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Kapinski v. City of Albuquerque

No. 19-2149. D.N.M. Judge Tymkovich. 42 USC § 1983 Civil Rights Claim—Fourth Amendment Violation—Qualified Immunity—Probable Cause.

July 6, 2020

Plaintiff was arrested and prosecuted for murder after shooting and killing two men in a late-night altercation in a crowded church parking lot. Trial evidence included video surveillance footage. The detective’s warrant affidavit for plaintiff’s arrest was based on eyewitness interviews; it did not mention the video footage, which the detective had viewed. At trial, the jury found plaintiff not guilty on the basis of self-defense.

Plaintiff brought civil rights claims under 42 USC § 1983 against the detective and the City of Albuquerque (City), alleging constitutional violations under the Fourth Amendment and a state law claim. The federal claims relied on the argument that the detective unconstitutionally omitted the video footage, which was exculpatory evidence, from the warrant affidavit. The detective moved for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds, and the City moved for summary judgment on the state law claim. The district court granted the detective’s motion, holding that plaintiff failed to show a constitutional violation, and even if the omission violated the Fourth Amendment, defendants were entitled to summary judgment because the law on this issue was not clearly established. The district court declined to exercise jurisdiction over the state law claim.

On appeal, plaintiff contended that the district court erred in granting the detective qualified immunity, arguing that her omission of the video evidence sufficiently tainted the arrest warrant to negate probable cause and make the arrest unconstitutional. Under Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978), plaintiff had to show that (1) the omitted information was material in that its inclusion would have vitiated probable cause for issuing the warrant, and (2) the detective acted with recklessness in omitting the information.

The Tenth Circuit analyzed the materiality prong by considering a scenario where the detective had included the video footage as an attachment to the warrant affidavit. Although a jury could reasonably conclude from the video footage that plaintiff was acting in self-defense, an objective viewing did not negate probable cause for plaintiff’s arrest and prosecution for murder. Thus, the omitted video footage was immaterial.

The recklessness factor requires evidence that the officer entertained serious doubts as to the truth of the allegations. The fact that the detective included evidence militating in favor of self-defense in the affidavit negated the inference that she was recklessly indifferent to evidence suggesting plaintiff acted in self-defense. Further, given the largely consistent nature of the video footage with the eyewitness accounts and the fact that the detective viewed the footage in the early-morning hours of an all-night murder investigation, it cannot be concluded that omitting the video footage constitutes anything beyond mere negligence. Accordingly, plaintiff did not establish a Fourth Amendment violation under Franks.

In addition, where reckless omissions are alleged, significant ambiguity exists around how the law applies to a particular factual situation. Here, because there was no intentional misstatement and plaintiff failed to establish precedent applicable to this factual situation, plaintiff failed to demonstrate the clearly established nature of his alleged infraction. The detective was accordingly entitled to qualified immunity.

The summary judgment was affirmed.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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