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Adonis v. Coleman

September 23, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cedarbaum, J.


Tahani Adonis and her sister Diane visited the Civil Court of the City of New York in Kings County on October 14, 2005.

While attempting to pass through security, Tahani got into a dispute with the court officers on duty and was arrested and issued a summons. Following the issuance of the summons, Tahani was being escorted out of the courthouse by the officers when she got into a second dispute with them. Tahani was arrested a second time, taken to the police precinct, and later taken to central booking where she was held for several hours, and then released.

Tahani sues court officers Melissa Coleman and Christopher Ferrari under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and New York State law for false arrest and unlawful imprisonment. She also sues Melissa Coleman for malicious prosecution. A two day bench trial was held on December 10 and 11, 2008. Six witnesses testified: Tahani Adonis, Diane Adonis, Thomas Merriweather, Melissa Coleman, Christopher Ferrari and Christopher Spatola.


After examining all the evidence, observing the demeanor of the witnesses and considering the plausibility and credibility of the testimony, I make the following findings of fact.

The Civil Court of the City of New York, Kings County is located at 141 Livingston Street, Brooklyn, New York. The court is located in an office building, which also contains other businesses and offices. People entering 141 Livingston Street to go to the Civil Court must pass through a security checkpoint at the entrance of the building. On October 14, 2005, each person entering the building on the way to court was required to walk through a magnetometer and place all belongings on an adjacent X-ray machine to be scanned. Two court officers were on duty at each security checkpoint. One officer operated the X-ray machine. The other stood near the exit of the magnetometer and signaled to the next person in line when it was time to pass through the magnetometer.

On October 14, 2005, no camera phones were permitted in the Civil Court. Any camera phones brought into the building had to be checked before the owner could proceed to the Civil Court. This policy was posted on a pillar adjacent to each magnetometer. One of the officers stationed at the magnetometer would take possession of any camera phone, and escort the owner to a voucher desk where the phone would be handed to a second officer. The second officer would fill out a triplicate form describing the phone to be vouchered, the owner's name and the date. The owner would then sign the form and receive a copy of it to be used to retrieve the phone on the way out of the building.

October 14, 2005, was a rainy day. On that day, Tahani Adonis accompanied her sister, Diane Adonis, to the Civil Court.

Diane came to court because she was filing an eviction complaint in Housing Court, one of the courts located in the Civil Court building. When Tahani and Diane entered the building, only one magnetometer was in use, and there was a line of several people waiting to pass through security.

Defendants Melissa Coleman and Christopher Ferrari are court officers in the employ of the New York State court system. On October 14, 2005, they were stationed together at one of the magnetometers. Officer Coleman was operating the hand scanner and Officer Ferrari was operating the X-ray machine. When Tahani and Diane arrived at the security checkpoint, Diane went through first, followed by Tahani. Officer Ferrari observed Diane's cell phone, took it into his possession, and informed her that she would have to wait in the line at the voucher desk.

When Tahani arrived at the security checkpoint, she took out her cell phone and placed it in a grey bucket, placed her pocketbook on the x-ray machine and walked through the magnetometer. Officer Coleman saw Tahani's phone and picked it up. She advised Tahani that camera phones were not allowed in the building and that she would have to check her phone. Tahani responded by asking to have her phone back. What happened next is a matter of dispute between the parties.

Tahani testified that upon being informed that she would need to voucher her phone, she asked Coleman to give her phone back to her. However, according to Tahani, Coleman did not respond to her request and instead just stared at her. Tahani repeated the request several times, but Coleman did not answer her. Tahani testified that Officer Ferrari came over from the X-Ray machine and told her that if she asked for her phone back one more time, she would be arrested. She asked again, and Ferrari arrested her.

I did not find the plaintiff to be a credible witness as to whether she caused a disturbance at the security checkpoint and do not credit her testimony about her arrest. Rather, I credit the testimony of officers Coleman and Ferrari, who each testified credibly that when Tahani was advised that she must voucher her phone, she began screaming, "Why do I have to do this?" Coleman told Tahani several times that she needed to voucher her camera phone or remove it from the building. However, Tahani became increasingly loud and began cursing. After a few exchanges between Coleman and Tahani, Ferrari came over and repeated Coleman's instructions. He told Tahani that she needed to either voucher the phone or take it and leave. He also advised her that if she did not stop screaming, she would be placed under arrest. She would not stop, and Ferrari arrested her.

Diane Adonis testified credibly that she had gone through security already and was standing nearby waiting for Tahani when a "commotion" took place. She overheard Tahani asking for her phone back and heard the officers raise their voices. She then saw Tahani being placed in handcuffs.

After being placed under arrest, Tahani was escorted upstairs to the court operations office by the officers. Officer Coleman consulted with her supervisor and completed a summons charging Tahani with violating New York Penal Law § 240.20(2) by making unreasonable noise. Tahani spoke with a lieutenant, who asked her to sign the summons, and informed her that she had to leave the courthouse. The lieutenant directed Officer Coleman to escort Tahani out of the building. Because Officer Ferrari's shift was over, another officer, Officer Spatola, assisted Coleman in escorting Tahani out.

When Coleman, Spatola and Tahani reached the courthouse lobby, Coleman and Spatola instructed Tahani to leave the building. However, not far from the elevator, Tahani stopped, turned around and asked the two officers for her coat and umbrella. Tahani's testimony conflicts with the testimony of Officers Coleman and Spatola regarding what happened next.

According to Tahani, Coleman responded to her request for her coat and umbrella by telling her to get out of the building immediately. Tahani then explained to the officers that it was cold out and that she was sick and could not leave without her coat and umbrella. However, Coleman and Spatola simply repeated that she must leave and that if she did not, she would be placed under arrest. When Tahani responded again that she could not leave without her coat and umbrella, Spatola proceeded to ...

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