The parents of a Rotterdam teenager are suing the town for $1 million, claiming that Rotterdam police officers used excessive force to remove their son from a school bus, breaking his arm in the process and possibly causing nerve damage.
An attorney for the family said 16-year-old Jacob Gocheski suffered from emotional disabilities and was having a “mental incident” when police entered the school bus Oct. 9.
Rotterdam Police Chief Jim Hamilton defended his officers’ actions in a written statement, saying that a departmental review of the incident determined that officers followed department protocol and procedures.
Police received a call from the Mohonasen Central School District’s transportation office saying that a student refused to get off a bus after making threats “in an aggressive manner,” Hamilton said in the statement. Numerous attempts were made over about 15 minutes by district employees, the boy’s mother and police officers to persuade Gocheski to leave the bus and be taken by ambulance to Ellis Hospital for evaluation.
Officers warned Gocheski that he or officers could be injured if they had to use force to remove him, but he still refused to get off the bus. The bus had been idling in Gocheski’s driveway off of Kings Road for about 30 minutes by the time an ambulance showed up. At that time, officers attempted to get Gocheski on his feet to escort him off the bus.
“The student lunged into an empty seat, and while officers were attempting to secure the young man with handcuffs by placing his arms behind his back, the student’s arm went limp as a result of an obvious injury,” Hamilton wrote.
But Kevin Luibrand, the family’s attorney, said this action by police was carried out “forcibly and without reasonable basis.”
In a notice of claim filed against the town, Luibrand said the officers grabbed Gocheski and pushed him over the top of a seat. One officer held him down while another officer “violently forced” his hand and arm behind his back at “an unnatural angle.”
Gocheski suffered a fractured humerus, internal muscle damage and possible nerve damage as a result, said Luibrand, who provided The Gazette with an X-ray that shows the break.
“The police knew they had a special needs boy on a special needs bus having a mental health issue in his own driveway with an ambulance on the way,” said Luibrand in an email. “His offense was that he was playing on his Nintendo and his mental condition made him unable to move. The police told the boy that they were going to hog-tie him and then put his arm in a lock hold and with clearly excessive force snapped one of the strongest bones in the human body. That’s not how handicapped people are to be treated.”
Luibrand declined to disclose the type of mental disorder Gocheski has. He said it’s a well-known disability that affects youth and causes them to rely heavily on established routines, schedules and consistency. The whole confrontation could have been avoided, he said, if the bus driver hadn’t tried to act like the boy’s parent.
“He got on the bus and swore and sat down,” said Luibrand. “Then the bus driver started engaging him, which he shouldn’t have done, and acting like he was a parent and saying, ‘If you’re going to swear, you’re going to leave my bus.’ It’s not what you say to these types of kids. And at no point did he leave his seat. He took out his Nintendo and played with it in his seat. It was because of his lack of an apology that the bus driver contacted the school, who contacted the police, who contacted the ambulance to bring him to the hospital. He was having an emotional reaction to what was going on. He never committed any offense.”
After police removed Gocheski from the bus, he was taken to Ellis Hospital for a mental health evaluation and medical treatment. Police later charged him with second-degree obstructing governmental administration, a misdemeanor. He appeared in court Nov. 18. The charges are still pending.
In the notice of claim, Luibrand said this charge was lodged without probable cause and only served “to cover up the moving force behind the injuries.
“The next day, they came back and said when they delivered the charge that they had to charge him now,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. That’s police covering injuries to civilians 101.”
Gocheski suffered injuries because of the town’s negligence, gross negligence, violation of New York civil and constitutional rights to be free from excessive force, assault and battery, reckless disregard for the welfare of others, intentional and malicious use of excessive force and false arrest, according to the notice of claim.
“The respondent was also negligent and exercised deliberate indifference to the plight of the emotionally disturbed in failing to maintain a proper practice and policy on securing individuals in mental distress, failure to train its officers on the proper techniques for securing persons in mental distress and failing to supervise its officers,” the notice of claim says.
Rotterdam police declined to discuss the incident further while litigation is pending.