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To Serve and Protect, Then Sue?

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 07:35

Police officer injured on a call seeks damages 

An East Hampton Town police officer filed a lawsuit against an East Hampton family after he got hurt during a call at their house in March of 2018.
Durell Godfrey

An East Hampton couple called police last year for help when their 17-year-old son, who suffers from mental disorders, was angry and could not be calmed down. Unlike previous instances, this time things escalated. Both the responding officer and their son were hurt. Now, the officer has filed a lawsuit against them.

Anthony Bosco, an East Hampton Town police officer who is also the Police Benevolent Association president, filed a claim in State Supreme Court in Riverhead against Ann Grabowski and Kathleen M. Weiss and their now 19-year-old son, Kevin Thomas Weiss, in March, nearly a year to the day after the incident.

 Officer Bosco, a Yaphank resident, alleges that Ms. Grabowski and Ms. Weiss “created a defective, dangerous and/or hazardous condition” at their house and allowed for it to “remain unabated for an unreasonable length of time.” He said he was “severely injured.” He reportedly suffered a knee injury and had surgery. He is seeking unspecified damages.

Officer Bosco’s wife, Ethel S. Bosco, is also a plaintiff in the suit.

The suit does not get more specific. According to East Hampton Town police records, Officer Bosco was out on medical leave for four months following the incident. He worked 83 days last year, but is now back on active duty.

Officer Bosco, when reached by phone on Tuesday, declined to comment. His attorney Gary Klein of Weitz & Luxenberg, the largest tort and personal injury litigation firm in Manhattan, did not return a request for comment.

Luke McNamara, the vice president of the P.B.A., spoke on behalf of Officer Bosco, 36, saying the officer will have to deal with this injury the rest of his life and has been advised it will lead to arthritis early on and that a knee replacement is in his future. Mr. McNamara said Officer Bosco was advised by injury attorneys to file the suit in order to protect himself. He is not the first officer to file an injury lawsuit, in East Hampton or elsewhere, Mr. McNamara said, but the police chief, Michael Sarlo, said he was not aware of any others. “This is a unique and new circumstance we must navigate. It may happen elsewhere, and it may have happened here before, but not to my knowledge,” the chief said.

“All law enforcement officers know they sign up with the potential of being injured or killed at work but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t be compensated for it as one would be in any other profession or circumstance,” Mr. McNamara said. “This suit is not a personal attack on anyone, by any means. This is an injury attorney seeking restitution from the homeowners insurance for the injury, which will help pay for only a small amount of the medical needs for his knee later on.”

Ms. Grabowski said she and her wife were shocked at the lawsuit. “We’re not ever going to the police again unless we have a gun to our head,” her wife said Tuesday.

Ms. Grabowski, the assistant chief of the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association and a longtime emergency medical technician, and Ms. Weiss, a veteran who is also a volunteer E.M.T., had not planned to share the details of the struggles their four adopted children have faced until the suit was filed.

“These children came from a background of drugs, severe neglect, severe abuse, and mental illness,” they wrote in a letter to Chief Sarlo to make him aware of the situation.

“The police are familiar with us,” Ms. Weiss said. The couple adopted Kevin, who had been in foster care, when he was 4 years old.

The older and bigger their children got, particularly their sons, the harder it was to handle them. “We couldn’t just pick them up and put them in their rooms,” she said. Sometimes a police presence, especially that of a male officer, helped to defuse the situation. “They could talk him down, bring him into another room,” she said. Sometimes Kevin would have to be taken to Stony Brook University Hospital’s mental health unit, other times he was calm enough to stay home. They had always been thankful for how the officers tried to de-escalate matters.

March 28, 2018, was different, however. A few officers responded to their house that day. “Officer Bosco took it upon himself to get in Kevin’s face and meet aggression with aggression,” Ms. Weiss said. They claim the officer got physical with Kevin, a 6-foot-tall former high school football player. Kevin, who has post-traumatic stress disorder from being slashed with a knife as a 3-year-old, fought back. Officer Bosco wrestled Kevin to the ground, they said, and Kevin’s shoulder was dislocated. He was taken away in handcuffs.

