7/4

A Noisy Train, a Fed-Up Rider and a Day in Court

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April 9, 2008

A Noisy Train, a Fed-Up Rider and a Day in Court

By ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS, NYT

All John Clifford wanted was a peaceful ride to work on the 7:39 to Pennsylvania Station. He would get to the Long Island Rail Road station at Long Beach early every weekday morning, board the train, stake out a five-seat section to rest his bad back, and prepare to read his newspaper and eat his breakfast.

But all around him, there would be chaos. One woman putting on full makeup while listening to her iPod and talking to friends. Another inviting guests to a barbecue and talking about personal problems. Men chatting on cellphones. They were treating the ride as a social situation, he testified in court on Tuesday, forming cliques and getting to know each other by name.

He asked the passengers to keep it down, but the chatter continued. In March 2007, Mr. Clifford had had enough. He shouted an obscenity at a passenger talking on his cellphone and slapped the hand of another, and was arrested. On Tuesday, he found himself in Manhattan Criminal Court, telling his tale.

“I stand up for my right to be let alone,” Mr. Clifford, a retired New York City police sergeant, declared from the witness stand at his nonjury trial on charges including harassment and assault.

To his accusers, Mr. Clifford, 60, was a bully who hogged five seats and had told one passenger, Donna DeCurtis, who had talked loudly, that he knew her name and where she lived, and that “I can make your life hell.” He had been arrested before, the prosecutor said, though, until now, the charges had always been dropped.

After one of those arrests, Ms. DeCurtis testified on Tuesday, “everybody just stood up and applauded.”

But Mr. Clifford testified that, deep down, many of his fellow passengers were grateful, but were too scared to speak up. “When I sit on the train it’s quiet,” he said. “I get up, people come over and shake my hand. They say: ‘Thank you. I wanted to rip her throat out.’ ”

Outside court, he compared himself to Rosa Parks, fighting for his right to sit where he wanted in peace.

“Look what happened to her,” he said, pointing out that Parks was punished for her stand against discrimination. In court, however, he sometimes sounded like the Miss Manners of the railroad, blaming the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the railroad’s parent agency, for not enforcing its own etiquette rules, which restrict noise to 70 decibels under some circumstances.

He had bought a noise meter and found that the train alone measured 70 decibels. “When you’re talking across the car it goes to 80 decibels,” he testified.

Although he seemed like a perfect client for a civil rights lawyer, he chose to represent himself. He has a law degree.

Dressed in a blue Oxford shirt, wearing glasses, and with close-cropped gray hair, he looked lawyerly as he was sworn in to testify. Mr. Clifford said that he routinely took up a section of five facing seats because he was 6-foot-4 and suffered from backaches. It was, he said, the only place where he could cross his legs to ease the pain. He offered to show his scar from a back operation to Judge Larry Stephen, who declined.

“Do I admit to being domineering?” he testified. “Yeah.”

He described his usual routine on the 7:39 or the 8:03 from Long Beach to his job as a private investigator in Manhattan: “I eat. I mind my own business. I read my paper. I get to work.” Interfering with that routine, he said, was “this clique that think it’s their absolute right to talk as long and as loud as they like.”

Only one clique? the prosecutor asked.

“There are different cliques throughout the train,” he replied. “Throughout every train.”

He said that in October 2006, Ms. DeCurtis deliberately provoked him by talking to one of her friends across the aisle.

“They’re talking from one side of the train to the other,” he testified. “That aggravates me. I can’t concentrate. I can’t catch up on current events, and it gives me a headache, so I tell them off.”

Judge Stephen gently interjected, “You can move to another car, can’t you?”

“The problem is, Your Honor, there are no seats,” Mr. Clifford replied.

He admitted that he had threatened to make Ms. DeCurtis’s life hell, but said he knew personal details about her only because she had talked about them so loudly to her friends.

“But you have to realize some of your conduct is inappropriate?” the judge asked.

“Your Honor, it only becomes inappropriate when people themselves won’t behave,” he said.

Mr. Clifford faced charges of misdemeanor assault, attempted petit larceny, harassment and disorderly conduct.

He admitted that he had cursed at a passenger, Nicholas Bender, who was talking on his cellphone, then slapped the hand of another passenger, Lydia Klein, as she tried to give her business card to Mr. Bender — but only after she slapped his hand first. The prosecutor said Mr. Clifford was trying to steal the information on the card, hence the larceny charge.

