New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

OSTRANDER v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-017-027, Claim No. 90046


The Court dismissed claimant's claim for damages allegedly arising from the manner in which he was restrained in handcuffs during an arrest.

Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Claimant's attorney:
Edward J. Carroll, Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: Michael Rosas, Esq.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
August 4, 2000
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:
Affirmed 2d Dept., December 24, 2001
See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant seeks damages for injuries he allegedly sustained as a result of the manner in which he was restrained in handcuffs by the New York State Police after being arrested. The validity of the underlying arrest is not in issue. A bifurcated trial was held and this decision pertains solely to the question of liability.

The proof elicited at trial established that on June 6, 1994, claimant Bruce Ostrander was 24 years of age and was driving with a passenger in the vicinity of Route 94 in the Town of New Windsor in Orange County, New York when he was pulled over by two New York State Troopers -- one male and one female. After being pulled over, claimant exited his vehicle and was administered several field sobriety tests after which he was told that he was being placed under arrest for driving while intoxicated. The female Trooper, identified as Trooper Post, directed claimant to face his car and put his hands on the back of the hatchback while she stood directly behind him.

According to claimant, the Trooper then advised him to place his right hand behind his back, he complied with the directive and felt the officer place the handcuff on his right wrist. Claimant has no complaints about the Trooper's application of the right handcuff (
see, Trial Transcript [hereinafter TR], p. 28, line 8). Claimant testified that the handcuffs were the metal type consisting of two round silver circles. Claimant also recalled that Trooper Post next inquired as to whether the rash on claimant's arm was contagious and that he advised her that it was psoriasis and that it was not contagious. According to claimant, Trooper Post then asked him for his left hand, put it behind his back, and then "whacked" him with the handcuff (TR, p. 17, line 21). He testified that he did not struggle with the Trooper and promptly complied with her directives. He explained that the impact with the handcuff on the left wrist was hard and painful and that after Trooper Post had put the handcuff on his left wrist he immediately yelled and asked why she had done that. According to claimant, the Trooper then grabbed him by his shirt collar and placed him in the back of the police car. He testified that he was seated in the rear passenger side of the police car with his hands in back of him. He also testified that the Trooper did not double lock the handcuffs after she placed them on his wrist, and did not touch the cuffs with a key, pen or other implement between the time she put them on claimant and the time that the cuffs were removed at the police station.
Claimant testified that he asked the male Trooper, identified as Trooper Gandy, who was seated in the rear of the vehicle with claimant, to loosen the handcuffs because his hand hurt and felt numb. He recalled that Trooper Gandy did not respond to his request nor inspect the cuffs.

Claimant recalled that before traveling from the scene of the arrest to the police station at Stewart Airport, the Troopers drove to the home of claimant's passenger, Brian Coffey, which was a fifteen-minute trip. Claimant testified that during the ride to Mr. Coffey's house, he asked Trooper Post to loosen the handcuffs. He recalled that she again asked claimant if she could catch his psoriasis and then advised claimant to lean forward to relieve the pressure of the handcuffs. Claimant testified that he advised the Troopers that he had no relief after leaning forward and again requested that they loosen the cuffs. He recalled that he made several more requests thereafter to have the cuffs loosened, but was unsuccessful.

According to claimant, he advised Trooper Post of a shorter route to the police station from Mr. Coffey's house and was relieved that she was following his instructions because the Trooper had advised him that she would remove the handcuffs when they arrived at the station. He testified that the trip from Mr. Coffey's house to the police station was approximately a fifteen minute drive. Claimant testified that when they arrived at the police station, Trooper Gandy removed the handcuffs. He recalled that at that time, he observed a big red mark around part of his left wrist and noticed that his left hand was slightly swollen and was numb. He testified that he advised someone at the barracks about the injury to his left wrist, but could not identify that person during his trial testimony. Claimant testified that thereafter he was released from custody and sought medical attention for his wrist the following day.

On cross-examination, claimant acknowledged that on the night of his arrest he had consumed seven or eight 12-ounce bottles of beer and conceded that he did not see how the Trooper applied the handcuffs to his wrists. He also testified that the handcuffs were not applied to the area of his arm where the psoriasis was located, which extended down his arm from his elbow to approximately three inches above his wrist.

Claimant agreed on cross-examination that when he observed the red mark on his left wrist after the handcuff was removed, the skin on his wrist was not broken and he was not bleeding in that area. On redirect examination, claimant clarified that the handcuff on his left wrist was tight when it was placed on that wrist and did not loosen thereafter.

