Saturday, May 27, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Occupy Protesters Have Case for Excessive Force

MANHATTAN (CN) - Police must face claims that an officer gratuitously grabbed the breast of an Occupy Wall Street protester while placing her under arrest, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

Heather Carpenter and her fiance Julio Jose Jimenez-Artunduaga sued New York City, Chief Joseph Espoisto, Chief of Patrol James Hall and three sergeants in October 2011. The excessive-force complaint alleged that one sergeant with the New York Police Department "gratuitously" grabbed Carpenter's breasts while arresting activists for trespassing at a Citibank on Oct. 15, 2011.

Jimenez claimed cops punched and kicked him, and that his finger was cut.

"Although these allegations are disputed, they raise issues of fact which may only be resolved by a jury," U.S. District Judge Denise Cote said Wednesday.

Carpenter, a 23-year-old aspiring nurse, says she marched with a group to a Citibank branch near the Wall Street-adjacent Zuccotti Park as part of a Day of Action Against Banks. She planned to close her bank account to protest a $17 monthly maintenance fee the bank planned to charge her if her account fell below $6,000.

A sit-in style protest ensued inside the bank, and protestors refused to demonstrate outside as requested by bank personnel. New York City Police Chief Joseph Esposito then ordered the bank to barricade its doors and make arrests.

Carpenter was allowed to leave after showing she was a customer by producing a bank receipt. When she pulled out her cellphone to record the arrests from outside, Sgt. Rodriguez allegedly approached her and told her to "come with him."

An unknown officer then approached Carpenter from behind and cupped his hands under her breasts. Jimenez-Artunduaga says he meanwhile was dragged into the vestibule of the bank, kicked in the back of the knee and cuffed. The two say they were held for 32 hours before being released. The District Attorney dismissed charges against them earlier this month.

In dismissing the claims against the city, Cote said that the city showed that the arresting officers had probable cause to believe that the plaintiffs were trespassing.

The excessive force charges can advance, however.

"While 'not every push or shove' permits a Fourth Amendment claim to survive summary judgment, bruising and other nonpermanent injuries may be sufficient," Cote wrote.

Editor's Note: The attached pictures were included as exhibits in the original complaint.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.