chicano people."3 Plaintiff AIM, a Minnesota corporation based in St. Paul, Minnesota, describes itself as "an organization dedicated to the attainment of treaty and other rights for Native Americans throughout the Americas."4

The defendants are Robert D. Money, who in 1976 was Assistant Director for Investigations of the Hartford office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (the "INS") of the United States Department of Justice (and disclosed the "kill a cop a day" story to the Connecticut State Police); Leonard F. Chapman, Jr., who was Commissioner of the INS at the time the telex was sent; and Edward P. Leonard, who was Commissioner of the Connecticut State Police in 1976.5

Before the court for adjudication are several motions: the motions for summary judgment filed by Money and Chapman (the "federal defendants"), Leonard's motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiffs' motion to join as defendants the INS, Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, and the State of Connecticut. In order to determine the merits of the summary judgment motions, the court construes the plaintiffs' vague complaint as generously as it can, and discerns three claims or categories of claims upon which the plaintiffs seek, or may seek, relief: (1) a claim that the defendants defamed the plaintiffs by causing the publication of false and derogatory information about them; (2) claims that the defendants violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights; and (3) a claim that the defendants violated the provisions of the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a.

On the basis of the undisputed facts, the court concludes, for the reasons stated at greater length below, that the federal defendants have an absolute immunity from liability for the tort of defamation; that neither Chapman nor Leonard may be deemed responsible for any defamation of the plaintiffs; that the plaintiffs' claims under the United States Constitution are without foundation (and that even if those claims were not otherwise legally deficient, neither the federal defendants nor Leonard would be proper defendants on them); and that neither the federal defendants nor Leonard may be sued for alleged violations of the Privacy Act. Accordingly, the court grants the defendants' summary judgment motions.

The court's conclusions on the legal issues raised by the summary judgment motions lead it to deny the plaintiffs' motion to add defendants.

I. THE DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
A. The Facts

(1) The INS Intelligence Report

On Tuesday, June 15, 1976, defendant Money received from the INS Eastern Regional Office a report (the "Intelligence Report") prepared by INS Eastern Regional Intelligence and Security Officer Thomas J. Cronin. That document, dated June 7, 1976, stated that certain individuals and organizations were involved in a plot to kill police officers by trapping and ambushing them.6 The Intelligence Report, which identified the Bureau of Indian Affairs as the original source of this information,7 also stated that the plaintiffs possessed a rocket launcher, rockets, explosives and M-16 military rifles with "banana clips."8 According to Money, such intelligence reports were prepared either on a weekly or biweekly basis by regional intelligence officers of the INS, and were regularly distributed to the various INS regional and local offices and to the central INS office in Washington.9

At his deposition, Money testified that he became "quite upset" upon reading about the plot to kill police officers.10 He recalled that "it seemed to me there was an immediate danger and a need to find out if the State Police had been advised of this."11 "As would any citizen, I felt I had an obligation to inform the State Police, to protect themselves, if they didn't know. I really thought they already knew."12 Money discussed the Intelligence Report with his superior, Edwin J. Maloney, Deputy District Director of the INS Hartford office. They decided to ask Cronin, the author of the report, whether it would be appropriate to release the information in the Intelligence Report to the Connecticut State Police.13

Cronin — who is not a defendant in this case — told Money that he should "go ahead and release" the information because of the "obvious seriousness" of the reported threat to the lives of police officers.14 Accordingly, Money called the Connecticut State Police. He informed Sergeant William F. Taylor of the Criminal Intelligence Division of that agency of the reported plot to kill police officers15 and asked Taylor whether he had already received such information.16 Taylor replied that he had not heard of such a plot, and Money told him:17

Well, for whatever it is worth, this is the information that came in our intelligence report. And I am pretty disturbed about it, because it makes a violent threat against the lives of police officers.

Money made no recommendations or suggestions concerning the dissemination of this information by the State Police.18

The next day, Wednesday, June 16, 1976, Sergeant Taylor called Money and asked him whether he could obtain more information about the INS Intelligence Report.19 Money told Taylor that he would try to get additional data20 and again called Cronin, seeking verification of the Intelligence Report and further information relating to it.21 In an effort to confirm the "kill a cop a day" story, Money asked Cronin whether there was any way to verify the Intelligence Report by contacting the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which had been described in that report as the source of the information.22 According to Money's later account, Cronin replied that he was "doing the best he could to try to go back to the original source of the information."23 Cronin called Money back later that day and informed him that all the information he had was in the Intelligence Report.24 Money communicated this fact to Sergeant Taylor.25

On Thursday, June 17, 1976, Sergeant Taylor called Money to ask him, once more, to search out additional information about the story in the Intelligence Report.26 Money agreed to do so and made several further calls to Cronin.27 On each occasion, Cronin explained to Money that his office had no more information about the "kill a cop a day" story.28 On Friday evening, June 18, 1976, Money called Commissioner Leonard, whom he knew personally,29 to assure the commissioner that Money had done everything he could think of "to get more information to clarify it one way or another," and to tell Leonard that he had been unable to uncover additional facts relating to the story in the Intelligence Report.30

(2) The June 18, 1976 Telex

On Friday, June 18, 1976, Sergeant Taylor sent the following telex message to various federal, state and local law enforcement agencies around the United States:31

Ref: American Indian Movement/Brown Beret/Students for Democratic Society A spokesman for the Bureau of Indian Affairs stated that they had received information that the American Indian Movement (AIM) had made contact with the Brown Beret, a militant Chicano group in the Denver area with the idea of joining forces at least in instances benefiting both groups. The S.D.S. (Students for a Democratic Society), is also reemerging as a militant force and has been in contact with AIM and the Brown Beret. Rudolfo sic (Corky) Gonzalez, a leader of the Brown Beret, reportedly has a rocket launcher and rockets either in his possession or available to him along with explosives, hand grenades, and ten to fifteen M-16 rifles with banana clips. The objectives of the group are disturbance and terrorism. They are reported to have plans to kill a cop a day in each state. Two vehicles have been identified as being set up to accomplish this killing and various ruses will be used to
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