Second Circuit Affirms Black Man’s Claim in ‘Sidewalk Rage’ Case

Below is a copy of an article written by Nick Rummel for Courthouse News Service.

NICK RUMMEL April 17, 2018

MANHATTAN (CN) — In a case of “sidewalk rage” from — where else? Midtown Manhattan — the Second Circuit affirmed that video surveillance showed a woman lied when she told police that a man assaulted her as they walked on a busy sidewalk.

Initially a case of “he said, she said,” video footage showed an angry woman attacked a man while the two navigated crowded Manhattan sidewalks on the way to work — not the other way around, as she had told police, the Second Circuit ruled last Friday.

The sidewalk rage case sprang from the November 2013 arrest of Scott Wright, who was charged with assaulting Jacqueline Musanti as they both walked to work in Midtown.

Musanti — described in court documents as a “medium-sized woman” — told police that Wright —a “slightly built man” — had cut in front of her during rush hour.

But video footage shown at the trial showed Musanti kicking at Wright’s legs and blocking the path to his office on West 39th Street after he had accidentally stepped on her heel.

According to Wright, he asked her: “Did you really just kick me?” to which Musanti said yes and threatened to do so again.

Wright then lightly pushed Musanti out of his way and she began kicking, hitting and scratching him, eventually pinning him against the building, court documents state.

Wright then grabbed her collar and pulled her to the ground, and a nearby security officer separated the two. Wright left the scene and entered his building, though Musanti again tried to block his path, the footage showed.

By 9:15 that morning police officers arrived and after questioning Musanti and bystanders they arrested Wright. They escorted him out of his office in handcuffs and through the building’s lobby.

Musanti pressed charges against Wright, claiming she had felt under attack after he cut in front of her on the sidewalk.

Wright was charged with two counts of assault, one count of harassment and other charges, though the charges were dismissed after Musanti repeatedly failed to appear as a witness. Musanti has since moved to Tennessee.

In 2014 Wright sued Musanti and the arresting officer, claiming Musanti lied about the incident and that police had reflexively believed her because she is white and he is black.

The truth emerged when the surveillance footage showed that Musanti had started the fight and attacked Wright.

A federal judge dismissed the claim against the police officer, but let stand state claims of false arrest, assault and battery against Musanti. The false arrest claim eventually was dismissed too, for lack of evidence on how the arrest was initiated.

During the bench trial, however, the judge revisited the false arrest claim, finding after cross-examination of Musanti that she was “excitable, impulsive and defensive,” while Wright was calm and credible.

And the court found that the surveillance video contracted Musanti’s account

Wright was awarded $15,001 in compensatory and punitive damages, including $1 for the assault and battery charges.

Musanti appealed, claiming that the federal court did not have jurisdiction since it had dismissed the federal claim, leaving only state claims, and that the court erred when it backtracked on its initial ruling dismissing the false arrest claim.

She also said the court wrongfully failed to allow her to call a witness via Skype or telephone, or to hire a lawyer per diem to take the witness’s deposition.

But the Second Circuit panel found Musanti gave police false information by failing to tell them she had started the fight, and induced police to arrest Wright: supporting the false arrest claims and the $10,000 in punitive damages.

“Once the court found that Musanti had deliberately battered a stranger and then made false statements to the police, resulting in said stranger’s arrest — findings that were sufficiently supported by the evidence — it was well within the court’s discretion to find that conduct amply egregious to merit punitive damages,” Second Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch wrote for the unanimous panel.

Musanti, who represented herself at trial, had not properly preserved or objected to various claims, nor had she filed a motion for a new trial, the panel found.

It also found that Musanti presented no reason to allow Skype or telephonic testimony, and never sought to depose the witness.

The panel found that New York City was the proper venue, even though Musanti has moved to Tennessee, because both parties were citizens of New York during the altercation and when the complaint was filed. And it would be a waste of state resources to require Wright to refile his complaint in state court.

Steven Warshawsky, who represents Wright, said his client is “very satisfied” with the ruling.

Musanti could not be reached for comment.

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