Jury to See if Pick-Up Fail Led to NYC Arrest

     MANHATTAN (CN) – A New York City police officer accused of cooking up charges against the woman who politely turned down his flirtations must face a trial, the Second Circuit ruled Wednesday.
     Reisha Simpson’s ordeal allegedly began in June 2011 while waiting to board a bus in the Bronx that had malfunctioned, a routine inconvenience of New York City commuters.
     A woman with a walker had been trying to board the front entrance of the bus, and the mechanical lift stopped working, she says.
     Simpson says that she waited patiently on a line of passengers that had formed when she encountered Sgt. Kenson Nelson of the 40th Precinct standing an arm’s length away.
     “You’re very pretty,” Nelson allegedly told her.
     Simpson says she thanked the officer for the unwanted attention and gave her first name when asked.
     The officer allegedly persisted, however, peeved that Simpson had not revealed her last name.
     When Simpson explained that she was “with someone,” she says the officer became aggressive.
     “What does that have to do with me?” he asked, according to the complaint. “I’m a police officer. You know I can get your last name.”
     Simpson found her out from the uncomfortable encounter when the bus driver allegedly told the people waiting in line, “go around, go around,” as he opened the back doors.
     Once onboard the bus, Simpson says she joined the line of commuters waiting to swipe their MetroCards.
     She was nearing the front when Nelson demanded to see her ID according to the complaint.
     Simpson recounted saying, “OK, hold on,” so that she could first swipe her fare.
     Nelson allegedly forbade her from doing so, however, and ordered the woman onto the sidewalk.
     Simpson says Nelson yelled, “You want to embarrass me?”
     “Sir, I turned you down nicely,” Simpson says she told him.
     Nelson handcuffed and arrested her for theft of services.
     Simpson’s attorney Steven Goldman says his client had been returning to her family and children at the time of her arrest after making a donation at church.
     She had “no way of getting in touch with them” for the 24 hours she spent in detention, Goldman said in a phone interview, adding, “She was very upset about that.”
     The charges against Simpson were not dismissed for four months, and she brought a federal complaint against Nelson and New York City for false arrest in 2012.
     U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest dismissed the lawsuit last year, however, after calling it “mere speculation and conjecture” that Officer Nelson knew that Simpson had permission from the bus driver to board through the back doors.
     A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit unanimously reversed Wednesday.
     A jury must decide whether Nelson made the arrest because “his advances were rebuffed” or because he believed “Ms. Simpson was a scofflaw trying to avoid paying the fare,” Judge Peter Hall wrote for the court.
     The decision notes that Nelson’s account of the incident differs from that of Simpson in that he claims to have been standing “two arm lengths” away instead of one.
     Nelson also contends that the other commuters entered the bus through the front entrance.
     “Officer Nelson professes to have no recollection of whether Ms. Simpson displayed her MetroCard or identification – or whether he requested to see either item – before, during, or after the arrest,” the 17-page opinion states.
     Simpson did not challenge the dismissal of one of her counts against the city, and the court declined to reinstate the other.
     Though a New York City Law Department spokeswoman noted disappointment with the outcome, Goldman said he is “extremely happy with the court’s decision.”
     “We feel vindicated in our decision to appeal the summary judgment dismissal, and we’re looking forward to the next phase of this lawsuit,” the attorney said.

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