A Greene County man has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging four Saugerties cops attacked him after an apparent road-rage incident last year in the village.
The litigation, filed in the Northern District of New York court, charges that Saugerties police officers James Mullen and Ryan Hampel used excessive force against 59-year-old Johndrue Mabb and denied him his constitutional rights.
As a result of the lawsuit, Saugerties town lawyer John Greco said Wednesday, Saugerties is reconsidering its membership in the countywide URGENT task force. Both Mullen and Hampel work with the anti-drugs and gangs task force.
“We had previously withdrawn from [URGENT] and then we agreed to participate again,” Greco said. “Based upon this lawsuit and other concerns the town is definitely going to take a look at whether it wants to continue to participate.”
The suit, which was filed July 25, charges that in efforts to restrain Mabb, Mullen and Hampel allegedly attempted to move the complainant’s arms backward in a direction made impossible by his disability, which remained unnamed in court papers. This caused, according to court papers, Mabb irreparable and permanent pain, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
On July 25 of last year, Mabb’s court papers say, Mabb noticed an unmarked Dodge Durango stopped uncomfortably close to his rear bumper as he waited for a light to turn green on Partition Street. When Mabb moved away, the vehicle “came inches from touching his bumper.” When Mabb looked at the vehicle in his rearview mirror, he observed two males in the car smiling at him before continuing to tailgate him.
“A reasonable person would have felt threatened by [the] defendant’s conduct,” according to the lawsuit. “[The] plaintiff did not know [the vehicle’s occupants] were police officers.”
The court papers continue the narrative — after motioning for the following vehicle to keep its distance, Mabb was forced to brake suddenly for traffic, which allegedly “angered… [Officer James] Mullen and [Officer Ryan] Hampel.” Feeling threatened, Mabb raised his car windows, locked his doors and moved a baseball bat that he kept in his back seat into the passenger seat. The suit alleges that upon seeing this, Hampel “motioned both hands back and forth toward his chest as if he was inviting [Mabb] for a fight.” After driving through a yellow light to evade the vehicle, the police SUV carrying the cops blew through a red light in pursuit. When the vehicle’s hidden police lights were turned on, Mabb called 911 rather than immediately pull over.
“I’m riding on Route 9W and I have this — I don’t know if it’s a police officer because I can’t tell — who’s on my back right now,” the suit says Mabb told the Columbia County dispatcher. “He was tailgating me and I moved up to get him off me and he threatened me to come do these things. And now he’s got his light on and I don’t know who he is. I don’t know what he’s doing.”
When Mabb’s vehicle came to a stop at another red light, the police SUV pulled over in front of him, blocking Mabb’s exit. The suit alleged that when officers Mullen and Hampel got out of their vehicle to apprehend the plaintiff, their guns were drawn. Hampel allegedly stood in front of the victim’s vehicle with his gun pointed at Mabb and Mullen approached him from the driver’s side window.
“Shut your f—–g car off,” the court papers quote Mabb as remembering Mullen saying while holding a gun to his head; Mabb, the court papers state, froze with his left hand on the steering wheel and his right hand still holding his cell phone to his ear. Mullen then allegedly reached into Mabb’s vehicle and turned the key in the ignition. He ordered Mabb to put his phone down; the court papers say Mabb placed it on the passenger seat without turning it off.
Then, the suit alleges, things got worse. Mullen allegedly threw Mabb’s body into the SUV, handcuffed Mabb’s right hand and attempted to pull his left arm back to cuff it. The suit said Mabb tried to tell officers of about his disability and that he could not move his arm backward. Officers, the papers allege, kept moving Mabb’s arm backwards anyway for an estimated three minutes, mockingly asking if Mabb had taken his medication. When Mabb repeated that he was physically, as opposed to mentally, disabled, Mullen, the papers allege, told him, “I am getting ready to knock you the f–k out” and Hampel said, “I am getting ready to tase, bro.”
Plaintiff permanently injured, says suit
“As a result of forcefully bending the plaintiff’s arms backwards, [Mabb] suffered injuries in and around his neck, back and shoulders … which cannot be surgically repaired, and as a result the plaintiff will have to live with pain in his neck and shoulders for as long as he lives,” stated the lawsuit.
Eventually, court papers allege, the officers linked Mabb’s hands in front of his body; at the police station, Mabb said he was handcuffed to a bench for approximately two hours. He was initially charged with the misdemeanors of fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon and third-degree menacing and a few traffic violations; those charges were withdrawn on June 27 of this year.
According to Mullen’s allegation in a police report which is quoted in Mabb’s court papers, Mabb had “display[ed] a bat and wav[ed] it at [officers] while driving northbound on Route 9W … he attempted to place another person in fear of imminent serious physical injury.”
Named as defendants are the Town of Saugerties Police Department, Police Chief Joseph Sinagra, District Attorney Holley Carnright, Ulster County Sheriff Paul VanBlarcum, URGENT commanding officer and county Assistant District Attorney William Weishaupt, URGENT board member and Town of Lloyd Police Chief Daniel Waage, as well as the Town of Saugerties itself for its alleged negligence in training and in carrying out policy. Mullen and Hampel were working with the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics team, a task force amassed from police officers pulled from municipalities throughout the county.
“The town has been served with a lawsuit in federal district court. We’ve turned it over to the town’s insurance carrier and an attorney is going to be assigned to provide the defense for the town,” said Greco.
Mabb’s suit doesn’t specify the amount of damages he’s seeking. His attorney is Carlo A. C. de Oliveira of Albany-based Cooper Erving & Savage LLP.