State court officer wins $450,000 judgment

by | Jun 29, 2015 | Press

Court officer falsely imprisoned in internal probe wins $450,000 judgment

The state must pay nearly $450,000 in damages to a senior court officer who was falsely imprisoned during an internal investigation six years ago by the state Office of Court Administration.

The recent Court of Claims decision issued by Judge Judith A. Hard includes an award of $350,000 for mental anguish and more than $24,000 in lost wages, plus interest.

The officer, Colleen Casey, who is assigned to Rensselaer County Courthouse, underwent treatment for severe mental anguish after the April 2009 incident when court officers, armed with a judge’s administrative order, escorted her from a courthouse, drove her to her residence, searched her home and seized several handguns without a search warrant. Casey endured abuse as a child from a non-relative and in a previous marriage, and the 2009 incident triggered a mental breakdown and nearly drove her to suicide, according to the judge’s decision.

“Lawyers and judges alike know the large number of explosive situations in the Troy courthouses that officer Casey has defused over the past 20 years,” said Kevin A. Luibrand, Casey’s attorney. “For her to have been so deliberately humiliated by senior state court staff was shameful.”

The investigation that prompted Casey’s brief imprisonment stemmed from allegations that Casey and two other officers, while off-duty, were passengers in a vehicle driven by another court officer that was involved in an alcohol-fueled crash. The officer driving the vehicle lost her job. Casey and the other two officers were never disciplined.

The complaint filed by Casey against the state provided a rare glimpse of the inner workings of the Office of Court Administration and its secretive Office of Inspector General, which investigates misconduct by OCA employees. The Office of Court Administration denied formal requests by the Times Union for access to the inspector general’s files, claiming the documents were “interagency” materials that were not subject to public disclosure.

“OIG investigative records and reports are not final agency determinations,” the OCA’s denial said. “Rather, OIG’s records are internal, non-final, pre-decisional records regarding complaints and investigations, and consist of subjective opinions, evaluations, impressions, and recommendations based upon the investigation.”

Last year, during testimony in the damages portion of Casey’s case, female court officers testified about systemic sexual harassment in their ranks, including allegations that a supervisor, Michael Ackerman, who previously worked in Rensselaer County, was never disciplined after they said he exposed himself to female officers.

“He would expose himself and masturbate,” an officer testified last year.

“Is he still working there?” the judge asked the witness.

“Not in Rensselaer County Court,” the officer answered. “He was promoted to lieutenant.”

Ackerman was previously Casey’s supervisor at the county courthouse. But Casey was transferred to Troy City Court in 2006 after she complained that Ackerman had sexually harassed her.

“Her request to be transferred from this position was granted so that the court officer who allegedly sexually harassed her was no longer her supervisor,” the judge’s decision said.

A spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration confirmed that Ackerman remains employed as a lieutenant. The spokesman, David Bookstaver, declined comment on the judge’s decision or whether the state will file an appeal.

Casey, 58, has been a court officer since 1994. She was a court officer with the Rensselaer County Sheriff’s Office until 2002, when she became a state court officer. The search of her home took place after Judge Jan H. Plumadore, then the deputy chief administrative judge for courts outside New York City, suspended the firearms privileges of Casey and two other officers who were the targets of the unrelated internal investigation.

Casey testified that she turned over her court officer identification card and a work-issued 9 mm Glock pistol, but balked when supervising court officers demanded she also surrender three other handguns at her residence. The demands took place when Casey was being held in a jury room at Troy City Court with officers, including Ackerman, allegedly blocking her exit.

During her 2013 trial, Casey testified the officers surrounded her, escorted her from the courthouse and forced her into a “blacked-out” SUV that was used to drive her to her residence. The supervising officers testified that they did not force Casey into the vehicle or put their hands on her, as she testified they did.