New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

RAEFSKI v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-016-040, Claim No. 102248


Claimant was validly arrested for disorderly conduct at the Bronx Criminal Courthouse, but excessive force was used.

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):

Alan C. Marin
Claimant’s attorney:
Warren S. Goodman, Esq.
Defendant’s attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney GeneralBy: Gail Pierce-Siponen, Esq., AAG
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
July 21, 2004
New York

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


This is the decision following the trial on the liability portion of the claim of Raymond Raefski for false arrest and assault. On January 11, 2000, Mr. Raefski went to the Bronx Criminal Courthouse, intending to take care of several tickets issued to him relating to the use of his van and whether it was, in effect, a commercial vehicle (cl exh 3). Claimant had been at the courthouse a few weeks before and was able to resolve a similar set of tickets.

According to Raefski, the judge in December dismissed the first set of tickets, but said that he could not do so for the second set which had a different date and docket number. The judge told claimant that if he came back to court and explained to the clerk or another judge that the first set was dismissed, the second set would similarly be disposed of. Fifty-four years old at the time and recovering from an accident, claimant had been on crutches in December and on January 11, 2000, when he returned to the Bronx court.
On January 11, Raefski arrived at the courthouse at about 9:30 or 10 a.m. He approached the clerk, explained what had happened in December and presented the outstanding tickets, expecting a quick resolution. Claimant waited for two hours, recalling that there were no seats so he had to stand using his crutches, at which point “I got kind of upset and I demanded to see” a supervisor. Raefski said that just before 1 p.m., he spoke to a supervisor who informed him that he should return after lunch. Even though claimant said he was told “these tickets are warrants, we will have to arrest you,” Raefski responded that he could not wait that long - - he was in pain and was going to see his doctor.

Then as Raefski was walking up the stairs to leave the building, he slipped and fell; this accident is not a part of his claim. Claimant was helped up by two court officers, and declined a call for an ambulance. What he did want was a report of this latest injury for his doctor, and came back for such report after lunch at about 2:30. Raefski said he went to the office where he was supposed to pick up the report, but was told by a court officer that no one was in the room and he should sit down. Raefski replied that he did not want to stay too long, recalling that the officer then said that he would have to wait until “we’re ready to give you the thing.”
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The foregoing is not disputed or is, at least, not material to the legal issues obtaining here: (i) was claimant’s subsequent arrest for disorderly conduct valid (cl exhs 1 & 2); and (ii) in any event, was excessive force used? The parties’ versions of the facts on these two issues differ widely.

Raefski testified that moments after being told he would have to wait for the report, “I started getting poked in the chest and pushed [by the officer] . . . and within a flash, I was on the floor.” Claimant added that “I was pushed and my crutches were kicked out from under me,” explaining “that’s how I [wound] up on the floor” and that there was an officer in front of him and one behind. Raefski asserted that he was then “dragged into the back” by four to six officers.

Court Officer Raphael Nieves denied at trial that he or any other officer poked, kicked, hit or made any physical contact with claimant. In fact, according to the officer, claimant “threw himself on the floor . . . but while he was there on the floor he said that I threw him on the floor and that he was going to sue me.”

Mr. Nieves had been a court officer for over five years at the time of the incident, and has been assigned to the Bronx Criminal Courthouse his entire career, including up to the time of trial. On January 11, 2000, Nieves was working a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift, assigned to voucher items like cameras and cell phones that were temporarily taken from persons at one of the two public entrances to the courthouse.

Nieves testified that he was in the voucher room and “heard someone being very loud and asking for a supervisor” coming from the area of the magnetometers, or metal detectors. As the senior officer on duty, Nieves was the supervisor of the other officers at the six magnetometers by the 161st Street entrance. The officer came out and saw Mr. Raefski, whom he had never seen or been involved with before. Nieves approached claimant, who by the officer’s recollection was yelling, asking for an aided report, and standing in front of one of the magnetometers, preventing persons from entering through it.

