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Venue for Watertown woman’s suit against Lake Placid police changed again

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The venue for a Watertown woman’s unlawful imprisonment lawsuit against the Lake Placid Police Department has been changed for a third time.

Taryn M. Stanfa filed state Supreme Court action in Jefferson County in July against the village of Lake Placid, its police department, Officers James D. Staats and Matthew J. Braunius and Chief William P. Moore, claiming she was detained Jan. 21, 2012, by the two officers without probable cause. The suit seeks $1 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.

The village had the matter remanded to U.S. District Court in October, a move that Miss Stanfa’s attorney, Matthew D. Norfolk, Lake Placid, opposed, arguing that no constitutional or federal issues arose in the suit. In mid-November, Miss Stanfa voluntarily discontinued her federal action and the suit was returned to Supreme Court in Jefferson County.

The village then filed a motion to have the matter transferred to Supreme Court in Essex County, maintaining that most of the witnesses live in that county, making it a more convenient and cost-effective venue. The village also argued that under state law, any lawsuit against a village must be heard within the county in which it is located. Mr. Norfolk countered that several witnesses he intends to call on Miss Stanfa’s behalf live in Jefferson County, making that the more convenient venue.

In a decision filed Wednesday at the Jefferson County clerk’s office, Supreme Court Judge James P. McClusky sided with the village, agreeing to transfer the case to Essex County.

The judge made no decision on a separate motion filed by the village to have the case dismissed, leaving that to Supreme Court in Essex County.

According to her complaint, Miss Stanfa went to the Hannaford grocery store on the outskirts of Lake Placid about 5 a.m. Jan. 21, when the store was closed. She maintains that she was committing no crime, yet was detained by the officers without probable cause, and that her driver’s license and car and home keys were confiscated, leaving her unable to leave the area. She also was questioned about any drugs she may have taken. She also claims her vehicle was unlawfully searched without a warrant and without cause.

She further alleges that Mr. Staats pushed her against her vehicle and “violently pushed” her to her knees “with excessive and brute force,” and then pushed her to the ground with his knee in her back. The officer then allegedly “violently bent, twisted or pulled” her arms to place her in handcuffs.

After allegedly pulling Miss Stanfa from the ground by the handcuffs, she claims, the officer threatened to arrest her for assault of an officer and driving while intoxicated. Despite her request take a breath test to determine the presence of alcohol in her system, she claims Mr. Staats refused to administer one. After she had been held in the back of the patrol car for about 45 minutes, Mr. Braunius took the cuffs off her and allegedly apologized for his partner’s actions. It is claimed that while the cuffs were being removed, Mr. Staats threatened to pull Miss Stanfa’s car over if he ever saw her driving in the village again. She was not charged with any crime.

In asking that the action be dismissed, the village maintains that Miss Stanfa was intoxicated and that she became belligerent with police. The village denies that its officers mistreated Miss Stanfa or did anything outside the scope of their official police duties.

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