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Woman wrongfully arrested

The complainant woman seeks damages for injuries she sustained as a result of her alleged wrongful arrest by court officers employed by the State Office of Court Administration. The trial of the claim was bifurcated and the decision addresses solely the issue of liability.

The complainant woman is an attorney formerly employed by the County District Attorney’s Office. She was assigned as a felony arraignment assistant in the criminal courts building in New York. Her testimony and that elicited from two court officers on the complainant’s direct case established that on that date, she was taken into custody by the two court officers in the Arraignment Part 1 courtroom (AR-1) and subsequently arrested and charged with petit larceny and possession of stolen property. She was transported to the 84th Precinct for processing and was later returned to the courthouse and arraigned on charges of criminal possession of stolen property, petit larceny and grand larceny. The charges were presented to a grand jury in Brooklyn and the grand jury returned no indictment.

The complainant testified that on the morning of July 2, 1999 she was assigned to handle arraignments in Arraignment Part 2 courtroom (AR-2). While she was on the record in AR-2, she was approached by a woman from the courtroom helpdesk. The woman’s duties encompassed arraignments in both Arraignment Parts 1 and 2, but she worked at a desk in the AR-1 courtroom. The complainant recalled that the courtroom helpdesk handed her a file and said it was a warrant or extradition or something and then left but when she later examined the papers, only an arrest file was included, not an extradition file as she expected. After unsuccessfully attempting to contact the courtroom helpdesk by telephone, the woman walked to the AR-1 courtroom purportedly to obtain the correct papers.

The complainant entered the AR-1 through the main door at approximately 11 a.m. At that point, she observed one of the courtroom officers standing across from the District Attorney’s well, close to the defense attorney’s where the prisoners come out. She walked through the opening in the rail into the District Attorney’s well and approached the courtroom helpdesk who was speaking on the telephone while seated at a desk facing the defense attorneys’ well. The complainant does not recall whether she and the courtroom helpdesk had a conversation, but she testified that she received the desired extradition file from the courtroom helpdesk. The complainant explained that she noticed certain forms were missing which she knew could be found in a drawer of the file cabinet behind the courtroom helpdesk’s chair. The complainant acknowledged that the same forms may have been available in a drawer in AR-2, but explained that the drawer in AR-2 is not organized and the drawer where all the forms are kept and organized is in AR-1. According to her testimony, after standing next to the courtroom helpdesk for a few seconds, the complainant turned toward the file cabinet where she believed the forms were kept. The cabinet was a two-drawer lateral cabinet positioned along the courtroom wall between the rail and a four-drawer vertical file cabinet and was, in the complainant’s estimation, a couple feet behind the courtroom helpdesk’s chair. The top drawer of the cabinet was partially filled with hanging file folders. The bottom drawer contained shoes and other miscellaneous items and was not used for filing.

The complainant recalled that there were some books and a pocketbook resting on the top of the cabinet. She testified that she set the file from the courtroom helpdesk on the top of the cabinet and stooped down on the balls of her feet and opened the top drawer. The complainant explained that when the drawer slid open, the entire cabinet tipped toward her. As she attempted to push it back to prevent it from falling over on her, she felt the courtroom officer grab her arm and pick her up. He said nothing to her prior to this action. She noted that the courtroom officer had a pocketbook in his hand and inquired whether it was hers. When she advised the courtroom officer it was not, he proceeded to just literally, just drag her out of the courtroom. She testified that the courtroom officer did not ask the courtroom helpdesk or anyone else about the ownership of the pocketbook at that time.

The two courtroom officers escorted the complainant to a room, referred to as the fingerprint room. The complainant woman was advised that she was under investigation and later that she was under arrest. She was handcuffed at some point while in the fingerprint room and at various times throughout the period leading up to her arraignment. She acknowledged making a statement the sum and substance of which was she didn’t have anything in her hand.

The complainant woman testified that she never had any problems or made any complaints about her treatment by the two courtroom officers prior to this incident and she knew of no reason the officers would have arrested her. She denied having come into contact with the pocketbook or having seen or touched a wallet at any time while in AR-1.

One of the courtroom officers testified that generally, between four and seven court officers were assigned to AR-1 at a given time, including three officers stationed in the front part of the courtroom near the bench to provide security for the judge and perform various functions in connection with the arraignment process; a rail officer stationed at the opening in the rail to monitor and control access to the working part of the courtroom; and a floor officer in charge of security in the spectator gallery. In addition, two or three police officers would be present in the courtroom to maintain custody of the defendants. According to him, those officers would remain in the front of the courtroom to the right of the bench near the door leading to the holding cells and the plexi-glass enclosed the defendants’ seating area.

