ITHACA, N.Y. — A jury listened to opening statements Tuesday morning in the case of a black woman who claims she was wrongfully arrested by Gerald Hoffman, a retired Tompkins County Sheriff’s deputy who is white.
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On June 9, 2007, Angela Brown was at the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport waiting for her 14-year-old daughter to arrive home from North Carolina. When her daughter did not come off the plane, Brown became worried and approached the US Air desk to locate her daughter.
Accounts vary on what happened next, but both versions confirm that Hoffman handcuffed Brown and arrested her for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
The jury, which consists of three men and five women who are all white, listened as attorneys made opening arguments in the case.
Ithaca lawyer Edward Kopko is representing Brown in her suit, and he asked the jury to “think about having some hulking 230-pound cop telling you to shut up.”
However, Hoffman’s defense attorney, William Troy, said Brown was hostile, flailing her arms at the deputy, kicking him and yelling at him while he attempted to arrest her, and knocking his radio out of his belt. “This was not someone who wanted information about her daughter,” said Troy. “This was someone who was angry.”
Troy said that Hoffman was simply following procedure and said Brown is trying to blame the deputy for her bad choices.
Troy also said to the jury, “If Ms. Brown was so worried about her missing daughter, she should have been overjoyed when a sheriff’s deputy walked up and said ‘Can I help you?’”
Kopko, though, said Hoffman lost his cool when dealing with Brown, aggravating the situation. “He escalated this, not Angela Brown.” He said it was irrational for Hoffman to feel “abused by this tiny black woman who was trying to find out where her child is.”
The jury will hear testimony from Hoffman, Brown, three US Air employees, a TSA agent and a cab driver at the airport who witnessed the event.