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Judge allows most of suit against LP police

May 29, 2013

LAKE PLACID - A state judge has decided that most of a Watertown woman's claims against two Lake Placid police officers are viable.

Supreme Court Justice Thomas Buchanan ruled recently that seven claims in Taryn Stanfa's civil lawsuit against officers James Staats and Matthew Braunius can move forward, although he did discard five of her claims. Buchanan tossed a motion to dismiss the case, made by attorneys for the village of Lake Placid and the officers.

"(The case) is where I anticipated it to be," Lake Placid attorney Matt Norfolk, who is representing Stanfa, told the Enterprise. "I wish we were four or five months (farther) ahead of schedule than we are. I wish we were going to trial this summer as opposed to just entering into discovery now."

In a civil complaint, filed with the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of New York, Stanfa, 21, alleges that during the early morning hours of Jan. 21, 2012, Staats unlawfully interrogated her and searched her vehicle at the Hannaford supermarket parking lot. She claims Staats grabbed her, pushed her to the ground, and struck her in the back with his knee before handcuffing her.

A subsequent police report says Stanfa and her passenger were "highly intoxicated and incoherent" during the incident. No charges were filed and no arrests were made, but Stanfa was allegedly in possession of a glass smoking device and a can of pepper spray.

She is seeking $1 million in damages.

The 13 original claims included multiple allegations of civil rights violations as well as one claim of gross negligence against Braunius, who allegedly didn't take action to protect Stanfa during the incident.

Norfolk said Monday the "crux of the case" remains intact. He said some of the claims that were dismissed last week could be described as "duplicative."

In one instance, Buchanan dismissed the claim of false arrest since it is similar in nature to false imprisonment. Additionally, a claim that the officers violated New York State Civil Rights Law was dismissed, while the claim that they violated the state constitution was allowed to proceed. Both deal with illegal search and seizure.

"The main claims survived," Norfolk said.

Those claims include:

Negligent hiring and retention of the police officers

Unlawful search and seizure

False imprisonment

Assault and battery

Intentional infliction of emotional distress

Negligent infliction of emotional distress


Jonathan Bernstein, of the Albany-based law firm Goldberg Segalla LLP, is representing the village. Village officials, including police Chief Bill Moore, have so far declined to comment on the case, citing it as pending litigation.

Norfolk said the judge's decision will be reduced to writing and filed as a court order. Then the defendants will have to respond to the complaint.

"Once that happens, it's the discovery phase," Norfolk explained. "I don't think there's going to be much discovery. There's one event that occurred. We'll take some depositions and go from there."



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