NY Landscape

Cell Phone Use In Court? Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Brooklyn Court Officers Will Proceed

A Federal District Judge recently ruled that a lawsuit against two New York State court officers claiming false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, excessive force, denial of equal protection, and deprivation of due process can proceed to trial.

Getro Milfort, the plaintiff in the case, was waiting in a security line to enter the New York City Civil Court in downtown Brooklyn when he answered a call on his cell phone. In his complaint, Mr. Gilfort claims a court officer aggressively approached him and demanded he end the call. He says he told the officer he would get off the phone. But before he could, he says the officer grabbed him, causing his head to smash against a wall, and placed him in handcuffs. He claims he was brought to an elevator in which two officers twisted his arm, kneed him in the back, and twisted his body, and that when he complained he was in pain they called him a “motherfucker” and told him to “shut the fuck up.” Mr. Gilfort says he had to receive an injection to combat the pain he suffered as a result of his injuries, had to attend fifteen physical therapy sessions, and continues to suffer from “decreased range of motion in his arms, shoulders, and neck, as well as pain in his shoulder and neck” as a result of the court officers’ abusive treatment. Mr. Gilfort was charged with disorderly conduct after his arrest, but the case against him was dismissed.

The court officers tell a different story, claiming Mr. Gilfort became “loud and belligerent” when he was asked to hang up his phone. They acknowledge arresting and handcuffing Mr. Gilfort but deny acting violently towards him or causing him any injury.

In evaluating the court officers’ motion to throw the lawsuit out of court, U.S. District Judge William F. Kuntz, II determined that a jury could reasonably conclude “it was objectively unreasonable for the [court officers] to believe that [they were] acting in a fashion that did not clearly violate” Mr. Gilfort’s constitutional rights. For this reason and because of the factual discrepancies between Mr. Gilfort’s and the court officers’ versions of the events, three of Mr. Gilfort’s five claims against the officers—false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, and excessive force—will move forward. If Mr. Gilfort and his attorney prevail at trial, he could receive substantial monetary damages for his pain and suffering and for the officers’ violation of his rights.

Lawsuits claiming police or court officer abuse, brutality, or mistreatment are complex. Without a dedicated and experienced lawyer advocating for his rights against the court officers and their lawyers, Mr. Gilfort’s case would probably not have even reached this stage of litigation. This suit demonstrates just how important it is for anyone who thinks he or she may be a victim of police misconduct, police brutality, false arrest, malicious prosecution, excessive force, or any other form of abuse to speak with an attorney who can help him or her receive the monetary compensation he or she deserves.

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