By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A sample of Brooklyn attorneys, civic leaders and officials polled by the Eagle universally panned the actions of police who ticketed four friends who were drinking beer behind a wrought-iron gate on a Douglass Street stoop.
The incident began, according to the New York Times, on July 4, when Andrew Rausa, a student at Brooklyn Law School, and his friends were hanging out on the front stoop of a friend’s brownstone home in Carroll Gardens, and sipping several beers.
When an unmarked police car pulled up and two officers got out, the friends at first thought that it was their charcoal grill nearby that had gotten them in trouble. Instead, they each received $25 summonses for public drinking — as did a fifth person on the stoop who was actually drinking soda.
Arthur Aidala, a Brooklyn criminal defense attorney who is a vice president of the Brooklyn Bar Association, told the Brooklyn Eagle:
“We all have jobs that require us to use our God-given common sense, and these cops were not using their common sense. I don’t know whether they were told to bring in a certain number of tickets, or what.
“This was not in the spirit of the law,” he added, saying the law was designed to target people drinking beer in parks, on the beach or in similar situations.
He said that if he were representing the friends, he would advise them to fight the charges, and the judge would probably drop the case in the interest of justice.
Joyce David, another Brooklyn criminal attorney, said, “I would say it was not a crime — it was on his [the friend’s] own property,” basically within his house.” The law is more appropriate for situations like people drinking in Central Park, she said.
“This was just an excuse [for the police] to give out more tickets,” she added.
Assemblywoman Joan Millman, who represents the area, told the Eagle, “Perhaps the police were a little too quick to act on this. The four people were behind a gate, and I don’t how that could have been considered to have been in the street.
“There was one person who was drinking soda, and she surely was allowed to drink that.”
Maria Pagano, president of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, commented, “I think it was his private property. I don’t know why they gave him a ticket — he can sit and drink his beer.”
And Howard Kolins, president of the Boerum Hill Association, said, “It’s interesting how the definition of private property can be somewhat stretched.”
He added that as far as he knew, no one had called the police to complain about “a rowdy group of people,” and he questioned whether there was any harm in “having a beer on your stoop.”
One Brooklyn attorney who didn’t want to be quoted said he feared that because of the arrest, Rausa could have problems when he applies for admission to the bar and is investigated. David, however, said she didn’t think this would be the case.
At any rate, Rausa and his friends plan to fight the summonses. The Times reported that soon after he was given the summons, he pulled out his iPhone to study the New York Administrative Code, which defines a public place as one “to which the public or a substantial group of persons has access, including, but not limited to,” a park, sidewalk or beach.
Police officials did not respond to a request from the Eagle for information.
The entire matter of public drinking may be somewhat in a legal limbo, according to a court case reported on by Eagle reporter Eric Goldschein. Brooklyn Civil Court Judge Noach Dear wrote in a decision last month that he will no longer recognize a police officer’s judgment and sense of smell as proof that someone was drinking beer.
Instead, he would require absolute proof, such as a laboratory test of the liquid libations to prove their alcohol contest. Dear pointed out that such sentences are disproportionately doled out to minorities.
This isn’t the first time defendant Rausa has been in the news, by the way. Last year, he and his father, Sam Rausa of Middletown, N.J., ran the New York City Marathon together to celebrate his father’s overcoming prostate cancer.