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Conn. Cop Loses Malicious Prosecution Appeal

By Robyn Hagan Cain on June 15, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that absolute immunity bars a former Connecticut cop from suing a former state prosecutor for allegedly withholding exculpatory evidence from a grand jury, reports

Former Waterbury State's Attorney John Connelly prosecuted former cop Robert Lawlor for the 2005 shooting death of Jashon Bryant. Lawlor claimed he opened fire when he saw Bryant reaching for a gun, but no weapon was found on Bryant. A Hartford jury acquitted Lawlor of manslaughter and assault charges in 2009, according to the Journal Inquirer.

Lawlor then sued Connelly for malicious prosecution and withholding evidence from a one-judge grand jury that found probable cause to arrest Lawlor. The district court dismissed Lawlor's claim, finding that Connelly was entitled to absolute immunity. Lawlor challenged that ruling in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, but his claim fared no better in the appellate court.

Lawlor's main claim is that Connelly withheld exculpatory evidence from the investigatory grand jury. Lawlor never had a shot at proceeding with his claim because the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has repeatedly held that a prosecutor is absolutely immune from liability under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for his conduct before a grand jury. Furthermore, the appellate court ruled on the exact issue in Hill v. City of New York, finding that a prosecutor is immune from §1983 liability for withholding exculpatory evidence from a grand jury.

Lawlor, however, claimed that Connelly acted as a fact witness when he submitted the application for the grand jury "upon oath," so he was not entitled to absolute immunity. He relied on the Supreme Court decision in Kalina v. Fletcher to support his claim.

The Second Circuit noted that Kalina is distinguishable from Lawlor's case: In Kalina, the prosecutor acted as a witness rather than an advocate because she swore to an affidavit that could have been sworn to by "any competent witness." Here, Connelly was required by statute to certify the application to the grand jury. No "witness" was permitted to do so.

Supreme Court precedent favors absolute immunity for grand jury witnesses. The Supreme Court ruled earlier this year in Rehberg v. Paulk that a complaining witness who provides false testimony in a grand jury proceeding is entitled to absolute immunity.

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