When Louis Tramunti’s wife called 911, she wanted EMTs to save her husband’s life after a heart attack. Instead, two policemen threw him to the floor and broke his back. It was just one of those things; didn’t even make the papers.
Louis, an old friend of an old friend of mine, called me nearly a year later because “people need to know about this, bro,” which didn’t thrill his attorney.
“I’m not typically a PR lawyer,” said Steven Falkoff when I called. “It’s a basic fact pattern and excessive-force case. I don’t know how much sexiness there is for a broader story.”
To Louis—a good-natured if foul-mouthed 37-year-old Bernie-supporting son of Whitestone, a corner of Queens untouched by gentrification or even integration—it’s the only story.
He’s been married for seven years to Szilvia, a lovely Hungarian immigrant whose calmness evens out his off-the-walls hyperactivity, and he’s worked for more than 15 years as a plumbing surveyor, making good union wages mapping out where the sleeves go as new high-end Manhattan buildings rise up. Wherever Louis works now, he etches the name of their 2-year-old son, Marco, behind where the wall will be on each floor. The job puts him on top of half-finished buildings, Manhattan stretched out before him. Being up there, he says, is what made him fear thunder.
The family lives 40 miles and a world from Henry Hill or Archie Bunker’s Queens, in a split-level house in leafy Yorktown Heights, Westchester, just past the Donald J. Trump State Park (yes, no kidding; Trump donated the land in 2006) and down the road from the Elks Lodge. Before that, they lived for eight years in an apartment a few miles away in Hartsdale.
That’s where they were on April Fool’s Day 2016, a Saturday, as Szilvia drove her car into Greenburgh to have an officer do a safety check on the child seat, since Marco—a big kid, like his dad—had to start facing front. Went to dinner with them, put Marco to sleep, and went to bed herself.
Early Sunday morning, in the midst of a huge storm, the police came to them.
The thunder woke up Szilvia, and she heard a weird, loud groan and turned to shush Louis, who she figured was once again being some sort of goofy. She sees that he’s on his stomach shaking, sweating up a storm and drooling all over himself, not responding to her and still making the weird groan. So she called 911 (“for the first time in my life,” she later told The Daily Beast. “I’m a shy person”) and told the operator her husband’s having a heart attack.
She’s still on the line when the EMTs arrived, standing at the open front door of their apartment with Marco in her arms and a drop of blood on her shirt from a stress-induced nosebleed. The first responders saw her and then Louis, all 6 feet and 200 pounds of him, lurching in his underwear and walk away, telling the Greenburgh Police Officers en route to step on it.
Two officers get there and see Louis standing against a wall, eyes open but not responding to them. They approach, shine a light in his eyes, and just as he comes to and realizes they’re there, “I’m landing on my back and hitting my head at the same time.
“They had my arms pinned and their knees to my chest and they’re still shining the light in my eyes, and I’m just coming to and then they turn me around and squeeze my elbows together behind my back, and one of them has a knee in my back, and my legs go numb. I tell them I can’t breathe but the knee’s still there. I hear something crack and they crisscross my hands and cuff them and pull me up by the back and my chest starts killing me.
“They’re not saying anything to me, just dragging me out the door and Marco’s on the couch watching and someone’s saying to my wife ‘Don’t sugarcoat it, honey, we know he beat you up.’ And then I’m outside, in my fucking underwear, in the fucking snow, before all my neighbors.”
“Now, they’re talking to me: ‘We know you beat your wife.’”
“And I’m thinking: ‘Are you fucking kidding me’?”
The EMTs get outside and an officer comes with them. Inside the ambulance, Louis is still cuffed, and, he says, “This cop is telling me: ‘Yeah you beat your wife up. Is that the kind of man you are?’’
“I’m crying. I mean, I’ve never laid a hand on my wife. I had a great day. We had dinner and I played Call of Duty and fell asleep on the couch. Went into our bed and held my wife and fell back asleep. Wake up and there are the police taking me down—boom!—and telling me I beat my wife.
“I’m licking my lips and someone tells me to fucking stop so I do and I feel nauseous. Then tells me not to throw up, or it’s going to a big problem. They put a bag over my mouth.
“I’m crying. Is this who I am? Last thing I knew, I was falling asleep.
“I remember one of them saying we have a possible fifty-fifty-one or whatever and it seemed so odd. Later I realized that meant they were reporting they had a crazy or deranged person.
“So we get to the White Plains Hospital and I’m cuffed to the gurney, screaming the whole time that my ribs are killing me and that I can’t breathe. The cop from my house is there, trying to play the good-guy role and telling me, ‘Honestly, you know you really did beat up your wife tonight. You beat your wife good.’
“This doctor comes in and asks me questions and hears the way I’m staggering in my speech and right away wants to see if I had a seizure.
“Later, they put all the wiring in my head, and they told me I’d had a seizure. My first one. In fact, I had all the signs of one, bro, that the EMTs should have recognized. My wife didn’t say that when she called 911, because she’s not a doctor.
“Then they found I had four fractured vertebrae. I was in so much pain from my back and then on so much pain medication that I didn’t realize, and the doctors didn’t find until days later, that I’d also torn the tendon between my chest and my ribs.
That was long after “the cop, the same one who kept telling me I’d beaten my wife, finally took the cuffs off me.
“He said, ‘Sorry buddy. You’ll be OK.’ And then he left.”
No charges were filed.
