A 33-year-old Bergen woman who was charged with second-degree assault following a Rascal Flatts concert at Darien Lake in August has filed a claim against the Genesee County Sheriff's Office alleging false arrest.
Carolyn Marie Smith, of McCabe Court, was accused of hitting a 57-year-old man with her iPhone, causing him to need seven stitches across the bridge of his nose.
But Smith says she was the victim in this case, and when she tried to show her bruises -- including one that left, according to a physician's report she obtained later, a residual mass on her breast -- a Sheriff's sergeant arrested her anyway.
A grand jury returned a "no bill" (meaning, the grand jury didn't find sufficient evidence to sustain the charge) on Smith's case.
Attorneys have told her, Smith acknowledges, that suing law enforcement over an arrest is extremely difficult. They are hard cases to make because arrests can be subjective judgements and it's up to the legal process to determine the validity of the charges.
"I understand they arrest who they choose and let it get sorted out by the law, but to drag somebody who has no record, who has never been arrested, who is the mother of three kids, and was attacked, I just don't get it," Smith said.
Sheriff Gary Maha said that because of the notice of claim, there is a limit to what he can say about the case, but added, "I would state that this arrest was based upon an assault that occurred at Darien Lake following a concert, and the complaint was filed by another individual. The District Attorney's Office was consulted prior to arrest."
So far Smith hasn't been able to find an attorney to take her case and suspects Genesee County attorneys, who often deal with the Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney's Office, are reluctant to sue local law enforcement. She is hoping an attorney in another county will see her story and take an interest in the case.
Among the potential defendants in a lawsuit, according to Smith, is Darien Lake Theme Park, whom she thinks contributed to the events of Aug. 12 through lax security.
She points to the four arrests and 78 underage drinking citations at the Rascal Flatts show, and the numerous arrests at the Brad Paisley show just two weeks prior as evidence that Darien Lake isn't doing enough to protect patrons.
"Darien Lake Town Court is full after every concert and that says there is a problem at Darien Lake," Smith said. "They allow drinking and let people get drunk, but nobody is controlling the crowd."
The Batavian contacted Darien Lake and requested a statement and will provide a response if one is received.
"As far as Darien Lake goes," Smith said, "I don't want money. I want justice."
Smith said she and one of her witnesses were the only people involved in the fracas that night who hadn't been drinking.
The incident started as patrons were trying to exit the parking lot following the concert.
The cars were apparently not moving and a woman in Smith's car got out of the vehicle. She either got out -- depending on which statement you believe -- to have a cigarette or to try and block the progress of another vehicle so the car she was in could get the advantage.
Smith got out of the car next, either -- again depending on whose statement you believe -- to get the other woman to get back in the car or to block traffic.
At that point, a man in the other vehicle yelled at the two women, according to one witness statement. He then got out of the vehicle.
In the man's statement, he "bumped" the woman with his body (presumably Smith) to try and move her along and the woman "took a wing at me with her right hand, in which she held a cell phone."
The initial arrest was based on the alleged victim's statement and statements of people riding with the man.
In documents provided by Smith is a letter from her attorney, Thomas Burns to the arresting officer, Sgt. Thomas Sanfratello, asking him to also take statements from witnesses who were in the vehicle with Smith.
According to those statements, the man rushed from his vehicle, charged Smith, punched her in her chest and pushed her up against a truck, pinning her there. It was at that point that Smith swung at the man with her iPhone in her hand.
A woman in the vehicle then allegedly got out of the truck and yelled profanities at Smith and slapped the other woman with Smith, according to one of the statements.
Both statements say that the vehicle the man was in creeped forward and bumped Smith and the other woman before the man got out of the car.
The 57-year-old man, from North Tonawanda, said in his own statement that he told his brother-in-law, who was driving, to creep forward and try to get the women to move.
Given that admission, Smith said, and what she believes was the obviously inebriated state of the two men and the woman they were with, she doesn't understand why they weren't arrested instead of her.
"I took a beating from them, but none of that mattered," Smith said. "I don't even know how they got away with this."
Smith thinks the turning point was when her cousin called Sgt. Greg Walker "a pig."
"Once she said that, forget it," Smith said. "They wouldn't even talk to me."
Ten days later, when Sanfratello called and asked Smith to come to the Park Road office, she thought she would finally get to tell her side of the story. Instead, she said she was surprised to find out she was the one being arrested.
Fighting the charge cost her $5,000 and she may yet have medical bills from the breast injury. Although she'd at least like some compensation, what she wants just as much is an apology -- not even necessarily a public apology, even though the case made national news.
She just wants the officers involved and the Sheriff's Office to say they're sorry for arresting her and not the people in the other group.