False arrest alleged in suit

AMSTERDAM – Two people are suing Montgomery County and the city of Amsterdam, claiming they were falsely arrested, searched and bound by law-enforcement authorities during a February incident.

Kristi M. Harrison and Julio V. Morales, of 9 Bayard St., filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York on Jan. 10.

They are seeking $3.75 million in damages for false arrest, illegal search and seizure, excessive use of force, battery and negligence, according to court documents.

Harrison and Morales claim that while they were sleeping on Feb. 13, the Amsterdam Police Department forcibly entered their home without a warrant or reasonable cause. Authorities kicked in their apartment door “wearing masks and brandishing various firearms,” the lawsuit alleges.

The two were forced to the apartment floor, their wrists were bound and they were ordered not to move, the lawsuit states, and they remained like this for at least 20 minutes.

When Harrison and Morales realized the masked intruders were police officers, they told them they hadn’t committed any crimes and the officers were in the wrong apartment, court documents state. After this realization, the officers allegedly “laughed at” the pair, the lawsuit states.

Neither Harrison nor Morales was available for comment.

Their attorney, John D. Dunne of Dunne & Whelly in Amsterdam, said, “My clients did nothing wrong. There was never any suspicion of legality.”

Several days after the incident, the complaint states, the two were visited by a member of the Amsterdam Police Department who “admitted that the officers had misidentified and entered the wrong apartment.”

The two claim the apartment received damage, including an unhinged door. They also claim they sustained physical injuries, including one that aggravated a pre-existing injury Morales had, the lawsuit states.

The complaint states the pair “suffered a violation of their Fourth Amendment right” and the officers were “negligent, reckless and careless.”

Dunne refused to comment on the damages cited in the complaint.

He said he thinks Harrison and Morales’ fear is justifiable.

“I think this is the type of issue a lot of people can relate to: being justifiably terrified when armed and masked men rush into your apartment despite the fact that you did nothing wrong,” he said.

Amsterdam Police Chief Greg Culick declined to comment on the lawsuit.

County Attorney Doug Landon said the county hadn’t been served with the suit as of Wednesday, but the county will “do whatever they can to defend themselves.”

Amsterdam Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis was unavailable for comment.

The lawsuit states the two are seeking $750,000 each for five causes of action, totaling $3.75 million.

Dunne said he and his clients respect the police department, but mistakes can happen.

“I’ve grown up in Amsterdam my whole life, and generally speaking, I think the police force in Amsterdam does a fantastic job and we have a lot of respect for what they do,” he said, “but even competent police officers can make bad mistakes, and that’s what happened here.”