Judge, Citing Extreme Facts, Tosses Arrest of NYC Professor

, New York Law Journal


Suzanne LaFont, right (the defendant) and her husband Karl Peltomaa. They live at 30 West 83rd St. in Manhattan.
Suzanne LaFont, right (the defendant) and her husband Karl Peltomaa. They live at 30 West 83rd St. in Manhattan.

Unnerved by a chaotic scene that involved a bolting dog, a sick husband and an aggressive police officer who ignored her pleas, it was "hardly surprising" that Suzanne LaFont tried to physically stop the officer from handcuffing her husband, Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Steven Statsinger (See Profile) said.

Citing facts he called "so extreme and unusual that this case can truly be deemed sui generis," Statsinger dismissed charges Wednesday of second-degree harassment and second-degree obstruction of governmental administration against LaFont in the furtherance of justice.

For 30 to 60 seconds on April 11, 2013, the judge noted, LaFont tried to pull on the arm and shoulder of Officer Anthony Giambra to stop him from restraining her ill husband, Karl Peltomaa, outside their apartment on West 83rd Street.

When the officer warned that he would arrest the 59-year-old college professor if she did not stop, she told him, "Go ahead."

"She intervened in what she perceived to be an unnecessarily forceful effort by a police officer to subdue her husband, who had open heart surgery only days before, and had just been released from the hospital," Statsinger wrote in People v. LaFont, 2013NY029571. "It was the defendant's own call to 911 that brought the police to the scene, as she believed that her husband was suffering a post-surgical complication that required medical intervention, and, although she placed her hands on the police officer, she did not hurt him in any way."

Statsinger said judges should only sparingly use their powers to grant a so-called Clayton motion, a dismissal of an information in the furtherance of justice under Criminal Procedure Law §170.40 and People v. Clayton, 41 AD2d 204 (2d Dept. 1973).

But he said that LaFont has satisfied her burden of establishing that a dismissal was warranted.

According to the ruling and LaFont's papers, her husband had only been home from Roosevelt Hospital for one day after surgery for an aortic aneurysm when he began to feel very anxious on April 11, 2013. In two calls to 911, LaFont said her husband had just been in the hospital, was on a "lot of medication" and that he was "freaking out."

LaFont also explained that Peltomaa did not have a "psych history," just a "medical history."

When Giambra and other first responders arrived a short time later, LaFont's dog dashed out the door. After returning the dog to the apartment, LaFont said she found Giambra attempting to subdue her much smaller husband by pressing his chest against a hallway wall.

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