Officer Bosco immediately said he hurt his knee, Ms. Weiss said. “We all heard him say it.”

“Officer Bosco used physical force only to gain control of a subject who was physically combative towards him in the first place when verbal commands were not working,” Mr. McNamara said. He said the level of force was not excessive. “He did what he was trained to do and obligated to do that day.”

He also refuted claims that Kevin was injured. “In my personal career and training, a dislocated shoulder injury is immediately apparent and known due to the level of pain it causes. This was never made known to any officers that day, and is not seen or heard on any police recording devices,” he said.

The P.B.A. vice president added that Officer Bosco, a 13-year member of the Town Police Department who served two years with the New York Police Department, has never had a civilian complaint lodged against him. “He is a role model for many,” Mr. McNamara said. Through his work with the P.B.A. — he was elected vice president of the P.B.A. in 2012 and president two years later —  he has helped raise money for local charities, but had no prior knowledge of the Weiss family situation.

Mr. McNamara said Officer Bosco has compassion for the family’s situation. “He was happy to hear that the case against the defendant had been plea-bargained down to lower charges so it wouldn’t affect his life moving forward.”

The criminal case against Kevin Weiss was dismissed after he completed a program and stayed out of trouble, and the case is sealed, according to court records. His parents hoped they could move forward. Then they were sued.

“I just couldn’t believe it. My brother is a state trooper.  I’ve never heard of a police officer suing somebody when you call them for help,” Ms. Weiss said. “We were just dumbfounded. Both Ann and I volunteer our free time. We’ve gotten hurt at people’s houses, we would never think to sue somebody.”

AllState, which holds their homeowners insurance policy is handling the suit for now. The company sent a private investigator to their house and hired a firm to answer the suit. Because they do not know the amount being sought, it is not clear yet whether their insurance will fully cover them. There was also talk Kevin may not be covered because he was considered the aggressor in the situation.

It was Kevin’s psychiatrist who suggested his parents write a letter to the police chief, they said.

After detailing their family situation and the events of the 2018 incident, they asked about the officer’s workers’ compensation and disability insurance in light of injuries sustained on the job. “He has to sue two community minded women, trying to make ends meet, raising four children adopted from foster care, to be compensated for his alleged injury?” they asked in the letter emailed to the chief on Aug. 4. “Is this what we can expect when we call for assistance? Is this what my friends and neighbors can expect?”

In a response on Aug. 13, Chief Sarlo said, “While the law does allow law enforcement officers to file suit against private citizens in certain situations, as a lifelong resident of the town and 24-year member of this department, this practice does not sit well with me personally nor do I expect this type of response to the result of the performance of sworn duties by our officers. Certainly, what is technically allowed may not always be the best practice. We value the trust and support of the community, and in no way would want to compromise that or have the community be reluctant to call us for the assistance in any circumstance.”

While he may not have not agreed with the filing of the suit, Chief Sarlo defended how the officers handled the call itself. In that, they have his full support, he said yesterday. “Their professionalism in a difficult situation,” he said, “is not in question whatsoever.”

When an officer is injured in the line of duty, it is difficult for the officer, his or her family, and the department. “This job carries with it the inherent risk of injury, for which we prepare and train for repeatedly. We always hope and train for the best outcome,” the chief said. Unfortunately there have been “too many instances in the past several years” where “our officers have faced resistant and combative subjects,” he said.

Chief Sarlo hung the letter from Ms. Grabowski and Ms. Weiss in a glass case by private offices at police headquarters in Wainscott on Monday. As sworn officers who serve the public, “we are subject to public scrutiny and should understand there may be perceptions of our department and the town, based on our actions, regardless if those actions are taken in our official capacity or not,” he said yesterday. “The letter does contain details from the case, some of which may not be completely accurate, and makes some comments regarding public perception, which we felt were important for the department to read and understand.”

He forwarded the letter to the town attorney and town supervisor and said they would be reviewing the circumstances surrounding the call and any related civil action.

Chief Sarlo declined to comment further on the case, but said the couple’s comments at the end of the letter “regarding public trust and faith in the department are troubling. We work very hard to build that trust and support from the community. It is paramount to our mission as a department.”

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