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Second Circuit Reinstates Acquitted New York City Man’s Claims of Police Due Process Violations and Excessive Use of Force by Jailers

Jarrett Frost was arrested by New York City police in January 2011. He was charged with murder and detained at Rikers Island until June 2014, when a jury acquitted him of all charges. He then filed a federal civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against multiple police and jail officials alleging malicious prosecution, due process violations, multiple instances of excessive use of force by jail staff and municipal liability. The court granted defendants summary judgment and dismissed the complaint.

Aided by New York attorneys Jonathan I. Edelstein and Ellie A. Silverman of Edelstein & Grossman, Frost appealed. The Second Circuit noted that Frost had received numerous disciplinary infractions and been involved in multiple physical altercations with staff and prisoners while in jail.

One incident occurred while Frost was being escorted to court for an attorney visit and allegedly told a guard, “I should spit in your fuckin’ face.” Guards Jay Joyce and Captain Clayton Jemmott allegedly responded by taking him to the ground, dragging him along the ground by his leg shackles, and kicking him such that he suffered a ruptured eardrum and bruising.

In another incident, Frost and 18 other prisoners refused to return to their cells from the recreation yard. Guards negotiated with them for hours and finally extracted them from their pens. Frost charged the guards, equipped with homemade elbow pads and a mouth guard, and was eventually restrained. After he was on the ground, restrained and no longer combative, a guard allegedly repeatedly kicked him in the head while being video-recorded.

The appellate court held that the trial court erred when it dismissed those claims on summary judgment as there were triable questions as to whether Frost threatened the guard in the first incident and whether the guards used excessive force after he was restrained in the second. The district court’s reasoning that Frost had established himself as a violent prisoner, thus excusing the guards’ conduct, was erroneous.

Frost’s malicious prosecution and due process claims centered on police allegedly enlisting help from a witness who was facing criminal prosecution in another matter. The witness had previously identified Frost as having been at the scene of the shooting, but not being the shooter, but changed his story to say Frost was the shooter, thus justifying his arrest. The witness did not testify at trial and Frost had an affidavit from the witness that the district court discounted.

The Second Circuit held that the trial court’s correct finding that there was probable cause to prosecute Frost without the witness’ statement was a complete defense to malicious prosecution. However, it did not extinguish his due process claim and the district court erred when it determined the witness’ credibility at the summary judgment stage.

The fact that the witness did not testify at trial did not affect the claim as his statement was used to justify the arrest—six months after the murder—and lengthy detention. This could also have municipal liability implication.

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Related legal case

Frost v. N.Y.C. Police Dep’t