The call was for a medical emergency, the “public safety” function of police that transcends their law enforcement function. But neither function nor purpose transcends the First Rule of Policing, as 50-year-old CUNY physics and math professor Karl Anders Peltomaa learned. From the Gothamist:
Peltomaa had a bad reaction to medication he was taking (he had undergone open-heart surgery a few days earlier). [Peltomaa's wife, anthropology professor Suzanne] LaFont called 911, telling them they needed an ambulance and her husband was “freaking out,” worried about his heart.
The couples’ dog escaped the apartment when Officer Anthony Giambra first arrived; LaFont chased after the dog, and when she returned, she found her husband inexplicably against a wall being handcuffed.
And no, neither half of the couple is darkly-skinned, but quite pale, if that sort of thing immediately rushes to mind. Not that it brings anyone much comfort from the misery-loves-company department, but the problem isn’t the standard assumption. Rather, it goes to a corollary to the “good people on the wrong side of the curve” issue. Apparently, Peltomaa, in the heat of his medical emergency, did the one thing that will rain pain down upon anyone without a shield. He touched Giambra. And suddenly, nothing was the same.
Giambra later claimed that Peltomaa was an “emotionally disturbed person” who “indicated that he was willing to be placed in handcuffs for his protection.” But he also said that Peltomaa fought back, kicking him in the groin and shin. He also claimed that LaFont grabbed him for a full minute.
To adequately appreciate the allegations going both ways, in addition to the call being for a medical emergency, bear in mind that Peltomaa had recently undergone open heart surgery. For anyone unaware, people post-open heart surgery are not usually to engage in strenuous physical activity, and even less inclined to fight with cops. But that doesn’t appear to be the case here. As to Peltomaa,
The couple denies those charges completely; Peltomaa says he didn’t fight the officer, was confused why he was being handcuffed to go to the hospital, and says the officer shoved him face down on the tile floor, splitting open his chin and dislocating his thumb.
As to LaFont,
“He said he needed to teach me the lesson that you are never allowed to touch a police officer,” explained anthropology professor Suzanne LaFont.
In both instances, Giambra’s actions were dictated by the First Rule of Policing:
Giambra later claimed that Peltomaa was an “emotionally disturbed person” who “indicated that he was willing to be placed in handcuffs for his protection.”
He was responding to a medical emergency? So what? It’s of no consequence that the person he was there to help was recovering from open heart surgery, or had a bad reaction to medication. What was of consequence was that he wasn’t complying with Giambra’s demand to be cuffed, and that made him a threat. That he could have killed this post-surgical patient in the process of protecting himself didn’t dawn on him. The First Rule.
As for LaFont, she didn’t stand a chance when she put her hand on Giambra. Officers are indoctrinated to react with extreme prejudice to such touching, as any hand laid upon any part of a police officer is tantamount to death. It can never be permitted. Never. Except when an officer wants to trade his discretion for a sex act, in which case it’s permitted only as long as he’s enjoying himself by using his authority to coerce a comely person to pleasure him upon threat of arrest or death.
But then, far smarter, more reasonable people certainly recognized immediately the wrongfulness of Giambra’s conduct, right?
Peltomaa ended up spending two days in St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center with five stitches in his chin and electronic monitors keeping tabs on his ailing heart. LaFont was locked up for 19 hours before she was brought before a judge. The couple refused to take any plea deals, and fought up until this week to be totally exonerated.
That happened this week when Judge Steven M. Statsinger ruled that cops mishandled the call and injured an already sick man: “Defendant’s motion describes facts so extreme and unusual that this can truly be deemed sui generis,” Judge Statsinger wrote in his decision.
The problem, Judge Statsinger, is that this is hardly sui generis, and that’s a problem. You don’t watch many videos on Youtube, do you Judge?
What might escape notice, however, is that the charges against the couple weren’t rejected by the assistant in the Early Case Assessment Bureau, or at arraignment when the judge first learned of how this post-open heart patient who called for medical assistance was cuffed under the First Rule.
Rather, the case made it through motion practice, a prosecutor assigned to make sure these two hardened cop-fighters paid the consequences of their attack on a cop and a defense lawyer had to fight them back with a motion to dismiss, and possibly a Clayton motion.
After all, neither prosecutor nor judge would see anything about the facts of this medical emergency turned attack on a cop that warranted any doubt that the police officer was justified under the First Rule of Policing.
And for those who argue that you should never call a cop unless you want terrible things to happen, this case doesn’t do much to change your perspective. Thankfully, Peltomaa didn’t die in the process, which would have required Gimabra to fabricate an even better story to explain his invocation of the First Rule.
Update: Lawyer for LaFont, my buddy Dan Arshack (who was also the lawyer for Indian Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade), just sent me his Clayton motion and a link to Judge Statsinger’s decision. That it ever reached the point that the motion was required is utterly astounding.