According to one of the courtroom officers, he was the rail officer and his fellow officer was the floor officer on the date of the incident. In response to questioning from the defendant’s counsel, he related that he was positioned in front of the rail to the right of the opening when the complainant woman entered AR-1 at approximately 11:45 a.m. He watched her proceed to the District Attorney well and begin walking back and forth, then pick up a penal law book and place it on a brown, knapsack-style pocketbook on the top of the lateral file cabinet. He was unconcerned at that point and continued to scan the courtroom. When he looked back to the complainant woman not long after, he noticed she had walked away from the pocketbook and he observed her move back toward it and thumb through the pages of the penal law. As he was watching her, she was turning around and might have caught his eye while she was starting to unzipped a bottom part of the zipper to that pocketbook. He saw her reach inside and kind of just finger around and then pull out a black wallet. The officer attempted to catch his fellow officer’s eye without success. He believed he made eye contact with the complainant but it was like she was looking right through him. He observed the complainant remove the wallet and place it on the top of the file cabinet. At some point, he was successful in catching his fellow officer’s eye and, communicating with head-nodding gestures, directed him to look at the complainant. He was positioned in the spectator gallery to the left of the opening in the rail. In response to his fellow officer’s communication, he moved toward the left side of the courtroom, closer to the District Attorney’s well but still behind the rail.

The supervisor of the court officers in the criminal courts building testified to the assignment of court officers and police officers in the courtroom. She described the responsibility of police officers in the courtroom as generally limited to the security of prisoners during their arraignments and their transfer back and forth to the Department of Correction; the police officers have no responsibility for security in the spectator area, the rail, the District Attorney’s well or the bench. She testified she became aware of the events when the two officers brought the complainant into the fingerprint room and apprised her of the situation. She notified the District Attorney’s Office and advised one of the courtroom officers that he would be the arresting officer. According to her, she spoke to the complainant in the fingerprint room and the complainant stated that she didn’t have anything in my hand.

In order to prevail on a cause of action for false arrest and imprisonment, the complainant must prove that the defendant intended to confine her, she was conscious of the confinement, she did not consent to same and the confinement was not otherwise privileged. A warrantless arrest is presumptively unlawful and the defendant has the burden of demonstrating that it was supported by probable cause and therefore legally justified.

Probable cause exists where the facts are such as would induce a reasonable person, in like circumstances, to believe the complainant has committed a crime. What is required is not awareness of a particular crime, but only that some crime may have been committed. Further, the arrest need not be supported by information and knowledge which, at the time, excludes all possibility of innocence. Where an officer, in good faith, believes that a person is guilty of a crime, and his belief rests on such grounds as would induce an ordinarily prudent and cautious man, under the circumstances, to believe likewise, he has such probable cause for his belief as would justify him in arresting without a warrant. Thus, the court’s inquiry must be based upon the facts known to the arresting officers at the time of the arrest, not on whether sufficient evidence was presented to a grand jury to sustain an indictment.

As both parties acknowledge, the Court is presented with two improbable explanations for the events of July 2, 1999. On one hand, the defendant proffers an account in which an Assistant District Attorney chose to enter a courtroom crowded with a judge, several court officers, police officers, lawyers, defendants and spectators and attempt to steal money from a co-worker with whom she had a friendly personal relationship. On the other hand, the complainant seeks to convince the Court that two experienced court officers with whom she had a cordial professional relationship arrested her without cause and fabricated a series of lies to cover their tracks. The complainant’s theory flows from two explanations: either the officers were acting in concert with one another to frame the complainant or they mistakenly believed they were witnessing a crime and that belief was not objectively reasonable. The former seems unlikely in that it would have required the court officers to predict that the complainant would enter the District Attorney’s well of AR-1 and act in a way that dovetailed with their story. Moreover, although malice is not a requisite element of false arrest, the absence of any factual basis to infer a subjective motivation for the court officers’ actions does bear on the issue of credibility. As for the latter, the Court is simply not persuaded that the innocuous acts described by the complainant could be subject to such gross misinterpretation. Consequently, the Court resolves the factual dispute in favor of the defendant and concludes that the claim must be dismissed. All motions not heretofore ruled upon are denied.

Dignity and reputation is far more important than any material things. In pursuing a legal action, the court greatly considers the credibility of the person being sued. To be able to win your larceny action, the Kings County Grand Larceny Attorney or the Kings County Robbery Lawyer together with the Kings County Criminal Attorney from Stephen Bilkis and Associates should be your only option.

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