In one of the most ridiculous cases of police overreach we've ever seen, an innocent woman was placed under arrest and cited for "disobeying" a sign recommending that individuals on the escalator hold the handrail. Now, after fighting for justice for years, Bela Kosoian is finally seeing justice.
The incident unfolded when Kosoian was at the Montmorency Metro station. As this innocent woman rode the escalator, a police officer — who just knew he had found himself a hardened criminal hellbent on burning down society for not holding a handrail — targeted her for extortion and kidnapping.
The officer pointed out that Kosoian was disobeying a pictograph with the instruction "Hold the handrail." Knowing that she had done nothing wrong, Kosoian flexed her rights and refused to comply with the officer's unlawful stop and refused to identify herself. This infuriated the officer who then escalated the situation, no pun intended.
Kosoian was then arrested and held for 30 minutes before being let go. She was given two tickets: one for $100 for disobeying the plastic sign recommending escalator riders hold the handrail and a $320 fine for obstructing the cop by refusing to identify herself.
This incident happened in 2009 in Montreal, CA and she's been fighting it ever since. As the CBC reports:
She was acquitted of the two infractions in Montreal municipal court in 2012 and subsequently filed a $45,000 lawsuit against Montreal's transit authority, the City of Laval and one of the officers, Fabio Camacho.
Her suit was rejected by Quebec court in 2015 and by the Quebec Court of Appeal in 2017, which said Kosoian was the "author of her own misfortune."
The Supreme Court has ordered $20,000 be paid to Kosoian in damages. The Société de transport de Montréal, which operates the Metro, and Camacho will each be liable for half the amount.
Luckily, when Kosoian's case made it to the Supreme Court, logic prevailed.
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“An unlawful arrest — even for a short time — cannot be considered one of the ‘ordinary annoyances, anxieties and fears that people living in society routinely … accept,'” the court wrote. “In a free and democratic society, no one should accept — or expect to be subjected to — unjustified state intrusions.”
The court further ruled that a plastic sign recommending escalator riders hold the handrail cannot be considered law and, “given that the offence alleged did not exist in law, (Kosoian) was perfectly entitled to refuse to identify herself and then simply to walk away.”
The court went further, pointing out that the arresting officer was also found to have committed “a civil fault by ordering Ms. Kosoian to identify herself and by arresting her and conducting a search based on a non-existent offence, namely disobeying the pictogram indicating that the handrail should be held.”
The Supreme Court's findings directly contradicted the previous findings from both lower courts.
“It follows that a pictogram that only warns, advises or informs cannot serve as the basis for this offence. After all, one does not ‘disobey’ a warning. At most, one refuses to take notice of it,” the court wrote. “A reasonable police officer looking at the STM’s sign would have concluded that the pictogram simply advises users to be careful and does not impose an obligation.”
Had this case taken place in the United States, where police officers routinely beat, kidnap, and kill people over such minor "offenses," Kosoian's refusal to identify could've ended much worse. Luckily for her, the court saw through the color of law and ruled in her favor.