FDNY Sued Over Transport of Autistic Child

The mother of an autistic child who was transported to a hospital over her objection, is now suing FDNY and NYPD. Wanda Munoz filed suit in US District Court for the Southern District of New York naming the City of New York, NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill, FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro, Police Officer Kathy Henry, several unnamed police officers, and two unnamed EMTs.

According to the complaint:

  • Munoz, a 17-year veteran Parole Officer with the New York State Department of Corrections & Community Supervision, was called to pick up her 16-year-old autistic son, C.B., at his afterschool program for special needs children in the Bronx.
  • She was told by the program’s staff that he was acting out in class and was not safe to transport home on the program’s bus.
  • C.B., who was calm and handcuffed, was forcibly removed from the chair to an ambulance by NYPD officers.
  • Over Ms. Munoz’s numerous objections, and despite the fact that there was no indication that C.B. would harm himself or others, C.B. was ordered to be transported to the hospital in clear violation of New York State’s Mental Hygiene Law § 941.
  • C.B. had never been hospitalized before for any reason related to his behavior or his autism.
  • As Ms. Munoz assisted her son into the ambulance, while simultaneously pleading with anyone who would listen, including the Emergency Medical Technicians that were present, that she be allowed to take her son home, she was grabbed by Police Officer Kathy Henry, who placed Ms. Munoz under arrest.
  • While arresting Ms. Munoz, Officer Henry stated something to the effect of: “Enough of you talking to EMS.”
  • After being detained for nearly eight hours at the 49th Precinct in the Bronx, Ms. Munoz was released and received a Desk Appearance Ticket.
  • She was charged with a lone misdemeanor count of Obstructing Governmental Administration.
  • Her criminal case was dismissed at the request of the Bronx County District Attorney’s office on August 14, 2017, just thirteen days after her arraignment.
  • This episode is yet another example of the NYPD and FDNY’s failure to properly address an individual suffering from a “mental crisis.”
  • In January 2017, the New York City Department of Investigation (“DOI”) issued a scathing report on the NYPD’s failure to train its officers to de-escalate and manage interactions with individuals in a mental crisis.
  • Although the NYPD created and implemented a “Crisis Intervention Team” (“CIT”) training in the summer of 2015, the DOI found that by early 2017, the NYPD had “not begun to effectively deploy CIT-trained officers to situations where they are needed,” did not “adopt new Patrol Guide provisions and other procedures aligned with CIT principles” and noted a number of deficiencies in the content of NYPD’s CIT training.
  • See http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/oignypd/downloads/pdf/Reports/CIT_Report_01192017.pdf
  • This stunning and traumatic episode scarred both Ms. Munoz and her son in more ways than one.
  • Aside from the embarrassment, humiliation, and fear she felt at being falsely arrested and imprisoned, Ms. Munoz was placed on modified duty at her job and was stripped of her service weapon.
  • C.B. continues to experience trauma as a result of the incident, including fear of police and ambulances, as well as the confusing and humiliating emotions that a child experiences when being handcuffed and hauled away in front of his friends, teachers and family.

The 11 count complaint alleges false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and various civil rights violations. Included in the counts are the following allegations:

  • The municipal defendants arrested and hospitalized C.B. in the absence of any evidence of any mental health crisis warranting his detention, arrest and hospitalization, notwithstanding their knowledge that said arrest and hospitalization would jeopardize C.B.’s liberty, well-being, safety and constitutional rights.
  • The acts complained of were carried out by the aforementioned individual defendants in their capacities as police officers and EMTs, with all the actual and/or apparent authority attendant thereto.
  • Moreover, the issue of children being removed from school unlawfully by the FDNY’s Emergency Medical Services, despite not being in need of emergency care, was the subject of a recent class action lawsuit, T.H. v. Farina et al., United States District Court, Southern District of New York, 13 Civ. 8777.
  • That case highlighted a disturbing pattern of FDNY and NYPD officials requiring children to be removed to a hospital without parental consent.
  • Each and every individual NYPD and EMT defendant had an affirmative duty to intervene on C.B.’s behalf to prevent the violation of his constitutional rights.
  • The individual NYPD and EMT defendants failed to intervene on C.B.’s behalf to prevent the violation of his constitutional rights despite having had a realistic opportunity to do so.
  • As a result of the aforementioned conduct of the individual NYPD and EMT defendants, C.B.’s constitutional rights were violated and he was subjected to false arrest, unlawful imprisonment, deprivation of due process, and false imprisonment.

Here is a copy of the complaint: 2018 Munoz v NY

By the way, this is the 35th lawsuit I have in my database where Commissioner Nigro is a defendant… and I know I don’t have all of them.

UPDATE July 19, 2018:  Here is the complaint and the settlement of the case cited in the Munoz case, T.H. v. Farina. It addressed some very similar issues.

2013 TH v. Farina

2013 TH v. Farina SETTLEMENT

 

 

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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