The Brooklyn federal court suit filed by Norva Defreitas-Briggs of St. Albans, who is black, says she was arrested, imprisoned for seven hours and strip-searched at the 111th Precinct without any evidence she had stolen anything.
"Police officers of the city are encouraged to believe that they can violate the rights of persons, particularly African-American women such as the plaintiff, with impunity," the suit says.
The lawsuit names the city, the Police Department, Officer Kristen Loughran, four other unnamed officers from the 111th Precinct, Athena Jewelry and its owner, Efthemios Daoulas. It seeks $5 million for each of 10 causes of action.
According to the suit, Defreitas-Briggs, 42, went to Athena Jewelry on May 16 looking for a wedding band. Her attorney, David Everett, said she was with another woman, Marilyn Pierre.
The two women were not far from a dialysis center where a client of Defreitas-Briggs, a nursing assistant, was receiving treatment, Everett said.
The suit says Daoulas accused her of stealing a ring and called police, who in the process of arresting her injured her shoulder, even after she emptied her pockets and handbag and no ring was found.
"There was no eyewitness to any theft and no property recovered," said Everett. "If it had been a white person, they would not have proceeded with this arrest."
The suit says Defreitas-Briggs was then "subjected to the degradation and humiliation of a strip search" by Officer Loughran.
A spokesman for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said misdemeanor larceny charges were dropped against the two women July 30.
"My client voluntarily submitted to a polygraph (test) and passed it," said Everett, adding that the test had been forwarded to the DA's office.
Capt. Thomas Pilkington, commander of the 111th Precinct, was not employed at the precinct at the time and was unaware of the lawsuit but said officers would have to make an arrest if a complainant was willing to swear out an affidavit.
Kate Ahlers, a spokeswoman for the city's Law Department, said Tuesday "the city has not yet received the legal papers, but we will be evaluating them thoroughly."
Themis Daoulas, owner of Athena Jewelry, said, "it doesn't matter if you're Jewish, Greek, black, red, white, green. I don't care," he said. "Where's my ring?"
Daoulas said the two women were the only ones in the store when his daughter was working behind the counter. While one woman called her over to one side of the store for help, he said his daughter accidentally left the sliding glass door to the ring display case open.
Daoulas said his daughter noticed that a ring which was worth between $500 and $600 was missing because the ring trays are normally kept full.
"I called the police. After that, I don't know what happened," said the jeweler, who said he believed "100 percent" that one of the women must have swallowed the ring.
Calling Daoulas' theory "ridiculous," Everett said it appeared Pierre would also sue.
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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