by Mark Wilson
The City of Norwalk, Connecticut, paid $25,000 to settle false arrest and malicious prosecution claims against a Norwalk Police Department (NPD) detective.
On October 3, 2013, Robert Ragsdale complained to the NPD that he was robbed by an assailant who stole his watch and $10. He described the man who robbed him as a 5-foot-7, 160-pound African American drug dealer whom he had known for about a year and owed money.
Based on that physical description, NPD Detective Louis Giannattasio and showed Ragsdale a “mug book” of 174 photographs. Ragsdale could not identify the assailant.
Ragsdale again contacted Giannattasio two days later, claiming that he had seen the assailant near his apartment. “Now you know how it feels to get robbed,” he claimed the assailant said.
Giannattasio then showed Ragsdale a “mug book” of 298 people. Photo 214 was Norwalk resident Ernest Sainvilus, who weighed approximately 230 pounds. Giannattasio knew Sainvilus from a 2011 service call to his home, and harbored animus against him because he was in a biracial gay relationship.
Giannattasio signed an October 11, 2013, arrest warrant affidavit falsely claiming that Ragsdale said: “That's him” and that he was 100 percent positive of the identification when he saw the photo of Sainvilus. Ragsdale actually told Giannattasio that Sainvilus “kind of looked like the guy who robbed” him. Ragsdale did not identify him as the person who robbed him or from whom he bought crack cocaine.
Connecticut law mandated that each municipality adopt a double-blind photo identification procedure no later than May 1, 2013. Yet, the City of Norwalk failed to do so or failed to properly train its officers in the double-blind identification procedure requirements. Giannattasio did not use a double-blind procedure in the photo identification sessions he conducted with Ragsdale.
Giannattasio also knew that the information in his arrest warrant affidavit was false and that he lacked probable cause to arrest Sainvilus without that false information. Nevertheless, he file that false arrest warrant affidavit and a Superior Court Judge relied upon it in signing an October 21, 2013 arrest warrant for Sainvilus.
On October 28, 2013, Sainvilus was arrested and required to post a $35,000 bond to secure his release. He hired an attorney to represent him and the criminal charges were ultimately dismissed on April 30, 2014.
Sainvilus brought federal suit on January 29, 2015, alleging that Giannattasio deprived him of due process and his right to be free from false arrest and malicious prosecution, in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
“As a direct and proximate result of Giannattasio’s acts and omissions, Sainvilus “was held out to the world as a man accused of a violent felony and a drug dealer,” the complaint alleges. Sainvilus sought an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages and attorney's fees.
The parties ultimately entered into an October 3, 2016, Confidential Settlement Agreement, in which the Defendants agreed to pay $25,000 to settle all claims. See: Sainvilus v. Giannattasio, et al., USDC No. 3:15cvl20(JAM)(D. Conn 2016)
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Related legal case
Sainvilus v. Giannattasio, et al.
|Cite||USDC No. 3:15cvl20 (JAM) (D. Conn 2016)|