By Connor Adams Sheets
A lawyer has enlisted the assistance of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) in the case of a John Bowne High School senior who is the daughter of a top-level Indian diplomat and who intends to sue the city for $1.5 million over what the lawyer describes as her wrongful arrest and suspension from school on bogus charges that she “cyberbullied” her teachers.
The lawyer, Ravi Batra, is considering whether to pursue the case in its initial destination of State Supreme Court or to elevate it to federal court in light of alleged misinterpretations of parts of the Vienna Convention by the U.S. State Department relevant to the case. If the State Department amends its interpretation, it may not be necessary to take the case to the federal level, Batra said.
“These are two of the most respected New Yorkers who have taken an initiative and written the State Department, and we’re optimistic that upon receiving these letters the State Department will … issue a new interpretation of the Vienna Convention instead of gutting it like the current interpretation does,” Batra said. “Then we’d know we can just go to State Supreme Court.”
Krittika Biswas, 18, of Flushing, was arrested Feb. 8 after school officials wrongly identified her as the culprit behind disturbing and violent anonymous e-mails sent to two teachers at the Flushing school, according to the notice of claim Batra filed May 6. A notice of claim is a document that must be filed six months before a party files suit against the city.
Biswas is the daughter of Debashish Biswas, vice consul at the Consulate General of India in Manhattan, who was not notified until hours after her arrest even though she declared her diplomatic immunity and asked to contact him, the notice of claim says.
Schumer wrote a letter July 21 to the State Department, requesting that it promptly respond to a letter Batra wrote on behalf of Biswas, questioning the department’s reading of the Vienna Convention.
The department has disagreed with Batra’s contention that the Vienna Convention “plainly grants the family members or a consul the same rights, privileges and immunities granted to the actual diplomat serving in a consular post. This includes the right to be ‘free of arrest’ or ‘detention’ without a judge-issued warrant for arrest and that is limited only to ‘grave crimes.’”
State Department spokesman Noel Clay said he could not speak directly to the letters, but did offer a more general comment.
“Ms. Biswas, as the family member of a consular officer at India’s New York consulate, does not enjoy immunity from arrest or from criminal or civil jurisdiction under international law,” Clay said via e-mail. “The United States is a party to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, and is fully committed to complying with all of its obligations under the Convention.”
Ackerman sent a letter June 6 to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, telling her that he “cannot help but agree with [Batra’s] interpretation of the Vienna Convention” and asking that she “seek a legal review of the State Department’s interpretation of the Vienna Convention … with regard to the case of Krittika Biswas.”
Connie Pankratz, a spokeswoman for the city Law Department, declined to discuss the case.ï»¿
Biswas was arrested because she was one of two students in both of the teachers’ classes who lived in a building where school officials originally said the e-mail originated and because she speaks French and one of the e-mails included a French curse word, according to the notice of claim.
She was not read her Miranda rights and was held for 28 hours at Queens Central Booking and later forced to stay at a suspension center for more than a month even though the charges were dropped, the notice of claim says. Batra intends to seek $1.5 million in damages and the removal of the school’s principal, Howard Kwait, and calculus teacher Jamie Kim Ross, Batra said in a May 24 statement.
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.