BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – A Brooklyn woman can recoup attorneys’ fees after security guards arrested her for adjusting a shirt strap that was slipping off the shoulder of a 15-year-old girl in handcuffs, a federal judge ruled.
Guards at the Starrett City development cuffed resident Annette Brown so tightly that she had to get surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome.
“Ms. Brown claimed that on the night of July 28, 2008, she heard a teenagers shouting near to where she lived, and thinking that her children could be near to the scene, she entered into the area to tell her children to go home. Once there, she saw Starrett City peace officers, including defendant Sergeant Ruppert Newman. While telling her children to go home, a fifteen year-old girl, that she knew, Diamond Medlock, was in handcuffs and held by Sgt. Newman. Medlock asked if Ms. Brown would fix her shirt that was coming down, and Ms. Brown pulled the strap of the shirt back over Medlock’s shoulder, while Medlock’s arms were handcuffed behind her,” according to a recent brief Brown filed.
“Sgt. Newman, who had been holding Medlock, then grabbed Ms. Brown, turned her around and handcuffed her.”
Brown filed a federal complaint the following year against Starrett City Associates, Officer Newman and several other unidentified officers, alleging several civil rights violations, including excessive force, false arrest and malicious prosecution.
Though a jury declined to find that Brown had been falsely arrested, it awarded her $500 for the excessive-force charge on July 8, 2011.
Brown’s attorney Michael Mangan told Courthouse News that the false-arrest charge is difficult to prove.
“I thought it was an act of Good Samaritanism,” Mangan said. “As far as probable cause goes, a police office could say, ‘This young woman was in custody.’ It’s reasonable for a police officer to believe there was probable cause.”
Mangan’s brief describes the more successful excessive force allegations.
“While she was being handcuffed, Ms. Brown informed Sgt. Newman that she had pre-existing injury to her wrists, carpal tunnel syndrome, and requested that he please be careful. Sgt. Newman, despite these pleas, handcuffed her very tightly.
“Annette Brown was transported to the Starrett City Department of Public Safety (“DPS”), where she was handcuffed to a chair, and detained while a charge of disorderly conduct was written up in a summons to be given to her. While there, she complained of pain in her wrists and asked repeatedly if the handcuffs could be loosened or removed.
“Eventually, the cuff on her left wrist was removed. Ms. Brown’s wrists were swollen and Starrett Security officers called an ambulance. Emergency Medical Services entered into the DPS station house and attended to Ms. Brown, eventually removing her to Kings County Hospital that night,” the brief states.
Throughout the trial, Starrett City had insisted that a different, female officer put Brown in handcuffs, but U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein blasted that defense as untruthful.
“Well, I think [Mangan] may have well been right,” Weinstein said. “They were lying. Newman was probably the one who did it.'”
Mangan told Courthouse News that the housing development’s misleading testimony illustrates a culture of impunity for private security forces operating on public housing developments.
Unlike private security forces, city police are accountable to civilian complaint review boards, internal affairs and other such bodies, he explained.
“Since they took a position that turned out being absolutely false, they were promoting a culture of denial in terms of any complaints against them,” Mangan said.
Considered special patrolmen under New York state law, private security guards are deputized to serve as police officers, following the patrol guide of the New York City police department, Mangan said.
He said many New York City hospitals use these services, but he did not know of any studies into how they function or get held accountable to the people they serve.
“I have a feeling that it’s very loosey-goosey,” he said. “As long as they don’t step out of line too far, they’re allowed to act as deputies. It’s that statute that enables them to be special patrolmen.”
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein accepted the recommendation of a magistrate judge to grant Mangan approximately $80,000 in legal fees.
Attorneys for Starrett City were not available for comment.