Claimant's passenger, Brian Coffey, also testified at trial. Mr. Coffey, who was directed to exit the vehicle and was standing outside of claimant's car, observed claimant performing the field sobriety tests and saw Trooper Post place the handcuffs on claimant. He testified that after the second cuff was placed on claimant's wrist, he did not observe the Trooper apply any implement, such as a pen or key, to the cuffs. He testified that claimant was following the Troopers' instructions that night, and he did not see claimant resist or argue with the police.

Mr. Coffey was placed in the front passenger seat of the police car and recalled that while he was seated in the car he heard claimant ask the officers on several occasions to loosen the cuffs. He also testified that he had asked the officer to remove claimant's cuffs and that the officers ignored both his and claimant's requests. He recalled hearing the female officer question claimant about whether his psoriasis was contagious. On cross-examination, Mr. Coffey conceded that he was "drunk" at the time that claimant was pulled over (TR, p. 101, line 11).

While Mr. Coffey testified that he saw Trooper Post place the handcuffs on claimant, he did not recall which hand was cuffed first, although he remembered that the first cuff was applied in a regular manner. He noted that the handcuffs had two rings connected by a chain link. He also recalled the female trooper telling claimant to sit forward after claimant complained of pain. Mr. Coffey testified that when he picked claimant up at the police station at approximately three or four in the morning, claimant's wrist was swollen and red. However, Mr. Coffey conceded that he did not hear claimant complain to anyone in the police station about his wrist at that time. Mr. Coffey recalled that several days later claimant told him that he needed to get medical attention for his left wrist because it was still swollen and sore.

David J. Gandy, the male officer involved in claimant's arrest on June 6, 1994, testified at trial and a transcript of his pre-trial deposition testimony was admitted into evidence as Exhibit 3. Trooper Gandy did not observe Trooper Post apply the handcuffs to claimant because he kept his attention on Mr. Coffey, who he described as highly intoxicated, belligerent and sarcastic. Trooper Gandy did not recall hearing claimant complain about the handcuffs being too tight during the time claimant was transported from the scene of the arrest to the police station.

Trooper Gandy also did not recall removing the handcuffs at the police station and did not recall claimant complaining at the station about wrist pain. He attributed his lack of memory to the fact that most people complain that handcuffs are uncomfortable and he could not specifically remember claimant.

Trooper Gandy testified that it is standard police procedure to notify a supervisor when an arrestee complains of a physical injury and that the supervisor will prepare an unusual incident report. No such unusual incident report was generated in this case. With respect to handcuffing procedure, Trooper Gandy testified that after handcuffs are placed firmly on the suspect's wrists, they are to be double locked. He explained that double-locking is a safety feature that prevents the handcuff from loosening or tightening after it is applied.

Trooper Gandy also recalled that the female officer inquired about the contagiousness of claimant's skin condition before claimant was placed in the vehicle. However, he did not recall claimant asking the female Trooper to loosen the handcuffs while in the car.

Trooper Gandy testified that he began employment with the New York State Police in July of 1993 and that in the year that he was a Trooper prior to this incident he had arrested approximately ten people. He testified that he never loosened handcuffs after applying them because of the risk of flight. He explained, however, that the cuff could be loosened without being taken off by turning the key, sliding the cuff out and adjusting it.

On cross-examination, Trooper Gandy conceded that he did not observe the female Trooper apply the handcuffs and did not know if she double locked them. He agreed that he was familiar with the portion of the New York State Police Field Manual pertaining to restraints that was admitted into evidence as Exhibit 1 and that the Manual provides minimum standards as to the operation of handcuffs. He conceded that for all misdemeanor arrests for driving while intoxicated the handcuffs must be double locked and acknowledged that the purpose of the double locking is to prevent the cuffs from getting tighter before they are removed.

Trooper Gandy acknowledged that he had his own set of handcuffs at the time of the incident and that nothing would have prevented him from placing his handcuffs on claimant and then loosening those applied by the female Trooper. However, he testified that he had never followed such a procedure and had never heard of anyone doing that before. Trooper Gandy also acknowledged that the medical kit in the police car contained rubber gloves that the officers could have worn if they were concerned about claimant's skin condition. He testified that he had never checked claimant's handcuffs while in the vehicle to determine if they had tightened and did not observe the female Trooper check the cuffs. On redirect examination, Trooper Gandy testified that he was taught in police training never to remove the handcuffs once applied for safety reasons.