“He is not a white knight, he’s Darth Vader,” said Mary Weisgerber, the prosecutor, in her closing argument.

But after it was all done, Judge Stephen acquitted Mr. Clifford of all charges. The judge said he had discounted most of the testimony against Mr. Clifford because all but one of the witnesses had “an ax to grind.”

“While the court does not condone the defendant’s manner of getting people to remain quiet or silent on the Long Island Rail Road,” Judge Stephen said, “I see no crimes having been committed beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Railroad officials said they were disappointed. “Some of our customers feel as if they have been abused by Mr. Clifford’s behavior,” said Joe Calderone, a spokesman for the railroad. “We will not tolerate aggressive behavior by Mr. Clifford if he seeks to impose his own standards of conduct on others. We will not hesitate in the future to call on police if necessary to protect the safety of our customers and employees.”

As Mr. Clifford left the courtroom and stepped outside to light a celebratory cigar, he pronounced the judge “excellent” and even complimented the prosecutor for finding one neutral witness.

On Tuesday evening, he took the A train to the Grant Avenue-Pitkin Avenue station in Brooklyn, where he picked up his car for the drive home to Long Beach — not because he was afraid to take the commuter railroad, but because the subway was more convenient, he said. He celebrated at Shines bar.

“Believe me,” Mr. Clifford said, “I am no hero. Rosa Parks is a hero. I’m just a knucklehead.”

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April 9, 2008

Man Who Yelled at Phone User Acquitted

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Filed at 7:35 a.m. ET

NEW YORK (AP) -- A retired police officer who screamed obscenities at a train passenger who was talking on a cell phone and who hit the hand of another passenger who intervened was acquitted Tuesday of misdemeanor charges stemming from the confrontation.

John Clifford, who is also a lawyer, was found not guilty after a two-day nonjury trial at which he acted as his own attorney. He had been charged with misdemeanor counts of attempted assault, disorderly conduct, harassment and attempted petit larceny and had faced up to a year in jail if convicted.

Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Larry Stephen issued his verdict immediately after closing arguments: ''I see no crimes having been committed beyond a reasonable doubt. The case is dismissed and sealed.''

The 6-foot-4 Clifford acknowledged during trial that he was aggressive and overbearing when he approached Long Island Rail Road commuters he considered rude for talking too loudly on cell phones and for other behavior.

During trial, Clifford, 60, admitted cursing at Nicholas Bender, ''a 19-year-old nitwit waking up one girlfriend after another,'' and slapping the hand of Lydia Klein after she slapped his when he reached for a business card she was handing Bender on the train from Long Beach to Manhattan's Pennsylvania Station on March 28, 2007.

Clifford, who retired as a police sergeant after 10 years on the job, said Tuesday he had been arrested eight times after being accused of throwing coffee, spewing expletives and getting in the faces of people whom he considered loud and rude on the commuter line. This was the only case that wasn't dismissed.

''It took a lawyer and an old ex-police sergeant to stand up to it (public rudeness),'' Clifford, of Long Beach, said as he left court. He said that unless lawmakers and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority do something, the lack of public civility will persist.

Asked what he regretted about his behavior, Clifford replied, ''Nothing.''

He added, ''I don't want anybody to think they can't have a private conversation (around me), but keep it private.''

The LIRR issued a statement saying it was ''disappointed'' but accepted the judgment of the court.

''Some of our customers feel as if they have been abused by Mr. Clifford's behavior,'' the statement said. ''We will not tolerate aggressive behavior by Mr. Clifford if he seeks to impose his own standards of conduct on others. We will not hesitate in the future to call on police if necessary to protect the safety of our customer and employees.''

Meanwhile, Clifford, a lawyer since 1984, has filed five lawsuits against passengers and against the MTA, which runs the region's mass transit system, for issues arising from his reactions to rudeness.

Clifford, formerly a security staffer for HBO, was fired after being arrested several times in connection with his LIRR confrontations. He said he plans now to ''hang out my shingle again'' and practice law.

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seems to me we had a discussion about this guy before and everyone or nearly everyone agreed that he's a Grade A asshole. I'm not surprised he would opt for a Bench Trial over a Jury Trial but what was the Judge smoking to not see him for the menace that he is?

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I couldn't find the previous discussion, I tried and gave up.

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Maybe you'd have to experience suburbs to NYC commuting to understand what it's like.

