Judge Dismisses July 4, 2003 Beach Lawsuit Rules That Beach Is More Dangerous Venue Than Public Park
A lawsuit brought by a Belle Harbor man who was arrested by local police for having a cooler full of beer on the beach on July 4, 2003, was dismissed by Federal District Court Judge Carol Bagley Amon last week.
David Reilly was on the beach at Beach 131 Street for what he terms a fundraiser for the families of those local residents who died in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
In his suit, Reilly says that he saw police officers on the beach and that he was accosted by two officers right after he opened a can of beer that he kept in a nearby cooler.
The police officers, he says, asked him for identification and when he could not produce it from his bathing suit, they arrested him.
He says that he was held for six hours and then given a summons charging him with possession of an open container containing an alcoholic beverage in an open place.
He subsequently sued the 100 Precinct Commanding Officer, Captain Charles Talamo, Sergeant Dennis Klein, Police Officer Michael Sykora, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelley, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and New York City for violating his rights.
The suit alleges false arrest and that he was a victim of "selective prosecution."
While he later agreed to drop the arrest charge, admitting that there was probable cause for his arrest, he maintained the selective prosecution charge against the city, arguing that there was ample evidence in the media that people in other park venues, such as Prospect Park and Central Park were not arrested for consuming alcoholic beverages while he was arrested for doing the same in Rockaway.
In its defense, the city cited a comment by Mayor Bloomberg that "The police department was trying to enforce the rules, and they do it where they think that there's a particular danger."
The court took into account that Reilly did not charge that he was treated differently than anybody else on the beach that day. In fact, he only claimed that he was treated differently from those who used alcohol at other park venues.
In fact, 11 criminal court summonses were issued on the beach that day, according to a contemporary account in The Wave. Seven locals were given tickets for consuming alcohol or having an open container, one for possession of alcohol, one for possession of fireworks, one for disorderly conduct and the last for unreasonable noise.
At the time, Talamo said that there were 40 summonses issued at Beach 116 Street on July 4 and that arrests were made on various other streets during the day.
The judge did not buy the selective prosecution theory, however, ruling that "As a matter of common sense, ready access to the ocean makes the beach a far different and riskier environment for the consumption of alcohol than a park."
Reilly could not be reached for comment on the dismissal of his lawsuit.