A Marbletown man who was shot and seriously wounded by an Ulster County sheriff’s deputy following a high speed chase has filed a lawsuit accusing police of violating his civil rights and using unnecessary force.
In the suit filed in state Supreme Court on April 10, Brandon Rifenburg names 32 individual officers, police departments and municipalities as defendants. The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorney’s fees.
Back on April 15, 2014, Rifenburg was driving a car that had been reported stolen when he was spotted by state police on Route 213. During the ensuing chase, Rifenburg led cops through the City of Kingston and the towns of Ulster, Kingston, Saugerties and West Hurley. During the pursuit, cops say, Rifenburg ignored orders to stop, drove over sidewalks and at one point crashed through a fence and drove across a lawn. The pursuit ended on Route 28 in West Hurley when, cops say, Rifenburg slammed into a police vehicle and ran off the road.
Police and prosecutors have never disclosed the circumstances under which he was shot twice by Deputy David Hughes. Hughes was cleared by a departmental investigation and an Orange County grand jury, which declined to bring any charges in the shooting (Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright recused himself from the probe because of previous business dealings with Hughes.). Hughes retired earlier this year.
In the lawsuit, Rifenburg’s attorney, John Ventosa, claims that Hughes and other officers involved in the chase committed a series of egregious errors in the moments leading up the shooting. According to the complaint, Hughes and other officers had ignored orders to call off the pursuit when they deployed a “spike strip” in front of Rifenburg’s vehicle. According to the complaint, Hughes then carried out a “police intervention tactic” using his police vehicle to run Rifenburg off the road.
The complaint claims that Rifenburg, pinned inside the overturned vehicle, was raising his hands in a gesture of surrender when Hughes fired two shots into his torso. The suit also names Ulster County Sheriff’s First Sergeant Eric Benjamin, claiming that Benjamin was directly supervising Hughes during the chase. The complaint also alleges that officers passed on inaccurate information that Rifenburg was armed.
The lawsuit cites both the police departments and municipalities in each town the chase passed through as defendants. Also cited are “Officers/troopers John Doe 1-10” — standing in for unknown officers involved in the pursuit. Hughes, Benjamin and State Trooper Brandon M. Bailey are cited by name as defendants; also named are New York City and the city’s Department of Environmental Protection Police. The suit lists eight separate causes for action including excessive force, assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Ventosa, an associate in Jonna Spilbor’s Poughkeepsie-based law firm, did not respond to a request for comment on the case.
Rifenburg recovered from his injuries. He remains free on bail while awaiting disposition of felony charges stemming from the chase.