Woman who claims she was stalked by suburban cop files federal lawsuit

Jon Campisi Jul. 14, 2011, 5:00pm

A Lower Merion, Pa. woman who stunned township commissioners and residents during a public meeting in May with allegations of stalking by one of the municipality’s police officers has filed a federal lawsuit against the township, the police department and the officer who did the alleged harassing.

Attorneys Jeffrey R. Lessin and Mark T. Richter, of Jeffrey R. Lessin & Associates, P.C., filed the federal lawsuit July 13 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Gabrielle Drexler.

In addition to the township and its police department, named as defendants in the lawsuit are Lower Merion police officers Michael John and Stephen Salera, as well as police Superintendent Michael J. McGrath.

The complaint alleges that Drexler was the victim of constant harassment by the very people who were supposed to protect the public.

“Plaintiff alleges that defendant Police Officer Michael John repeatedly stalked her while he was on duty as a police officer with the Township of Lower Merion Police Department, and also that he physically assaulted her,” the lawsuit reads.

The complaint further accuses police department and township leadership of failing to “monitor the actions of its police officers while they are on duty,” and of allowing officers with “untreated mental illness and/or mental problems” to remain on the force.

It also faults Police Superintendent McGrath for failing to properly train, supervise and discipline his officers who are engaged in allegedly illegal behavior such as stalking a citizen of the township.

“As a result of this custom, pattern, practice … some officers, including defendant police officer Michael John, believe they are above the law,” the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, John first came into contact with Drexler on May 5, 2010 when he was called to her home for a reported domestic dispute Drexler was embroiled in with her father.

The dispute was settled, and John and his partner went on their way.

Two weeks later, the suit states, Drexler was speaking on her cell phone, while sitting on the steps of a church abutting her home in the Rosemont section of the township, when she was approached by John, who had been driving by in his police cruiser.

John then received a dispatch, and had to leave, but asked Drexler to meet him an hour later in the parking lot of a shuttered business, the lawsuit claims. At the time of their meeting, the two exchanged contact information, and John subsequently began to email Drexler extensively during the next few months, the lawsuit states. Many of the emails were sent while John was on duty, and some from his police car.

During the period of their communication exchanges, the lawsuit says, the two also met in person on a number of exchanges, but no physical contact took place. Drexler began to develop romantic feelings for John, who hid from Drexler that he was married and had seven children. He did, however, tell her he was in the midst of getting divorced, something Drexler did not believe.

In late July 2010, the two met to discuss the status of their relationship, the suit states. Drexler wanted to discontinue seeing John, given his family circumstances, but John took umbrage, the suit states. When they met in a secluded township park to discuss parting ways, Drexler alleges that John sexually assaulted her by putting his hands underneath Drexler’s shirt, and grabbing her breasts, the lawsuit claims.

From that point, after Drexler objected to his advances, John told the plaintiff that the township police force has a process by which fellow officers could cover up his actions, and he could, if he wanted to, “get away with criminal conduct,” including “murder,” if he so chose, the complaint states. John also admitted to Drexler that he suffered from untreated mental illness, the suit states.

After their meeting, John took Drexler home, the lawsuit states, but he continued on a subsequent campaign of harassment, stalking and intimidation for the next couple of months while on duty.

In October 2010, the lawsuit states, Drexler was driving when she was stopped by police officer Salera, the other defendant in the case. The “unconstitutional vehicle stop” was allegedly in retaliation for reporting his fellow officers’ supposed misconduct.

Reached by phone, the Lower Merion Police Department’s public information officers refused to discuss the case.

“Unfortunately I can’t help you because we don’t comment on matters involving litigation,” Officer Brenda Viola told the Pennsylvania Record.

The lawsuit contains various counts of civil rights violations, as well as assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The complaint states that Drexler is seeking monetary relief for violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as damages under Pennsylvania tort law.

She seeks compensatory damages, jointly and severally, in an amount in excess of $100,000, as well as punitive damages in the same amount.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-04467-CDJ.

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