City Worker Arrested for Doing Job (Jackhammering at Night) Sues City

A city water worker who was arrested after a noise complaint over his operating a jackhammer on the job is suing the city in federal court for false arrest, his imprisonment, and the humiliation he endured.

Samuel Little, 38, is a sewer and water repairman in Manhattan. His jackhammer caused a ruckus that eventually led to his arrest.

At midnight on March 3, 2004, he was working outside 141 E. 56th St. In the lawsuit, he alleges that in the course of carrying out his work, he was confronted by an angry resident and two police officers. He endured curses and arrest; he was subjected to a strip search and imprisoned for more than three hours before being released with a disorderly conduct charge.

The legal complaint, which was filed in federal court in Brooklyn on Monday, claims that Mr. Little’s trouble began when he was minding his own business and operating a jackhammer to access buried water pipes. Then there was a confrontation with a resident, Deborah Brown, who demanded that he cease using the jackhammer. Two police officers approached Mr. Little later. Mr. Little told one of them, “He was just doing his job and wanted to finish his job and be left alone,” according to the legal complaint. He was arrested.

“It appears that Little is going to be presented as someone who was uncooperative,” his attorney, Colleen Meenan, said. “He doesn’t deny that. He wasn’t interested in speaking with the police officer. He was interested in doing his job.”

That job, according to a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection, is working as a laborer on waterline and sewage repairs in Manhattan. He has been with the DEP since 1990 and currently makes $49,924 a year, the spokesman, Charles Sturcken, said.

That salary comes with its share of dangers, said Ms. Meenan, who said Mr. Little informed her that people have hurled bottles from their window toward him when he is doing nighttime work outside their residences.

Mr. Little could not be reached for comment. His cell phone is broken, Ms. Meenan said, and previous phone numbers for his home in Springfield Gardens, Queens, no longer work.

The disorderly conduct charge against Mr. Little was dropped a month after his arrest. In his lawsuit Mr. Little alleges that his arrest and brief imprisonment denied him of his constitutional rights.

A Police Department spokesman, Detective Brian Sessa, said police have no record of the incident. A spokeswoman for the city’s law department declined to comment, saying its lawyers had yet to receive the legal complaint.

Mr. Little is not the only one to sue the city over this series of events. The woman who initially complained for Mr. Little, Ms. Brown, was also arrested. She later sued the city over her arrest and won a settlement this year for $20,000.

In a telephone interview, Ms. Brown said Mr. Little became belligerent when she tried to learn when he would cease making the noise that had awoken her eight floors above street level. She said that other women dressed in pajamas and overcoats as well had come outside the apartment to complain about the noise.

When police arrived, she lodged a complaint with them and returned to her room.

“From the window I could see Mr. Little put into a squad car and he’s yelling and screaming until he begins to rock the squad car,” Ms. Brown said.

Ms. Brown herself was arrested and charged with obstruction of governmental administration and harassment, according to her lawsuit. She was locked up for nearly eight hours, until morning. The charges against her were dropped four months later.

“It struck me as the most outrageous use of police time in New York City after 9/11 that I could possibly imagine,” Ms. Brown said. Adding that she had never previously been arrested and was coping with her mother’s death at the time, she said: “It was extremely embarrassing. For months I was beside myself.”

Ms. Brown’s attorney, Michael Spiegel, said he believed Ms. Brown was arrested because police were under the mistaken impression that she had assaulted Mr. Little, a possibility that Ms. Brown said is untrue and absurd.

“This is New York. If somebody’s jack-hammering at midnight, you come down and complain and find out the city is doing the jack-hammering and you calm down and go upstairs and call 311 and see if you can get it stopped,” Mr. Spiegel said. “Neither Little nor Brown did anything that should have gotten anybody arrested.”

Initially Ms. Brown had sued not only the arresting officer and the city, but also Mr. Little, as well. The legal compliant filed in her case states that Mr. Little followed her and shouted at her when she returned to her building after complaining to him. Mr. Little was later dropped from the lawsuit. She said she harbors no ill will toward him and that she has never seen Mr. Little since.

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