Woman to file lawsuit against Rotterdam police
Town withholding details of incident
ROTTERDAM Carla Cerniglia’s arrest last summer never made it to Rotterdam Town Court, nor was the disposition of her case ever disclosed by town police.
The identity of the officers who responded to a complaint were redacted from an incident report provided to The Daily Gazette, as were the charges Cerniglia faced when she was brought to the police department Aug. 17.
But now, the details of her arrest are the subject of a notice of claim filed by Cerniglia against the town last month, alleging Rotterdam police falsely arrested and beat her during an incident near Mercer Avenue that evening.
“The agents, officers, servants of the town of Rotterdam Police Department knew full well that [Cerniglia] did not commit any offense, yet they assaulted and arrested [Cerniglia], all in violation of her civil rights,” states the claim, which was received by the town attorney’s office in Nov. 12.
Attorney Lara Barnett, who is representing Cerniglia, declined to comment on the claim.
In the notice of claim, Cerniglia accuses Rotterdam police of falsely accusing her of resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration — both misdemeanor charges. She also states police “negligently, carelessly and recklessly struck, shoved and grabbed” her, causing her to “sustain serious injuries.”
“As a result of the herein described false arrest, malicious prosecution, assault, negligence and violation of civil rights … [Cerniglia] has sustained physical injuries, emotional and psychological trauma, severe humiliation and embarrassment, great damage to her reputation, a loss of esteem in the community, was subjected to score and ridicule, was forced to incur substantial medical and legal expenses and suffered a severe violation and deprivation of the civil rights guaranteed to [her],” the claim states.
Town Supervisor Harry Buffardi referred all comment to Town Attorney Kate McGuirl, who declined comment, claiming that to do so would be a violation of state civil rights laws.
The claim follows a pair of suspensions handed out to Rotterdam officers in September, one of which stemmed from a complaint in August, Police Chief James Hamilton has said. Police and town officials have repeatedly declined to identify the suspended officers, the circumstances surrounding the August incident or the terms of their discipline.
When asked for the incident report involving Cerniglia, police officials provided a barely legible, heavily redacted copy that included only scant details of what happened on the night of her arrest. Even Cerniglia’s name was blacked out in redactions McGuirl made before allowing the report and an accompanying police blotter entry to be released.
Also obscured are the charges lodged by police, the exact location where officers were called on the evening of the arrest and the identities of anyone named in the report. Hamilton said he sealed all documents in the case under his discretion as head of his department after determining the charges weren’t warranted.
“I reviewed the accusatory instrument, and I determined it would not be in the interest of justice to file criminal charges,” he said. “At this point, I don’t feel obliged to provide any further information than what I already have.”
Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, said the incident report is a public document and not subject to a seal or broad redaction. He said the town has no legal basis for withholding the names of the officers listed on the incident report, regardless of whether the case resulted in an arrest or discipline.
Documentation released last week when The Daily Gazette requested the police report from the arrest of Carla Cerniglia on Aug. 17 indicates Rotterdam police responded to a disturbance on Mercer Avenue initially called in as a driving while intoxicated complaint from the Cumberland Farms on Highbridge Road. The report states an individual — name redacted — was refusing to leave a residence and became verbally abusive toward officers, “yelling loudly and repeatedly swearing in the street.”
The individual then pushed an officer and disobeyed orders from police by refusing to exit a taxi, the incident report states. The individual was then forced from the vehicle and continued to resist arrest, according to the report.
The individual was placed into custody, “processed” on charges and released. The conditions of release were also redacted, though the report notes the incident resulted in an arrest.
The police blotter from the evening was also heavily redacted by McGuirl. The blotter states three police cruisers were dispatched to a location on Highbridge Road on the evening of the incident. The blotter also indicates an arrest was made. All the names, however, were redacted.