Martinsky v. City of Bridgeport
Probable cause constitutes a defense to an action for false arrest, pursuant to Russo v. City of Bridgeport, a 2007 decision of the 2nd Circuit. Allegedly, William Martinsky, who was on duty and in uniform, entered the Savoy Bar and Grill Restaurant, which he previously had owned with a partner, Charles Paris, and moved items from one part of the storage area to another, which was locked, and covered the items. Police examined the storage area and talked to Martinsky and Mike Falcigno, the employee of a nearby business. Falcigno allegedly admitted that he helped Martinsky enter. The police arrested Martinsky. Martinsky sued the City of Bridgeport, alleging false arrest in violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment. The District Court found that probable cause existed for police officers to find that Martinsky committed a larceny. The District Court granted the city's motion for summary judgment on Martinsky's false arrest count. Martinsky appealed, and the 2nd Circuit reviewed de novo. Police officers were reasonably suspicious that Martinsky intended to take the property of another. Charles Paris claimed that the Savoy owned the items and that Martinsky lacked permission to access the basement. Martinsky's claim that he owned the items did not prevent the police from relying on Paris' statements. Generally, the police may rely on information provided by the putative victim to establish probable cause, unless the circumstances raise doubt about the victim's veracity. Although Martinsky argued that the officers should have verified ownership against an inventory, the police are not required to exhaust alternative explanations, if evidence reasonably indicates that a suspect committed a crime. A reasonable police officer could have believed that Martinsky had committed a crime. "Because the totality of the circumstances was sufficient to allow a reasonable police officer to conclude that Martinsky had committed larceny," wrote the 2nd Circuit, it was of no consequence that a lengthier investigation might have produced doubt. There were no genuine issues of material fact with respect to whether the police officers possessed reasonable cause, and the 2nd Circuit affirmed the judgment of the District Court.