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New York City cop imprisons college student without ID for two days

Chris Lehmann
The Lookout

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A man walks his dog beneath blooming trees in New York City's Riverside Park (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Note to tourists visting New York: Don't be caught out without your ID, or you could be caught in the city's penal system for days, if the recent experience of 21-year-old college student Samantha Zucker is anything to go by.

Actually, Zucker barely qualifies as an out-of-towner, since she hails from the Westchester town of Ardsley. And the underlying charge that led to her tour in jail was a minor trespassing citation, dismissed by a presiding judge in no time.

But no matter: A vigilant NYPD officer deemed her a sufficient threat to public safety to have her handcuffed and jailed in two different cells across the length of Manhattan.

The whole ordeal began with a trip to Riverside Park, as Zucker recounts to New York Times columnist James Dwyer. Zucker is enrolled in a design program at Pittsburgh's Carnegie-Mellon University; together with 80 of her colleagues, she spent a long day on Oct. 21 scouting out prospective employment scenarios in New York's sprawling fashion industry. After pounding the pavement, she dropped off her bags at her West Harlem hotel. From there, she and fellow student Alex Fischer decided to stroll over to Riverside Park, to gaze out on the Hudson.

There was just one problem: The two park visitors arrived at around 3 a.m. on Oct. 22, and the park is officially closed to visitors as of 1 a.m. A police car pulled up, and the officers in it informed the two students of their trespass. Zucker and Fischer explained that they hadn't known of the park's curfew, and turned around to leave. By then, however, another NYPD car appeared, and the officer driving it announced he was citing them for trespassing, and demanded their IDs. Fischer produced his driver's license and was let go--but Zucker had left her identification back at the hotel, two blocks away. She apologized, and told the officer that she could have Fischer or another friend fetch it.

But no dice. "He said it was too late for that, I should have thought of it earlier," she told Dwyer. At that point, as Dwyer writes, the wheels of justice locked grimly into gear; Zucker was handcuffed and led into a surreal maze of detention:

For the next 36 hours, she was moved from a cell in the 26th Precinct station house on West 126th Street to central booking in Lower Manhattan and then — because one of the officers was ending his shift before Ms. Zucker could be photographed for her court appearance, and you didn't think he was going to take the subway uptown while his partner stayed with her at booking, did you? — she was brought back to Harlem.

It's not against the law, of course, to be out on New York's streets without identification--but the courts can detain people without identification in jail until their arraignment in lieu of issuing them a summons. As Zucker waited in her cell for her court appearance, she heard NYPD employees marvel that the arresting officer didn't permit her the opportunity to have a friend retrieve her ID. At another point, Zucker says, she heard two NYPD staffers say that the arresting officer--identified as Officer Durrell of the 26th District in Zucker's police records--had a "short fuse." When Zucker finally got her court appearance, the presiding judge dismissed her trespassing citation in less than a minute.

Durrell apparently worked off some tension by taunting his prisoner in her cell. "He was telling me that I needed to get a new boyfriend, that I should get a guy who takes me out to dinner," Ms. Zucker said. "He mocked me for being from Westchester." (For the record, Fischer is not Zucker's boyfriend.)

The officer also instructed Zucker--twice--to refrain from calling him a profane name that she did not in fact utter. "I said, 'Sir, I never used that word.' " Then again, projection is no crime--any more than being out in a park without an ID is.

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