SCHENECTADY — Two lawsuits filed in federal court this month by former criminal suspects accuse the city and county, as well as specific police officers, of committing civil rights violations.
Both plaintiffs were taken into custody on charges that were later reduced or dismissed and allegedly sustained injuries while in police custody.
The first complaint, filed by William Hopkins in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York on June 3, alleges city police used excessive force when they arrested him at his Eastern Avenue home last fall, leaving him with knee injuries that ultimately required “major reconstructive surgery.”
Hopkins alleges city police officers Richard Verzoni and Charles Stevens entered his home on Oct. 25, 2019, without a warrant or legal cause.
According to the lawsuit, Hopkins was half-dressed and entered a bedroom to put on his pants. When he emerged, “Stevens suddenly grabbed plaintiff’s arms and defendant Verzoni suddenly grabbed plaintiff’s legs,” the lawsuit alleges.
Stevens and Verzoni then picked Hopkins up and “slammed him bodily” onto the ground.
Verzoni then allegedly leapt on the plaintiff and bent his fingers back, fracturing his right ring finger.
The officers allegedly yelled “stop resisting” despite Hopkins complying with their orders.
While being taken into custody, Verzoni allegedly placed his knee at the base of Hopkins’ right buttock and the other behind Hopkins’ knee while handcuffing him and “violently” wrenched his right lower leg from side to side.
“As a direct and proximate result of the wrenching by defendant Verzoni, plaintiff’s right knee audibly popped, causing plaintiff to experience severe and substantial pain and to yell out in extremis,” according to the lawsuit.
Hopkins, 57, was “severely injured, including but not limited to bruising, contusions, finger fracture, damage to the joints of plaintiff’s ring finger, nerve damage to his wrists and hands, a torn right medial collateral ligament, a torn right anterior cruciate ligament and a torn right medial meniscus.”
Stevens is accused of not intervening, and the city of “failing to take necessary steps to correct, change or alter” the history, pattern, practice and custom of the use of force by members of the city police department.
Hopkins was arrested on numerous charges following the encounter, including second-degree assault, charges the lawsuit alleges were filed with the intent to justify their use of excessive force and unlawful arrest and imprisonment.
All were dismissed in exchange for Hopkins’ guilty plea to one count of disorderly conduct on Dec. 9, 2019.
Hopkins’ knee required “major reconstructive surgery,” according to the lawsuit, and both his knee and right ring finger are still not fully recovered and will “never fully recover the strength, stability and range of motion which he had enjoyed prior to the assault by defendants.”
The lawsuit presents three claims against Verzoni, Stevens, the city police department and the city, including use of excessive force, failure to intervene and violation of his civil rights.
Hopkins, who is seeking unspecified monetary damages, is being represented by James C. Knox of the Troy-based law firm E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy, LLP.
Initial charging documents state Hopkins bit Verzoni’s hand during the encounter, which was sparked when police sought to question him in connection with breaking a picture frame during a domestic dispute.
Knox, who didn’t represent Hopkins on the original charges, said he interpreted the original call to be a noise complaint.
City Corporation Counsel Andrew Koldin declined comment on Tuesday, citing standard practice during pending litigation.
COUNTY, CITY ACCUSATIONS
A second lawsuit filed by a Rockland County man is seeking unspecified monetary damages after he was picked up on a parole violation in 2018 and later hit his head after slipping on a pool of water at the county jail.
Tyrell Francis, 34, was arrested on a parole violation after meeting with his parole officer on Sept. 13, 2018, and held at the Schenectady County Jail, according to a complaint filed June 26 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.
Francis was scheduled to be transported to a state correctional facility on Oct. 10, 2018, to serve a 90-day sentence on the violations.
But just before his transfer, Francis was charged with two counts of criminal sale of a controlled substance for offenses that allegedly occurred on Sept. 11 and Sept. 13.
The lawsuit alleges those felony charges were based on “false allegations” made by city police Detective Craig Comley, who has been named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, as well as the city, county and 10 unnamed city police personnel.
The claim alleges Comley knew or otherwise “deliberately disregarded” the fact that Francis could not have committed the Sept. 13 offense because he was at a state parole office at the time.
The lawsuit also alleges Francis had an alibi for the Sept. 11 offense.
Francis was remanded to the custody of the county jail, where he made a series of court appearances to answer for third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance.
Charges were ultimately dismissed and sealed in City Court on March 25 and Francis was released to the state to serve out the parole violation, according to the claim.
But Francis allegedly slipped and fell on March 15, 2019, at the county jail on “water that had accumulated on the floor of his cell caused by a leak which he had complained about previously to [Schenectady County Sheriff’s Office] officials, but that nonetheless went unaddressed,” according to the lawsuit.
The result was a head contusion and he claims “frequent” headaches.
The complaint accuses the plaintiffs of 10 violations, including unlawful imprisonment, “malicious prosecution” and negligent screening and hiring practices.
Francis is also accusing the county of failing to ensure his safety, and the city for “inadequate screening, hiring, retaining, training and supervising its employees and pursuant to customs or practices of falsely arresting individuals and the falsification of evidence to support said arrests.”
Koldin declined comment.
County Attorney Chris Gardner said an investigation revealed the sink was trickling, but there was no overflow of water on the floor.
“Video at recreation after his fall indicated the plaintiff had no problems or issues and was enjoying himself at recreation,” Gardner said.
Additionally, the county has an audio recording that captures Francis saying he was “looking for a quick payout,” Gardner said.
“We will vigorously defend this,” Gardner said
Francis is being represented by New York City-based attorney Brett Klein, who didn’t return a request for comment on Tuesday.