Court employee sues city and police officers for wrongful arrest

Jon Campisi Jul. 2, 2011, 8:51am

A Philadelphia resident, and employee of Philadelphia’s court system, who alleges he was assaulted by city police officers is suing the City of Philadelphia and the cops involved in the incident for assault and battery.

Philadelphia attorney Armando A. Pandola, Jr. filed the civil action on behalf of Victor Della Barba, who, the lawsuit alleges, was the victim of a wrongful arrest after officers took him in following a neighborhood fight in which the plaintiff disbursed a crowd of youngsters involved in a brawl outside of a home Barba was visiting.

According to the complaint, Barba was visiting the Bancroft Street home of family members on Aug. 5, 2009, when he and a relative heard a commotion outside the residence at about 7:30 p.m. When the two men went outside, they witnessed two boys fighting with a crowd surrounding them.

Barba and his relative, named in the suit as Stephen Campolongo, broke up the fight and told the boys to go home, which they did, the suit states.

Later that night, the two men were standing outside the home when several men who were accompanying one of the boys involved in the earlier fight approached Barba and Campolongo and began beating them with sticks and bats, the lawsuit states. The attack stopped when police sirens sounded.

When officers arrived on scene, the suit states, instead of helping a bleeding Barba, they propped him up against a patrol car, struck him on the leg with an expandable baton, and placed him under arrest, charging him with simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, failure to disburse, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and felony aggravated assault, the lawsuit states.

“The defendants swore out an arrest warrant for the plaintiff, conducted an incomplete and cursory investigation concerning the plaintiff’s alleged crimes and claimed that they had probable cause to arrest plaintiff and charge him with the above-stated crimes,” the complaint states. “All of this was done to conceal the fact that the named police officers attacked the wrong party and arrested the wrong man, that is, the plaintiff.”

Barba, the suit states, was subsequently incarcerated for 17 hours before being released on bail. Before he was imprisoned, he was taken to Methodist Hospital where he was treated in the emergency room for head and mouth wounds related to the earlier attack by the men who had been with the young boys involved in the fight. Barba required five stitches to close his face wound and also needed treatment for his knee injury, sustained by the baton strike.

As a result of his alleged false arrest, the plaintiff was suspended with intent to dismiss from his job at the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania. He was subsequently unemployed for about 36 weeks.

On Feb. 28, 2010, all charges against Barba were withdrawn because of “overwhelming evidence that plaintiff was a victim of an attack and had been wrongfully arrested,” the lawsuit states.

Nevertheless, the complaint alleges, Barba was forced to expend time and money to defend himself against the false charges and suffered emotional and financial damages because of the incident. His criminal record also currently still has felony listed on it, more specifically, assault on a police officer.

The lawsuit contains counts of false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, assault and battery, and violations of Pennsylvania’s constitution and laws.

Barba seeks judgment against the defendants, jointly and severally, in an amount in excess of $50,000, plus related costs.

In addition to the city, named as defendants are Philadelphia police officers Nicholas Morris and Jeffrey Cunningham, as well as Philadelphia Police Detective John Frei.

A jury trial has been demanded.

The case number is 110603107.

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