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Lawsuit alleges arrest was improper

March 6, 2008
By MICHAEL ANICH, The Leader-Herald
JOHNSTOWN — Claiming false arrest and imprisonment, a Utica woman is seeking $2 million in damages in a federal lawsuit against Fulton County and a former county prosecutor.

Stephanie Flagler claims then-Assistant District Attorney Matthew E. Trainor improperly had her arrested last year to ensure she would testify in a Fulton County criminal case against her former boyfriend.

Her lawsuit was filed Feb. 5 in the U.S. Northern District of New York Court in Utica.

Flagler, represented by attorney Lawrence W. Golden of the Utica law

firm of Lockwood, Golden, is seeking seeking $1 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages as well as attorney’s fees.

“This claim is for violation of [Flagler’s] civil and constitutional rights, personal injuries, mental and emotional pain, distress and anxiety, humiliation and embarrassment suffered by plaintiff as a result of ... illegal and outrageous conduct engaged by [Trainor] ...,” the lawsuit states.

Flagler, who was a material witness in a March 2007 trial in Fulton County, filed her lawsuit against Trainor and the county. Golden said Wednesday he has advised his client not to speak to the media.

Trainor, of Prospect Avenue in Gloversville, couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

Flagler’s lawyer claimed Trainor illegally imprisoned her so she would testify at a March 2006 criminal contempt trial of Brandon G. Becker, her former boyfriend.

The 23-page lawsuit contends that Flagler arranged to have her put in jail by misrepresenting to the court that she would not willingly appear to testify at the Becker trial.

“I found it incredible,” Golden said of the case against Flagler.

The lawsuit accuses Trainor of making “false and fraudulent statements” to the court while concealing a March 6 fax and a phone call made by Flagler to the district attorney’s office affirming that she would appear to testify at the March 12, 2007, trial.

The handwritten March 6 fax to Fulton County District Attorney Louise K. Sira or Trainor states, in part: “I got your voicemail and have been unable to call back. I’ve had clinical and work. I will be at trial on March 12, 2007 ... I will need a subpoena mailed to me to give to my college.”

Trainor, according to the suit, had information from Becker’s ex-wife that Flagler was planning to leave the state on the eve of trial, although the lawsuit claims Flagler never spoke to the ex-wife.

Flagler said she was arrested March 7 without warning on the basis of a Fulton County Court witness warrant and taken in handcuffs to the Utica Police Department and then transferred to the custody of state police and finally to the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department before appearing at a hearing in state Supreme Court in Johnstown.

As a result of that hearing before Judge Richard T. Aulisi, Flagler was ordered held. Flagler’s lawsuit contends Trainor first misled the courts to obtain the witness warrant and then misled Aulisi by concealing Flagler’s assurances that she would appear to testify.

“Defendant Trainor compounded his misconduct when he failed on March 7, 2007, to disclose to Judge Aulisi, despite having a duty as an officer of the court to do so, that [Flagler] had called his office the day before, March 6, 2007, and had faxed him a letter that same day, March 6, 2007, indicating both times her complete willingness to cooperate and assuring him that she would appear and testify at the trial on March 12, as requested by the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office,” the lawsuit stated.

After she was arrested, the lawsuit states, Flagler “was forced to suffer the humiliation, embarrassment and mental distress of being taken into custody to the county jail, where she was forced to undergo a terrifying ordeal of almost 24 hours of incarceration, without bail, treated like a criminal in the Fulton County Correctional Facility ...”

Becker, 24, of Fifth Avenue, Gloversville, was convicted at trial on two counts of first-degree criminal contempt and later sentenced to a state prison term of one to three years.

The lawsuit states that in the fall of 2006, Flagler testified before a Fulton County grand jury against Becker, and the trial was set for March 12, 2007, before County Court Judge Polly A. Hoye.

“On March 1, 2007, defendant Trainor, without any proper cause or justification prepared and presented to the Fulton County Court an affirmation seeking a court order and warrant adjudging [Flagler] a ‘material witness’ and fixing bail to secure her appearance in said criminal action,” the lawsuit states.

Court papers state Trainor thought Flagler had been avoiding service of the subpoena for the trial. The lawsuit says there was no attempt to serve her a subpoena at home, work or the nursing school she attended.

“Basically, she was the victim of domestic abuse committed by [her] boyfriend, Brandon Becker,” Golden said. “She cooperated with the grand jury, and there was an indictment against Becker. About one week before the trial, ADA Trainor had her picked up by the police in Utica.”

He said his client was shackled and handcuffed and thrown into jail without bail.

“She was the abused and was sitting in the Fulton County Jail while the alleged abuser was free,” Golden said. “My concern is this sends a chilling message to victims of abuse in Fulton County.”

The lawsuit also states that Trainor was quoted in a May 12, 2007, edition of The Leader-Herald as saying that Flagler was “hiding out” in various places and he would not be able to produce her for the trial — “a fact which Defendant Trainor knew was untrue ...”

Trainor resigned from the district attorney’s office early this year, saying he needed to devote time to caring for his seriously ill father.

Trainor had run in the Republican primary for Gloversville City Court judge in 2005. He came in second to incumbent Vincent DeSantis, losing 681-592.

District Attorney Louise Sira said Wednesday the arrest of Flagler was part of “an unfortunate set of circumstances.”

“Matt acted with the best information he had at the time,” she said.

Sira said the case was handled solely by Trainor, and there was some “miscommunication” between Trainor and Flagler.



Michael Anich covers Fulton County and Johnstown. He can be reached at johnstown@leaderherald.com.
 
 

 

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