Man shot by deputy intends to sue, says he was unarmed and trapped in vehicle

kt logoA High Falls man claims that he was shot by an Ulster County sheriff’s deputy while he was unarmed and pinned inside an overturned vehicle — after police had been ordered to discontinue the pursuit.

Those allegations are contained in a notice of claim filed last week by Brandon Rifenburg. The document is the first step in a civil legal action. It names Deputy David Hughes, who allegedly fired two rounds into Rifenburg’s chest in the April 15 incident, as well as other individual officers as defendants. Police departments in Kingston, the Town of Ulster, Rosendale and Saugerties are also named as potential defendants, as are the West Hurley Fire Department and New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

According to police accounts, Rifenburg, 20, was shot at the conclusion of a wild chase that began on Route 213 in High Falls and ended when he lost control of his vehicle after trying to run a police car off the road on Route 28 in West Hurley. During the chase, police said, Rifenburg tore through the City of Kingston and portions of the towns of Kingston, Rosendale, Ulster and Saugerties, ignoring orders to stop, committing numerous traffic infractions and continuing his flight even after his tires were shredded by police spike strips. Rifenburg was targeted by cops responding to a 911 call of a vehicle stolen from a driveway on Route 213.


But the notice of claim filed by Poughkeepsie-based attorney John J. Ventosa with the firm Jonna Spilbor Law tells a different story. According to the document, Rifenburg lost control of his vehicle, ran off the road and overturned after Hughes rammed him in a “Police Intervention Tactic.” The document claims that Rifenburgh was still inside the overturned vehicle when Hughes approached and shot him. According to the notice, Rifenburg was unarmed and unresisting when he was shot. Ventosa also argued that the ramming and shooting occurred after Hughes and other officers had been ordered to break off the chase.

The notice alleges that the conduct of Hughes and other officers in the chase constituted a major violation of Rifenburg’s constitutional rights. The document claims that officers not only used excessive force but failed to properly investigate the allegations against him before making an arrest. Rifenburg faces multiple felony charges stemming from the chase. In addition to false arrest, the notice alleges that Rifenburg suffered serious physical injuries and post traumatic stress disorder as well as libel and public ridicule stemming from police actions.

The allegations contained in the notice of claim are the first public, on-the-record comments on key aspects of the case. From the beginning, local police and prosecutors have remained close-mouthed about the details of the shooting. To date officials have declined to name Hughes as the deputy who fired the shots or comment on key elements of the case including whether Rifenburg was armed and whether he was shot inside or outside of his vehicle. The Kingston Times obtained Hughes’ name from a document filed by Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright requesting that he be recused from the investigation into the shooting. In the document, Carnright said that he had had dealings with a business owned by Hughes in the past. The investigation of Hughes’ actions was then turned over to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, which, like Carnright, has declined to answer questions about the case.