Taxi driver’s civil rights lawsuit headed for trial after choose’s resolution

A federal judge has ruled that most claims can be made in a civil rights lawsuit filed by a taxi driver alleging a drunk, off duty Nassau police officer shot him without justification in Suffolk in 2011 before authorities arrested him for trying try to cover up the crime.

Plaintiff Thomas Moroughan’s claims, which include excessive violence, false arrest, malicious persecution, conspiracy and breach of due process law, “will be brought to justice,” US Circuit Judge Joseph Bianco wrote in his ruling.

Bianco ruled against most attempts by defendants, which include the Suffolk and Nassau counties and their law enforcement agencies, to dismiss claims at a stage in the dispute where the judge considers the facts in a manner most favorable to the plaintiff.

Court records show that Anthony DiLeonardo, the former Nassau police officer who was at the center of the case dismissed by the division in 2014, did not challenge the plaintiff’s claims like other defendants did with a motion for a summary of the judgment. His attorney Bruce Barket declined to comment on Bianco’s decision.

Police are responding to the scene at Huntington Station in which in February 2011, Nassau police officer Anthony DiLeonardo allegedly shot and killed the unarmed taxi driver Thomas Moroughan. Photo credit: Stringer News Service

“A sensible jury was able to determine that a highly intoxicated DiLeonardo shot the plaintiff several times without explanation during an off-duty oral argument and that the plaintiff was falsely arrested and prosecuted to cover up DiLeonardo’s criminal behavior,” wrote Bianco in his decision.

The judge also said a jury could determine that individual defendants played a role in the alleged false arrest and prosecution or in covering up alleged unconstitutional behavior during the investigation, including alleged forging a false confession from Moroughan.

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Attorney Anthony Grandinette, one of the plaintiff’s attorneys, announced the decision as a victory for his client. His lawsuit seeks financial compensation.

“He’s going to get his day in court and I should be able to find out that both Nassau and Suffolk Counties police have trampled on his constitutional rights,” Grandinette said. “This is a case where cops went out, got drunk, broke police rules and regulations, got into an unnecessary fight, and then one of the officers tried to murder Moroughan … for a minor verbal act Quarrels. ”

A Suffolk County spokeswoman, a Nassau County spokeswoman and a Nassau police spokesperson declined to comment on the judge’s decision on Thursday, citing the pending litigation.

The judge rejected Moroughan’s allegations against members of the Nassau Police Department’s Deadly Force Response Team and an allegation against the county that it was a “policy and custom” to use the team to hide the unconstitutional use of deadly force by police officers .

The judge also dismissed a lawsuit against a sergeant from Nassau who was looking for DiLeonardo and Edward Bienz at the hospital after the shooting.

Bienz, another off-duty Nassau officer, was with DiLeonardo and was present when he shot Moroughan to death at Huntington Station during the roadside argument on February 27, 2011 after DiLeonardo allegedly cut off the cab driver.

DiLeonardo claims he opened fire to protect himself while fearful for his life after Moroughan tried to run him over. But Moroughan claims DiLeonardo fired five bullets at him as he approached the taxi before smashing one of his windows with his gun and attacking him.

“It is very controversial whether the plaintiff drove his car forward in DiLeonardo before the shots were fired,” the judge wrote in his decision.

Bianco overturned his January 20th decision on Sunday.

The parties filed many sealed documents during the discovery phase of the case, but Bianco said the counties had not identified anything “that would overcome the strong presumption of public access” on his overall decision.

The judgment contained a reference to a statement by Bienz on internal affairs, in which he recalled that he had drunk 8 beers and that DiLeonardo had had at least 7 mixed drinks with Bienz’s wife and DiLeonardo’s girlfriend that evening.

The ruling stated that a plaintiff’s expert had estimated that at 1:16 a.m. when the dispute began, DiLeonardo would have had a blood alcohol level between 0.76% and 0.113% – above the legal poisoning threshold of 0.08%.

The verdict also stated that the notes of a Suffolk detective from Huntington Hospital, which both Moroughan and the off duty officers later went to, stated that an ambulance was making a comment about what she viewed as DiLeonardo’s apparent poisoning.

“Great that you can get drunk … shoot someone and go out the same day,” said Dr. Beverly Kraszewski.

The detective’s notes also revealed that an unidentified doctor said she wanted a blood sample from DiLeonardo. But in the end, he declined blood tests.

“I don’t want blood,” said DiLeonardo after a statement by Kraszewski quoted in the judge’s decision.

The verdict also said that DiLeonardo’s medical records contained evidence that his judgment and memory were impaired, that he was “hostile” and that he suffered a bruise on his shoulder, a small puncture and a superficial cut.

Kraszewski also said in her statement that DiLeonardo reported that he was shot and run over by a car, and that according to the verdict, he had blurred his speech and had alcohol on his breath.

Moroughan had a gunshot wound to his chest and arm and a broken nose.

Two Suffolk homicide detectors interviewed him in the hospital while he was being treated with morphine. He signed a statement one of them had written and then Suffolk Police booked him for assault and reckless endangerment after his discharge from hospital.

Moroughan later claimed the statement was fake and contrary to what he told the detectives.

Suffolk Prosecutors stopped prosecuting Moroughan in June 2011. An investigation by the Nassau police later found key parts of the statement that Suffolk detectives could not have passed Moroughan signs.

A Newsday reporter found the internal affairs report in 2013 that was inadvertently left unsealed in Moroughan’s lawsuit. It concluded that Moroughan had withdrawn from fear – with his pregnant girlfriend in his Toyota Prius cab – when DiLeonardo shot the retreating, unarmed taxi driver after a night of drinking.

The investigation also found that both DiLeonardo and Bienz had broken departmental rules and committed “illegal acts” before the police released DiLeonardo in May 2014, citing “outrageous conduct and breaches of public trust”.

Bienz lost several weeks of wages for participating in the encounter, a source previously told Newsday. The salary slips show that Bienz later became a sergeant.

A special grand jury that met in Suffolk to investigate the case expired in 2014 without charge. A prosecutor’s spokesman blamed the panel’s inaction in part for Moroughan’s unwillingness to testify.

Bridget Murphy is a Newsday Criminal Justice reporter.

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