Torres v. Jones

CourtNew York Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtABDUS–SALAAM, J.
Citation26 N.Y.3d 742,47 N.E.3d 747,27 N.Y.S.3d 468
Decision Date23 February 2016
Parties Maria De Lourdes TORRES, Appellant, v. Police Officer JONES et al., Defendants, and City of New York, Respondent. (Action No. 1.) Maria De Lourdes Torres, Appellant, v. New York City Police Department et al., Respondents, et al., Defendants. (Action No. 2.)

26 N.Y.3d 742
47 N.E.3d 747
27 N.Y.S.3d 468

Maria De Lourdes TORRES, Appellant,
Police Officer JONES et al., Defendants,
City of New York, Respondent.
(Action No. 1.)

Maria De Lourdes Torres, Appellant,
New York City Police Department et al., Respondents, et al., Defendants.
(Action No. 2.)

Court of Appeals of New York.

Feb. 23, 2016.

27 N.Y.S.3d 472

The Perecman Firm, PLLC, New York City (David H. Perecman, Zachary S. Perecman and Peter D. Rigelhaupt of counsel), for appellant.

Zachary W. Carter, Corporation Counsel, New York City (Devin Slack, Richard Dearing and Cecelia Chang of counsel), for respondents.

Evan Goldberg, New York State Trial Lawyers Association, New York City, for New York State Trial Lawyers Association, amicus curiae.

26 N.Y.3d 746



47 N.E.3d 751

In a false arrest action under federal and state law, evidence that the defendant police officers arrested the plaintiff without probable cause, after inventing a patently false confession, may establish the officers' liability for detaining the plaintiff without any lawful privilege. Evidence that the officers forwarded the false confession to prosecutors can satisfy the commencement element of a malicious prosecution cause of action,

26 N.Y.3d 747

and the proof of the absence of probable cause for the prosecution and the police's transmission of the fabricated evidence can overcome the presumption of probable cause arising from a grand jury's indictment of the plaintiff. The same proof can support an inference that the police acted with actual malice in commencing the prosecution. Applying these principles to the consolidated appeals now before us, we hold that the courts below improperly granted summary judgment to the individual defendants on plaintiff's false arrest and malicious prosecution claims under New York common law and 42 USC § 1983. We further conclude that, although plaintiff maintains triable state law claims against defendants the City of New York and the New York City Police Department, the lower courts properly granted summary judgment to those governmental entities on plaintiff's claims under 42 USC § 1983 in accordance with Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Servs , 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978) and its progeny.



On the night of September 24, 2002, Einstein Romeo Acuna's son found Acuna's dead body in front of the doorway to the apartment that they shared in Queens. Acuna's son called the police and reported the death. As later recounted by the individual defendants in their depositions in the instant civil actions, defendants Detective Michael McEntee and Detective Daniel Corey responded to the scene. There, the detectives saw Acuna's naked corpse in a pool of blood in the hallway in front of Acuna's apartment. Evidently, Acuna had

47 N.E.3d 752
27 N.Y.S.3d 473

been stabbed repeatedly.1 The detectives went inside the apartment, in which there were no signs of forced entry. As the detectives examined the apartment, they observed some blood stains on the walls of the interior hallway, dining area and kitchen. However, the majority of the blood at the scene had pooled near the entrance to the apartment. Additionally, the police found some blood in a nearby stairwell.

26 N.Y.3d 748

Detective Corey, defendant Detective Erik Hendricks and other officers canvassed the building for suspects, but found none. Corey and Hendricks interviewed Acuna's neighbors about the crime, and some of the neighbors reported that they had heard screaming and someone falling to the floor in the hallway.2 Meanwhile, another detective assigned to the case, defendant Irma Santiago, contacted Acuna's sister-in-law, who stated that she had spoken to Acuna via telephone at about 7:30 p.m. on the night of his death. This information placed Acuna's time of death at approximately 8:00 p.m.