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I find it absurd that he compared himself to Rosa Parks.

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I find it absurd that he compared himself to Rosa Parks.

That's part of the asshole element of this story.

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“I stand up for my right to be let alone.” - John Clifford

"No man is an island, entire of itself

every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main

if a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,

as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were

any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind

and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls

it tolls for thee." - John Donne

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To me it almost sounds like the paradigm has shifted for this guy - from the "old" days before cell phones, to modern times - and he can't accept it. It's not his place to be a vigilante about it, whether he likes it or not.

If you're in a public place (like a train car), you have to accept what society says is acceptable public behavior. And using cell phones in public has become part of that.

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To me it almost sounds like the paradigm has shifted for this guy - from the "old" days before cell phones, to modern times - and he can't accept it. It's not his place to be a vigilante about it, whether he likes it or not.

If you're in a public place (like a train car), you have to accept what society says is acceptable public behavior. And using cell phones in public has become part of that.

I don't know about the LIRR, but on NJ Transit, they used to have signs to remind people how to act on the train and it's up to the people operating the train - the conductor and trainmen have to enforce it. Federal laws folks - it's their job!

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In the original NYT article, the phrase "attempted petit larceny" turns up. I would have thought it would be "petty" -- is this an actual legal term in the USA?

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one time i was with my girlfriend of the time and her sister and the conductor tried to charge me some stupid surcharge that most conductors would wave off so i flipped out and cursed him out and told him he was "a fucking loser and just trying to impress the girls i was with and he wasn't getting any fucking money from me" and i stormed off the train and then i was stuck in some town by myself and had to sit in some terrible bar for an hour waiting for another train. and then i got back to new york and my girlfriend wanted to break up. but it was worth it not to give that power-mongering crapbag money.

Someone did that and I was there the next time he took the train and ran into the same conductor. The cops hauled him off at the next stop. Federal law - don't fuck with the help, you can't win.

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well it was a main reason i moved to new york so i didn't have to take the train anymore.

So, how's the subway doin'? :rolleyes:

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well it was a main reason i moved to new york so i didn't have to take the train anymore.

So, how's the subway doin'? :rolleyes:

The NYC subway doesn't have conductors that take your fare. All they do is run the train.

Besides, a lot of people in NYC don't bother with the subway. They walk, take cabs or buses.

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“I stand up for my right to be let alone,” Mr. Clifford

As a daily commuter I can sympathise with this idiot's disgruntlementisation with mobile phones, farting passengers and so on.

But I won't.

If he want to pursue his "right to be let alone", he should make some lifestyle changes so he doesn't need to travel on public transport any longer.

Edited by kenny weir

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Sounds like the train should have designated cell phone cars and quiet cars.

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i was almost banned from nj transit for getting into altercations with passengers and train staff. i got into shouting matches with the idiot conductors many times. the whole scenario is tough to take on a rush hour train.

one time i remember this guy was on his cellphone as i sat there with my girlfriend...for some reason he sat a few seats away when the whole car was empty but it was october 31st, so i asked him after he was off the phone, if his halloween costume was "annoying asshole on cellphone" and he told me to go fuck myself. that is what life is like on the trains.

one time i was with my girlfriend of the time and her sister and the conductor tried to charge me some stupid surcharge that most conductors would wave off so i flipped out and cursed him out and told him he was "a fucking loser and just trying to impress the girls i was with and he wasn't getting any fucking money from me" and i stormed off the train and then i was stuck in some town by myself and had to sit in some terrible bar for an hour waiting for another train. and then i got back to new york and my girlfriend wanted to break up. but it was worth it not to give that power-mongering crapbag money.

What was the surcharge?

Was it the extra money they extra charge for douchebags that don't want to "waste their time" buying a ticket before boarding?

In the end it sounds like you made yourself look like a fuckin' idiot over a couple of bucks, plus lost or almost lost your lady over it and had to plant your ass somewhere for an hour and wait on another the train.

You really showed him. :lol:

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barefoot catesta give me a fucking break. i don't buy my tickets on the train.

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Oh, so it really must have been dude was trying to impress the two chicks. :rolleyes:

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Sounds like the train should have designated cell phone cars and quiet cars.

Yes, we have those on some trains - but not commuter trains. No point really; when I commuted it was sardines all the way, and tighter sardines as we got nearer to town. No room to use a mobile phone :D

MG

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