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$150,000 Jury Award Against NYPD for Excessive Force, False Arrest

by Christopher Zoukis

     A 45-year-old man who was arrested for public urination was awarded $150,000 after a jury found that officers of the New York Police Department used excessive force during his unlawful arrest.

     On January 27, 2005, Emilio Rivera stopped in a Harlem restaurant to use the restroom. However, the line was too long, so he decided to leave. Unable to wait any longer, he stopped between two vans that he believed shielded him from view and urinated. After finishing, Rivera was approached by two NYPD officers, who told him that they were responding to a call about a man in the restaurant who was threatening with a knife.

     Rivera had been hit by a car five months earlier, and this was the first month he was not using a wheelchair, walker or cane. He was still shuffling as a result of the surgery required to repair his broken leg. According to Rivera, when the police officers approached him, he was afraid they would hurt his leg so he said, "my legs, my legs." The officers contended that when they approached the man, he became agitated and waved his hands irrationally. The officers "took him down" to the ground and handcuffed him.

     The officers brought Rivera to the precinct house, even though he was never formally arrested. Two hours later, upon his release, he was given one citation for public urination and another for disorderly conduct. Both charges were later dropped.

     Rivera filed a complaint against the city of New York for false arrest, false imprisonment, battery, and violation of his civil rights. The civil rights claim was dismissed before proceeding to a jury trial.

     At trial, Rivera argued that he did not match the description of the man with the knife, and that no one from the restaurant identified him as the man with the knife. He argued that if the officers believed he had a knife, they would have kept their distance from him. In effect, he said, the police had no reasonable cause to detain him. He also claimed that his injury was aggravated by the incident, forcing him back into a wheelchair and preventing his return to work as a truck driver.

     The officers argued that Rivera had resisted, even though there was no arrest. They also said when Rivera left the precinct house, he did not ask for medical assistance and was walking of his own accord.

     Rivera was asking for $165,000. After a four-day trial and two hours of deliberation, the jury awarded him $150,000. After the verdict, the parties settled for $125,000. Rivera was represented by attorney Ari Jacobson.

See: Rivera v. City of New York, 2009 NY Jury Verdicts Review LEXIS 978, Case No. 117947/2005 (Sept. 21, 2009)


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Related legal case

Rivera v. City of New York, 2009 NY Jury Verdicts Review LEXIS 978