Carolyn J. Post, the female Trooper who arrested claimant on June 6, 1994, testified at trial and her pre-trial deposition testimony was admitted into evidence as Exhibit 2. Trooper Post testified that she has been employed by the New York State Police since October 7, 1991. She estimated that she had been involved in between 50 to 75 arrests between the time she began her employment and the date of claimant's arrest, and that approximately 50 of those involved DWI arrests.

Trooper Post explained that she was taught in the Police Academy that when applying handcuffs, the rear of the subject's body should be facing the officer. She testified that when the subject was turned in the proper direction, she would proceed to apply one cuff. She also stated that she was taught to approach the subject with both handcuffs in the closed position because the jagged edge of the cuff that is revealed when the cuff is open could cause injury to the subject or the officer. She noted that the sharp area of the handcuff could be used by the subject as a deadly instrument if it fell within the subject's control.

Trooper Post brought the handcuffs that she used to arrest claimant to Court and demonstrated how she applied the handcuffs to claimant. She testified that she usually places the handcuffs directly against the skin. She explained that by pushing on the handcuff, it would immediately wrap around the defendant's wrist and then engage. She testified that this is the quickest way to apply handcuffs. Trooper Post testified that she would then squeeze the handcuffs into a position that she felt was secure enough so the subject could not remove his arm or hands from the cuff ring. She would then proceed to secure the other arm.

Trooper Post testified that she normally checks the handcuffs after she applies them to make sure that they are secure and that the wrist cannot slip through, but that there is enough room so that she can rotate the arm to apply the second cuff. She testified that the process is within her discretion.

Trooper Post also explained that it is her customary practice, after she applies the cuff ring, to physically take her hand and inspect the cuff. She also testified that it is her own custom not to loosen handcuffs after they are applied because once she loosens a handcuff the cuff ring is no longer secure and the subject could pull his hand out and become a flight risk. Trooper Post then demonstrated that to loosen a cuff, she would have to use a key and twist it, which makes the cuff automatically open. She testified that there is no way to turn the key and allow only some of the teeth on the cuff to move outward. She testified that she would be unable to control the cuff.

Trooper Post also referred to a hole or depression in the cuff for the double locking mechanism, which is an extra security measure. She explained that when you depress this small hole the handcuff becomes double locked and cannot be tampered with. She noted that if the double locking mechanism were not employed, a suspect could insert a piece of wire or other small implement and enable him to open the handcuffs.

Turning to the date of claimant's arrest, Trooper Post explained that she detected an odor of alcohol on claimant's breath after he was pulled over for erratic driving and administered five field sobriety tests to him. She explained each test in detail and her determination as to whether claimant had passed or failed each test, and testified that her ultimate conclusion after assessing claimant's performance was that claimant was intoxicated.

Trooper Post testified that thereafter she advised claimant that he was being placed under arrest for driving while intoxicated and that claimant did not immediately comply with her directive to turn around and place his hands behind his back. She testified that because he failed to comply, she grabbed his left arm and guided him around and began handcuffing him. She could not specifically remember placing the handcuffs on claimant. She reiterated, however, that it was her custom and practice and departmental policy to double lock handcuffs after they were applied.

Trooper Post did not recall claimant complaining that the handcuff was too tight after she applied it and while she led claimant to the police car, but recalled claimant complaining about the cuffs during the ride from the scene of the arrest to the home of claimant's passenger. Trooper Post also recalled that claimant's passenger, Mr. Coffey, was highly intoxicated in her estimation, rude and argumentative during the ride to his home.

Trooper Post stated that when claimant complained about his handcuffs, she directed him to lean forward to alleviate the pressure of his own body against the cuffs and pushing them into the seat. She testified that claimant complied with her directive and that he was quiet for a while thereafter. According to Trooper Post, claimant again complained about the handcuffs after they reached Mr. Coffey's home and during the trip to the police station. She recalled that she asked claimant if he could wait until they arrived at the station because they were only about five minutes away and that claimant did not respond. She could not recall who removed the cuffs from claimant's wrists when they arrived at the station. With respect to the rash on claimant's arm, Trooper Post testified that she recalled asking claimant if it was contagious and that after he indicated that it was not, the conversation ended. She also testified that the skin condition did not prevent her from otherwise making physical contact with claimant to engage the handcuffs. Trooper Post testified that she did not consider loosening the handcuffs while transporting claimant because of the potential flight risk. She referred to Exhibit H, a portion of the New York State Police Field Manual entitled "Removing Restraining Devices" which indicates that restraints should not be removed from a prisoner until the prisoner arrives at the final destination. When asked if claimant was a flight risk because of his behavior, Trooper Post responded that she believed he was a flight risk because he was under the influence of alcohol, which she described as a personality-altering drug that makes a subject's behavior unpredictable, as well as the fact that claimant pleaded with her not to arrest him because he would lose his job as a driver.