On a return trip to the apartment on or shortly after the date of the crime, Detective McEntee discovered a woman's crucifix necklace on the nightstand in Acuna's bedroom. When interviewed by the police, however, Acuna's relatives essentially stated that, to their knowledge, Acuna did not have a girlfriend. Additionally, Acuna's family and neighbors did not identify anyone who had a motive to murder Acuna.


According to the police witnesses' testimony at a suppression hearing in the criminal prosecution that led to the instant lawsuit, developments following the police's initial investigation led them to contact plaintiff Maria De Lourdes Torres. Specifically, Detectives Santiago and McEntee eventually learned that Acuna's telephone records showed that, on the day of the murder, someone had called Acuna's cellular telephone from a telephone located at plaintiff's residence. The records further reflected that Acuna had repeatedly received calls from that telephone on various occasions.

On October 11, 2002, Detective McEntee went to the apartment. There, McEntee met the couple who owned the apartment, and in response to his inquiries, they said that they did not know Acuna and had not called him. The couple further explained that, besides themselves, only plaintiff, who rented a room from them, could have accessed the telephone in the apartment. Soon thereafter, McEntee spoke to plaintiff in the presence of the apartment owners. Displaying a photograph of Acuna, McEntee asked plaintiff whether she knew the man in the photograph, and she claimed that she did not know him.

26 N.Y.3d 749

The police did not find plaintiff's denials convincing, and so on the night of October 25, 2002, Detectives Hendricks and Santiago went to plaintiff's apartment. Santiago asked plaintiff whether she knew Acuna, and plaintiff denied that she knew

47 N.E.3d 753
27 N.Y.S.3d 474

him. When Santiago told plaintiff that telephone records showed that someone had called Acuna from her apartment, plaintiff claimed that she had not called him. Given that this interview occurred in the presence of the owners of the apartment, Santiago became concerned that plaintiff was reluctant to give candid answers to her questions in front of them. Accordingly, Santiago asked plaintiff if she would come to the local police precinct, and plaintiff agreed to accompany Santiago there.

At the precinct, Santiago and Hendricks asked plaintiff again whether she knew Acuna and had telephoned him on the day of the murder. About 15 minutes into this conversation, Santiago showed Acuna's telephone records to plaintiff, at which point she acknowledged that she knew Acuna. Plaintiff stated that she had previously lied about calling Acuna on the day of the crime because she had used the telephone in her apartment to make the calls, which the owners had forbidden her to do, and she did not want to admit her unauthorized use of the telephone in their presence. After receiving this explanation, Santiago permitted plaintiff to leave.

In early November 2002, the police contacted plaintiff and asked her whether she would submit to a polygraph examination, and she replied that she would. At about 7:00 a.m. on November 8, 2002, Detective Santiago and defendant Detective Denitor Guerra picked up plaintiff at her home and transported her to the precinct, where they arrived at about 7:30 a.m. Plaintiff waited in a room with the detectives for almost two hours, during which time the detectives did not question her. Detectives Santiago, Guerra and Hendricks then took plaintiff to the District Attorney's Office. There, at about 9:30 a.m., plaintiff signed a consent form and agreed to take the polygraph test, and the detectives sat with her while they waited for a few hours for the polygraph device to be available and ready for use. At about 12:30 p.m., defendant Lieutenant Velardi, the Deputy Chief Investigator at the District Attorney's Office, administered the polygraph examination, and Santiago and Velardi asked plaintiff questions relating to Acuna's murder, repeating each question multiple times and in Spanish. The examination lasted about 40 minutes.

26 N.Y.3d 750

After the examination, the detectives took plaintiff out for lunch. At about 4:30 or 5:00 p.m., they brought plaintiff back to the precinct and placed her in an interview room, and Santiago and Guerra periodically stayed in the room with plaintiff. At about 11:30 p.m., Santiago read Miranda warnings to plaintiff in Spanish, and on a form, plaintiff indicated that she understood each Miranda right. Santiago questioned plaintiff about Acuna's murder, and Detective Corey periodically entered the room, though he did not participate in the questioning of plaintiff. From approximately...

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