Arshack, Hajek & Lehrman

People of the State of New York v. LaFont

Charges dismissed against professor in assault on NYPD officer

We defended Suzanne LaFont, an anthropology professor, who was arrested and charged with assault on a police officer for intervening when the NYPD mishandled her husband’s medical emergency.

Prof. LaFont, 59, and her husband Karl Anders Peltomaa, 50, a physics and math professor, were relaxing at home in their Upper West Side apartment, just days after Prof. Peltomaa had been released from the hospital following open heart surgery. Suddenly, he began to have a bad reaction to his heart medication, causing him to become very anxious. Prof. LaFont called 911 for an ambulance to take him to the hospital.

The police arrived before the ambulance. Instead of waiting for the EMS crew, they wrongly and tragically decided that because Prof. Peltomaa appeared anxious, they needed to violently subdue him, push him against the wall, and handcuff his hands behind his back. They then slammed him onto the floor, splitting open his chin and dislocating his thumb. When Prof. LaFont, terrified that the police were killing her husband, instinctively reached out to stop one of the officers, he replied that he was going to “teach her a lesson” by arresting her as well.

Prof. Peltomaa spent several days in the hospital being treated for the injuries he sustained at the hands of the police. Prof. LaFont spent the night and most of the next day in jail waiting to see a judge.

We came to Prof. LaFont’s aid and represented her in her criminal case. After our investigation revealed that the arresting officer had a history of similarly aggressive interactions with the public, we filed a motion with the court explaining the extreme facts of the case, and won a rare dismissal of all charges “in the interest of justice.”

We then filed a civil rights case against the police, which is still pending. ■

This could happen to you, your parents, or your children. There is no place in a civilized society for police who brutalize the people they are sworn to protect and serve.Daniel N. Arshack