On cross-examination, Trooper Post agreed that after claimant's vehicle was stopped, he never attempted to run away, strike the officer or threaten her. She also agreed that if she failed to double lock handcuffs, there was a possibility that they could tighten while being worn and that she was aware of that possibility at the time she handcuffed claimant. Trooper Post was confronted with deposition testimony that she gave on April 13, 1999 concerning the exact procedure that she followed in handcuffing claimant, and agreed that in that testimony she failed to mention that she double-locked the handcuffs or that she inspected the cuffs after she applied them. She also conceded that claimant complained to her that the cuffs were too tight.

Trooper Post acknowledged that she could not say that there would be no circumstances that might justify removing a restraint prior to arrival at the police station because exigent circumstances might justify such a change. When asked if she could have stopped the police car, have the other Trooper apply his cuffs and then adjust the existing handcuffs, Trooper Post testified that that would also present a risk of flight because the subject would have to be removed from the car. She also conceded that leg restraints were available to her in the police car, but testified that she would not have applied them. Trooper Post testified that there was no need for her to at least examine the handcuffs after claimant first complained to her because she did not believe that his complaint involved a medical condition or that his complaints were other than the ordinary complaints about handcuffs that are lodged by a majority of people who are restrained. Trooper Post indicated that she never inspected claimant's wrist after the handcuffs were removed because he did not make any further complaints to her. She also estimated that claimant was restrained in the handcuffs for approximately one-half hour.

Based on the foregoing proof, claimant seeks to hold defendant liable for injuries to his left wrist sustained as a result of the Troopers' failure to properly apply handcuffs during his arrest and for thereafter ignoring his complaints that they were too tight. In order to recover, claimant must establish that the officers failed to use reasonable care in restraining him on the night of his arrest (see, Rose v State of New York, Claim No. 96318, Unreported Decision of McNamara, J. [filed 12-28-98]).
Claimant's testimony that he complained to the officers that his handcuffs were too tight is credible, given that all of the witnesses at trial recalled hearing claimant complain that they were too tight. However, the record also reveals that when claimant complained in the police car, Officer Post directed him to lean forward to relieve any pressure on his wrists caused by leaning on his arms. The Court finds credible Trooper Post's testimony that claimant was silent for some time after she directed him to lean forward. Given this finding, the Court finds that it was reasonable for the officers to conclude that the suggestion of leaning forward had relieved whatever pain claimant was experiencing and that claimant's complaints were similar to those normally voiced by those who are so restrained. The proof elicited at trial also establishes that when claimant complained again in the car, Trooper Post asked claimant if he could wait approximately five minutes until they arrived at the police station. The Court finds that again claimant's silence in response to this query could have been reasonably understood by the officers as assent.

The Court also finds that the officers were following standard police procedure, which requires double-locking of handcuffs and prohibits the removal of handcuffs once they are applied for safety reasons. Although both claimant and his passenger testified that they did not recall Trooper Post double-locking the device, neither actually saw the manner in which the handcuffs were locked, and both were intoxicated, which undoubtedly affected their assessment and recall of the incident. Additionally, although Trooper Post could not recall the actual handcuffing of claimant, she testified that it is her customary procedure to double-lock handcuffs, and the record presents no reason to doubt that that practice was followed on this occasion. The Court further notes, in this regard, that claimant never testified at trial that the handcuffs had tightened on their own after they were applied or during the car ride, which suggests that the cuffs had, indeed, been double locked and secured when they were first applied.

Similarly, as Troopers Post and Gandy both explained, to loosen handcuffs they must be disengaged, presenting a risk of flight by the suspect that is prohibited by departmental guidelines. Thus, the Court finds that the officers followed standard police procedure and acted reasonably in restraining claimant on the night of his arrest. Accordingly, the Court now GRANTS defendant's motion to dismiss, upon which the Court reserved decision at trial, and this Claim is DISMISSED.


August 4, 2000
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims