White Plains, NY — On May 4, 2009, a jury trial began which was presided over by the Honorable William C. Connor
in the White Plains Federal Court of the Southern District of New York raising
questions of false arrest, excessive force, and questionable policies and
customs of the Yonkers Police Department (YPD).
The point that was brought forward by Steven Ploski,
represented by his attorney John A. Raimondo, alleged that on January 6, 2005,
after an alleged domestic dispute involving no physical violence, that he was
falsely arrested and subject to excessive force by YPD Police Officers Andrew Pellegrini
and John Twomey, and that his treatment, of both his arrest and the force used
resulted from the alleged longstanding unconstitutional practices of the YPD.
Mr Ploski further alleged that in connection with his arrest and treatment, he
suffered a serious injury to his back necessitating surgery.
Plaintiff’s counsel called myriad witnesses on the
plaintiff’s case, including Mayor Phil Amicone (pictured left), and YPD Police Commissioner
Edmund Hartnett (pictured right), both of whom he interrogated at length on patterns of
brutality and the failure on the part of the City of Yonkers (CoY) to
adequately investigate, train, and supervise its officers.
Mr Raimondo examined the Mayor and Police Commissioner in a manner
which raised serious questions about their knowledge about what is happening in
the city and revealed a substantial failure on their part to acknowledge
problems within the YPD. Rather than answering many of Mr Raimondo’s questions
directly, Mayor Amicone, in many cases, evaded answering by repeating what
sounded like a mantra; namely until someone tells him there is a problem, the
mayor assumes everything is fine. Even when Mr Raimondo questioned him about a
federal investigation into allegations
of brutality within the city the mayor categorically stated that there is no
At the end of all the evidence, the jury was charged and
returned to the jury room. Within a few hours of deliberation, the jury
rendered a verdict finding no false arrest and no excessive force. In what is a
highly unusual decision by a federal judge, the Honorable William C. Connor
granted Mr Raimondo’s application to set aside the jury’s verdict on the ground
that the plaintiff’s case showed, as a matter of law, that Mr Ploski had been
falsely arrested in violation of the Criminal Procedure Law and that it further
resulted from a policy of and by the YPD. In addition Judge Connor took away
the question of apportionment of damages between the two officers from the jury
on the basis that the false arrest resulted from a policy of the YPD and
therefore, they would be required to pay any and all damages which the jury
might award. The judge then directed the jury to return to its deliberations on
what amount of damages should be awarded to Mr Polski in connection with his
Not long after, the jury asked the court what consequences
it would suffer if it refused to render a verdict. In this context the jury openly
expressed their distrust of the process. The judge was left with no alternative
to direct the jury to deliberate and advised that, if it failed to do so, its
members could be subject to Contempt. Not long thereafter the jury returned a
verdict awarding $1,000 in compensatory damages to Mr Ploski. Despite the
relatively small amount awarded to Mr Ploski, the judge indicated that he would
award legal fees to Mr Raimondo and require the CoY to pay them because he considered
the plaintiff to be a prevailing party in the action.
Although Yonkers Corporation Counsel Frank Rubino has advised
some of the press that he considers the result to be a total victory, it
appears that he has intentionally overlooked the significant findings of the
court including its decision to award legal fees to the Plaintiff’s lawyer.
Curiously Mr Rubino appears to be focused on the dollar amount awarded to Mr Ploski,
rather than the significance of the merits of Ploski’s case, which in large
part Mr Ploski prevailed upon.
In summary, it appears that the findings in this case are a
significant step towards vindication of the long standing civil rights
violations which have been alleged against the CoY and its police department.