Police Misconduct

Police Misconduct is a highly contentious topic in this country, including New York.  The New York Law Journal Headline read that “A Manhattan judge ruled that two New York City police officers lawfully detained a non-English speaking public school student who left school and went home without permission after his teacher told him that he could not take part in a class field trip.”

 The infant-plaintiff was W.C., a fifth grade student at P.S. 137, who was not allowed to go on a school field trip but, instead, simply left the school without anyone letting his parents or guardians know. The child returned to his home and his (W.C.) grandmother notified his mother. Two New York City Police Department Officers arrived at the home (where the child went after being denied the ability to go on the field trip) and found W.C. in his bedroom, unresponsive to the police officers’ conversation. A dispute ensued. Police allege that W.C. became physically aggressive and, in response, the police handcuffed, yes handcuffed a young child, W.C. The child was subsequently taken back to school and an ambulance was called to examine W.C. for psychological issues.

Pursuant to New York Education Law §3205, school attendance is mandatory for children. Any child not found to be in school, i.e., truant, is considered to be in violation of such law, and Education Law §3213. (2) (a) permits police officers to “arrest without warrant any minor who is unlawfully absent from attendance upon instruction.” See Matter of Julio R., 129 Misc. 2d 171 (Sup Ct Richmond County 1985); Matter of Shannon B., 70 N.Y.2d 458 (1987). Here, it is clear that the police officers were complying with such instructions under the law to find and retrieve W.C., and bring him back to school. Although it would not be entirely dispositive of the claims, as police officers are “not required to negate every lawful excuse for [a child’s] absence from school before detaining him” (Matter of Kennedy T., 39 A.D.3d 40 [1st Dep’t 2007]), the Court notes that any sort of evidence that Ms. Choi gave W.C. permission to be at home, and that such permission was communicated to any one at school or one of the police officers, is notably absent from the record. Pp. 2-3 (external quotation marks omitted and internal citations preserved)

The Court holds that “because the officers were acting within the lawful scope of the Education Law, the noncriminal detention of W.C. was privileged. Therefore, plaintiffs’ claims for false arrest/imprisonment are dismissed.” Pp. 3 (citations omitted). Further, the Court dismisses the excessive force claim. Allegations differ yet “his alleged injuries to his knees consisted of scrapes and lacerations, which were relatively minor….W.C. testified at his §50-h hearing and deposition that he did not seek treatment for the alleged injuries, and did not sustain any others, physically or mentally. Ultimately, the Court does not find any evidence showing that the police officers exceeded the standard of objective reasonableness.” Pp. 3 (citation omitted). Having found the noncriminal detention as privileged, and “absent any evidence that the force used to effect the [detention] was excessive,” the Court also dismisses plaintiffs’ assault and battery claims. Akande v. City of New York, 275 A.D.2d 671, 672 (1st Dep’t 2000). So, under these or similar circumstances, the New York City Police can detain and handcuff a fifth grader? What about the psychological harm to the child – not only does he not get to go on the trip (for reasons otherwise unknown), he gets the cuffs slapped on him.

Although the case against the police is dismissed, a fifth grade student who managed to become estranged from school and then subsequently handcuffed, detained and hospitalized, the Court offers these words of comfort to the Plaintiff: “this unfortunate situation likely could have been avoided had the school and/or police officers shown a bit more sensitivity and attention to the cultural and language issues presented in this case. And, although the school and police officers should not, in any way, be commended for how they handled these translation and cultural sensitivity issues, the Court is simply unable to conclude that the defendants ultimately acted unlawfully.” Pp. 4. The Defendants’ Motion to dismiss is granted in its entirety – case dismissed!  Wai-Wai Choi v. NYC, 155821/2012, NYLJ 1202749328138, at *1 (Sup., NY, Decided February 2, 2016).

Police misconduct is often difficult to prove.  If police misconduct is proven and the defendant is cleared, a civil rights action may be an option to compensate the defendant for the damages caused by the police misconduct.

Civil Rights Attorney in Long Island

If you believe that police misconduct has deprived you of your rights, please call the Law Firm of Vaughn, Weber & Prakope, PLLC at (516) 858-2620 to speak to a criminal attorney today!

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