Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Teachers Sues Police Over Wrongful Arrest


NYPD Must Respect Authority of School Officials, Says Group

NEW YORK -- The New York Civil Liberties Union and co-counsel Morrison & Foerster LLP today announced the filing of a lawsuit on behalf of two high school teachers who were arrested, handcuffed and verbally abused by Police Department officers after they questioned the handcuffing of two students who had been involved in a fight.

"When school officials call the police onto their campuses, they should be able to expect that the police will respond lawfully and will treat students and staff with respect," said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. "Except in an emergency where health and safety are in imminent danger, the police must be instructed to respect the authority of school officials."

The NYCLU charged that the teachers were wrongfully arrested and is urging the police department and the City Department of Education to develop adequate protocols governing the role of police officers in schools.

The lawsuit describes an incident last March in which police officers arrested English teacher Quinn Kronen and social studies teacher Cara Wolfson-Kronen at the New School for Arts and Sciences in the Bronx. Wolfson-Kronen (who is married to Quinn Kronen) had called 911 for medical assistance for a student who had been injured during a fight in a school bathroom. The police arrived at Kronen’s classroom and handcuffed some of the students who had been fighting, even though school personnel had already broken up the fight and separated the students.

According to the complaint, Kronen questioned the officers' decision to handcuff the students, but the officers yelled at him and ordered him to be quiet. The complaint also states that Wolfson-Kronen, who was in the classroom, objected to the officers’ actions and was immediately handcuffed and arrested. Police made her wait handcuffed in the hall in front of her students, and then forced her to wait outside the building, where the temperature was below freezing.

The police then arrested Kronen as well, and both teachers were held at the 41st precinct in the Bronx for nearly two hours before being released with summonses for disorderly conduct. The charges against both teachers were dismissed at arraignment.

Statement of Quinn Kronen

Good morning. My name is Quinn Kronen. I am an English teacher at the New School for Arts and Science, a public high school in the South Bronx. Seated next to me is my wife, Cara Wolfson-Kronen, who is a Social Studies teacher at the New School.

For many years, we have dedicated our professional lives to the students and faculty of the New School. We love our jobs, we love to teach, and we know that we will continue to do so. Last year's incident with the New York Police Department, however, was a difficult and humiliating ordeal for us personally and for our School. Therefore, we are filing this action to ensure that this kind of incident does not happen again.

On March 8, 2005, there was a physical fight between six students in the girls' restroom at the New School. Several of my colleagues and I broke up the fight and got the situation under control by isolating the students who had been fighting and calming everyone down. Cara called 911 to get medical attention for a student who had been injured during the fight. When the police arrived, they came into my classroom, where we had isolated some of the students who had been fighting, and the officers asked us to point out the students who had been in the fight so that they could be handcuffed. We did so. Because the fight was over and the students were calm, however, I asked the officers whether it would really be necessary to cuff the students and to force them to sit in handcuffs in front of their classmates. I asked whether it would be possible to simply walk the students outside if they were going to be removed from the school grounds.

In response to my question, one of the police officers said to me and to the other teachers: "You fucking teachers need to get your shit together. These kids are running crazy. You need to get rid of them." I responded by saying that it was inappropriate to use that language in front of the kids and that we could not simply get rid of our students and that the police and teachers needed to work together to keep the school safe. At that point, the Police Sergeant who was in the classroom yelled at me that I had better "shut the fuck up" or that she would arrest me as well. When I again asked her not to use that language in front of the students, the Sergeant only began to yell louder and continue to swear. At this point I sat down and did not say anything further.

Statement of Cara Wolfson-Kronen

My name is Cara Wolfson-Kronen, and I'm a social studies teacher and the college advisor at the New School. I was at the School and helped break up the fight that Quinn has described and I was present in the classroom when the police officers confronted Quinn and the other teachers. When the Police Sergeant started yelling at Quinn, I said that it was not fair that Quinn had to be quiet while they yelled at him. The Sergeant then told me to shut up and, when I asked why, she responded: "That is it – cuff the bitch." The police officers handcuffed and arrested me, then made me wait outside in the hall in cuffs while students looked on.

The officers then cuffed and arrested Quinn as well. The officers forced us to wait outside the building in the snow and subfreezing temperatures, and then took us to the 41st precinct in the Bronx, where they held us for nearly two hours before releasing us with summonses for disorderly conduct. While we were at the precinct, Quinn was locked up in a holding cell and I was handcuffed to a bench outside the cell.

Our charges were dismissed at arraignment – there just wasn't any evidence that we had done anything wrong. Approximately two weeks after our arrest, we received at the School an anonymous letter signed by "The Brotherhood" which threatened us with physical harm for "messing up with our fellow officers." I believe that a copy of that letter is attached to the Complaint that was filed yesterday. We believe that this letter was sent to us as part of an ongoing effort by members of the NYPD to coerce and intimidate us in violation of our rights.

We understand from personal experience the challenges of working in a large, public school environment, and we appreciate the efforts of security and police officers in making our own jobs easier. We are concerned, however, that New York City Police officers do not always have the training they need to help us maintain a productive learning environment. If the NYPD ceases to work as the teachers' and school officials' ally in promoting such an atmosphere, then not only will our own experience be repeated, but we will all fail to provide our City's students with the learning environment they deserve.

That is why we are taking legal action today; both to correct the personal wrong that has been done to us and to bring to light problems that affect all who work and study in the New York City school system.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeks reforms in NYPD training and policies on the relationship between school officials and police officers. The teachers are also requesting unspecified damages, a declaration that their rights were violated, and the return and expungement of all records reflecting their arrests and detention.

The NYCLU is bringing the teachers' case at a time when heavy-handed policing has caused significant disruption at schools all over New York City. In December, Aurelia L. Curtis, principal of Curtis High School in Staten Island, was removed from her position after police claimed that she had not been deferential enough to police as she dealt with two student disciplinary issues. Curtis's removal drew protests from parents, students and the teachers' union; she has since been reinstated.

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