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
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 (
, 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.