By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A Brooklyn jury awarded a teenager $250,000 for damages incurred during an illegal stop and subsequent incarceration by the New York Police Department.
On the morning of Feb. 27, 2011, Ryan Ali, an African-American teenager, was walking home from the laundromat on Clarkson Street between 95th and 96th streets when a marked police car pulled alongside him, calling out an unknown name.
“The police approached my client calling out the name Jamal,” Alex Diaz told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Not recognizing the name, Ali continued walking. The officers then stopped Ali, searched him and asked him for identification. Ali obliged, being told that he fit the description of an individual, Jamal, the police had been looking for.
Once the police officers ran Ali’s name through their database, it was discovered that Ali had an outstanding warrant for a 2009 Parks Department violation. New York law requires the immediate arrest of an individual with an open warrant; Ali was promptly arrested and taken to a holding cell. Ali, a junior in high school at the time, was held behind bars for approximately 36 hours before his release.
Ali filed suit against the city for damages amounting to $150,000 for the emotional trauma he suffered as a result of his incarceration, which was the result of an illegal stop.
The city argued that it was compelled to arrest and incarcerate Ali on account of his outstanding open warrant from 2009. “Yes, the police are compelled to arrest where there is an open warrant,” Diaz conceded. However, Diaz’s argument proceeded, information about the warrant would not have been discovered had it not been for the illegal stop.
“The warrant does not give them probable cause [for the initial stop],” Diaz said. “The information about the warrant was obtained from an illegal stop…and any evidence derived from that stop, including information about the warrant, cannot constitute probable cause. ”
The city asserted that probable cause existed because when they passed by Ali that February morning, he appeared to have just urinated in public. This argument held no true merit in court, since no police officer actually observed the perceived public urination.
During trial, the jury was given very limited information about the conditions of the holding cell where Ali remained for 36 hours, since presiding Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Bernard Graham restricted lengthy testimony to that effect.
An odd aspect of the trial was that while Ali claimed emotional damages, no medical experts were brought to the witness stand to testify as to those damages. “I think people can understand that emotional trauma cannot be healed with a cast. It sticks with you,” Diaz explained.
Prior to his arrest, Ali was a member of the Bronx branch of the Law Enforcement Explorers — a program that promotes youth interest in the police force. “This is a kid that wanted to be a police officer. He is now a bit lost. He doesn’t have the same respect he had for the force. They have taken that away from him,” said Diaz.
Seemingly believing that Ali deserved more for his pain and suffering, the Brooklyn trial jury awarded him $250,000. “I believe they understood the theory of the case,” Diaz said of the unexpected jury award. “They understood what kind of emotional trauma that being stopped for no reason would cause.”
With a new mayor taking the helm in January, it is unclear whether the city will appeal this verdict or let it stand. "We are evaluating our options," a city Law Department spokesperson told the Eagle.