Here’s how the night’s events come out in the colder, more cautious language of official reports. Remember everything that follows (and is sic’d throughout) is in response to Szilvia’s call to 911 saying her husband was having a heart attack:
From the Greenburgh Police Department EMS Report:
Primary Impression: Behavioral/Psychiatric Disorder
Chief Complaint: bizarre behavior
Signs & Symptoms: Other - bizarre behavior, Generalized Symptoms - Vomiting
Barriers of Care: Physcially Restrained
Abnormalities, Mental Status: Confused, Hallucinations, Other
Narrative: U/A find Pt on scene inside residence Awake and alert but non verbal standing up against the living room. Pt not responding to verbal stimuli or commands. Pt sweating, appears frightened and acting bizarre. Listed officer and Officer Maiden placed pt in restraints for pt’s safety and others on the scene. After pt was placed in cuffs he began responded to Officers. Pt reports he does not remeber getting out of bed and that the last thing he remembers wass going to sleep and then being in hand cuffs with Officers. Pt denies pain or discomfort. Pt placed on stretcher and into ambulance… Further als assessment waived in favor of patient being transported to the appropriate facility for a psych evaluation. While enroute the pt made statements like, “is this real”, as if parnoid.Pt care tansferred to stall.
Wife on scene reports her husband awoke from bed after a loud ligthing strike sound was heard outside during a storm. Pt would not listen to her and was roaming around the apartment as if he was terrified. Wife reports pt has never acted like this before and that he does not abuse drugs or alcohol. Wife reports pt was acting normal before going to bed the evening and that everything was normal.
From the police Incident/Investigation Report, about responding to “a possible ‘heart attack’”:
On approach to the residence, the Undersigned and PO Freeman observed a Greenville Fire Captain run out of the premise and state, “He is acting up in there, you better get in fast!”
On entering, the officers observed a middle aged man wearing only his boxers standing in the landing of the kitchen… (and) a white female and a young child standing in the livingroom. Both the child and the female appeared to be afraid. It should also be noted that the female was bleeding from the nose and had blood on her shirt and there were some blood droplets on the floor.
At this point, PO Freeman attempted to make vocal contact with the unknown male (later identified: as (PT) Tramunti, Louis) with negative result. The male only stared blankly at officers while sweating profusely and looking back and forth in an agitated state and obviously acting bizarre. At this time, PO Freeman and the undersigned, for the safety of the officers and all other people on the scene, decided to achieve control of the non-vocal and non-compliant PT by placing him in handcuffs and then placing him on the floor so that he could be properly assessed by PO Paramedic Freeman… The undersigned restrained PT’s legs in order to protect himself and officer freeman from being kicked during the assessment.
And from the supplemental report filed months later by the same officer, claiming that Louis “was awake and alert, sweating and appeared frightened” when the officers entered, It stresses that Szilvia and Marco, too, “appeared frightened” and that there was blood on her shirt and “droplets” on the floor:
Despite reporting that Louis was “awake and alert,” it continues: PT did not reply to verbal communication… was acting bizarre and appeared agitated. (PT stared blankly, back and forth at Officers as if confused. While on the floor in a supine position listed Officer assessed the (PT)’s vital signs… and obvious signs of trauma, which all appeared normal.
“When in the back of the ambulance (PT) came out of his trance like state and began asking what happened. … (PT) stated, “is this real” numerous times as if paranoid. (PT) kept asking what had happened after being told numerous times by listed Offiicer. (PT) did not complain of injury or pain other than discomfort from the hand cuffs that remained on him during the transport to the hospital.
Louis—who spent six weeks recovering before going back to work—and Szilvia are suing after rejecting a settlement offer.
Asked about the suit, Greenburgh Police Chief Chris McNerney emailed: “We are committed to vigorously defending yet another frivolous lawsuit against a police department. We are looking forward to the facts being presented in a court of law, as there is not one credible piece of evidence to support this outrageous claim.”
Also looking forward to an accounting and a judgment is Louis, who’s still fuming 15 months later about falling asleep with his family and waking up with his back broken, being told he’d beat his wife.
“On a work site,” he says, if a storm is coming and the winds get above 25 miles per hour, you get everyone off the roof to keep them safe and, in the process, ensure your own bottom line. How is it that cops,” he asks, “are held to such a lower bar?”
He’s furious that the department’s new body-camera program hadn’t rolled out when the police showed up at his door. About how, if he loses the suit, he may have to pay the department’s legal fees. “They have the nerve to do this. That’s intimidation. That’s bullshit.”
And he’s worried about his sex life—“I’m an Italian guy from Queens who was in a body cast. It is what it is, and it isn’t good”—while Szilvia’s worried about his health and earnings to support Marco and, she hopes, his future siblings.
The legal issue here is a much narrower one, says Falkoff, Louis’ lawyer, “focused on the amount of force they used in arresting him and the perceptions of the officers as it’s unfolding. This wasn’t 20 minutes but 15 or 20 seconds. EMS tells the cops to get in there fast, because they see the wife bleeding and Louis out of it. Cops get there and maybe it’s reasonable to take Louis down to the floor when he doesn’t respond. It’s the amount of force they used to take him down that’s the issue here.”
For Louis, it comes down to right and wrong.
“I never, ever beat anybody up, been drunk in public, had any issue with the police, done anything. I live for my son and my wife, my family, and I work hard. I don’t expect this to happen to me or anybody for that matter.
“How is it that no one can say, ‘We’re sorry and that was wrong’?”
“It’s insane. I have to see doctors and a physical therapist and also someone for PTSD now. I’m back at work, but I can’t talk about it with anyone there. There’s no support group for this. And when I tell my black friend, he just says ‘that’s how it is.’
“That’s not right. That’s not how it should be. I’m trying to tell white people: They’re coming for you, too, bro.”