Press-Republican

May 19, 2013

7 claims in lawsuit against LP Police upheld

Damages sought for alleged assault, distress

By KIM SMITH DEDAM Press-Republican
Press-Republican

---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — Claims in a civil lawsuit against two Lake Placid police officers were upheld in court Friday, and the case will go to court.

Supreme Court Justice Thomas Buchanan heard oral arguments after the defendants, including the Village of Lake Placid, moved to have seven causes, and the entire complaint, dismissed.

The 13 claims stem from an incident in a grocery store parking lot in January 2012, when Taryn Stanfa, now 21, was detained, handcuffed, and her car searched by two Lake Placid policemen, James Staats and Matthew Braunius.

An internal Police Department investigation that winter found no cause for discipline, and both officers remain on the force.

No criminal charges were filed. 

‘PUSHED TO GROUND’

But Stanfa claimed Staats pushed her to the ground with force and held her there with his knee while handcuffing her.

A college student at the time, she claims she was held in a police vehicle under false arrest.

She was not read Miranda Rights, she said, or charged with any crime and later released without charges.

She is represented by Lake Placid attorney Matthew Norfolk of the firm Briggs Norfolk.

4 CHARGES DISMISSED

Attorney for the village and the Police Department, Jonathan Bernstein, of the law firm Goldberg Segalla LLP, argued several claims were duplicative.

In court on Friday, Buchanan agreed on two of those, including one for unlawful imprisonment.

He determined that one is contained in the false arrest charge.

The judge dismissed four others, but left seven charges against the police intact.

The top two claims in the complaint seek damages for assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The civil action also claims police conducted an unreasonable search.

CLAIMS PHYSICAL FORCE

Witness to the incident, Karea Baker, of Skaneateles, is expected to testify.

Then a college student, she was traveling with Stanfa that morning as the two left a friend’s house and headed to Saranac Lake.

Seeing lights on at the grocery store, they stopped so Baker could use the restroom, the young women have said.

In a sworn affidavit filed in supreme court, Baker said Stanfa was not using drugs and had not been drinking in the hours before the 5 a.m. incident.

The eye-witness statement alleges repeated interrogation and physical force used on Stanfa by police officer Staats.

According to Baker, Braunius let Stanfa out of the police vehicle and removed the handcuffs after about 45 minutes of detention.

‘WANTS FULL TRIAL’

The legal claim against Lake Placid and the two police officers was initially filed in federal court seeking civil-rights damages, but the case was returned to State Supreme Court and will be heard in Elizabethtown.

Stanfa is from Watertown, and Baker lives in western New York.

Bernstein has 30 days to file a response before discovery begins.

Norfolk said his client is looking for a full trial, seeking $1 million in damages.

“We’re happy with the outcome,” he said.

“Seven causes of action survived. We’re ready to move forward so Ms. Stanfa will have her day in court.”

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com