Nieves testified that for an incident that occurred by the magnetometers, the paperwork would be available on the first floor; but for a fall on the stairs for example, the aided report would be at the captain’s office on the third floor of the court building - - and that is just what he told Raefski. But, Nieves recalled, claimant would not move, insisting that the officer was just covering for the “people in AR9.” The officer stated that he warned claimant several times to move away from the metal detector or be issued a summons, but Raefski did not budge, instead exclaiming, “so arrest me then.”

For his part, Raefski testified that he never told an officer he would not leave the area, and did not say “arrest me.” Claimant recalled that he was always 20 to 30 feet away from the magnetometer and was never asked to step aside. There is no doubt that claimant was loud, but Officer Nieves testified that even so, had Raefski moved away from the metal detectors, he would not have been arrested.

Nieves recalled that claimant was sat down on a bench and one hand cuffed to a plastic “flexcuff,” which was in turn attached to a metal bar. Nieves added that such was how an individual would normally be handcuffed, except that usually, both hands would be cuffed; in this instance, the officer felt that one hand was sufficient inasmuch as Raefski was on crutches. The duration of the restraint was disputed; Raefski testified he was handcuffed for about three hours, and Nieves, that claimant was released after 15 or 20 minutes.

The basic factual determinations to be made are thus: Was Mr. Raefski blocking the magnetometer and was there improper physical contact on the part of an officer or officers? The burden is on the claimant to prove his case (PJI §1:23) or an issue thereof (PJI §1:60) by a fair preponderance of the credible evidence. Only Mr. Raefski and Officer Nieves took the stand at trial. That Raefski freely and matter-of-factly admitted to being loud added to his credibility, although there were inconsistencies and uncertainties in his testimony. On the stand, at some points, Officer Nieves came across as uncomfortable with his own testimony.

To this trier of fact, I conclude that what is more likely than not was that Mr. Raefski was standing in front of the magnetometer interfering with access by the public. He was loud, by his own admission in pain most of the day, angry and frustrated and had fallen down the stairs. Claimant may not have been sufficiently aware of his precise physical situation, and some of his testimony, covering the location of the magnetometers and whether there was ongoing construction, was more tentative and less persuasive than the officer’s testimony on those subjects.

However, as noted, given the officer’s discomfort with some of his testimony and claimant’s directness about his own behavior, what best fits the evidence is that having to leave his post to see what was happening and coming upon an individual who was insistently loud, Nieves overreacted and poked claimant which caused him to fall. In sort, excessive force was used. Defendant did not offer any other witness to refute this logical, although fairly close, conclusion. When Raefski fell, his crutches of course went with him; there is insufficient proof that they were kicked out from under claimant or that any other improper force or restraint was thereafter resorted to.

As to the arrest, my finding that claimant was blocking the entrance in full view of Officer Nieves supports claimant’s arrest for disorderly conduct. Penal Law §240.20 provides, in part, that a “ person is guilty of disorderly conduct when, with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof,” he or she, inter alia, ‘‘obstructs vehicular or pedestrian traffic ...”[1]

The Court of Appeals has emphasized that the offense of disorderly conduct focuses on the public dimension. People v Munafo, 50 NY2d 326, 428 NYS2d 924 (1980). Raefski was interfering with ingress to a courthouse; that there were other magnetometers at the entrance and that his interference may have been of short duration does not relieve his offense. Cf. People v Blair, 185 Misc 2d 398, 713 NYS2d 657 (Montgomery Co Ct 2000), lv denied 95 NY2d 904, 716 NYS2d 644 (2000).
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In view of the foregoing, I find the defendant State of New York liable for any injuries suffered by Raymond Raefski arising from being poked in the chest and his resulting fall to the floor on January 11, 2000. Any other cause of action comprehended by Mr. Raefski’s claim (no. 102248) is dismissed. The parties will be contacted by Chambers preparatory to the trial of the damages portion of this matter.


July 21, 2004
New York, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]. The obstruction of pedestrian (or vehicular) traffic is set forth in subdivision 5 of §240.20; subdivision 2 covers “unreasonable noise” with the aforementioned intent or recklessness in causing public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm. Disorderly conduct is a violation under the Penal Law.