Chester, Pa. police officer who was fired and later got job back sues city and police superiors

Jon Campisi Oct. 12, 2011, 10:36am

A City of Chester, Pa. police officer who was terminated from the force following an off-duty confrontation with another man, but who later got his job back, has filed a federal lawsuit against members of his own department and city leaders, alleging his due process and other constitutional rights were violated when he was fired from his job two years ago.

Newtown, Pa. attorney Brian M. Puricelli filed the civil complaint Oct. 10 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Robert Gorman, who was first hired by the department in July 1995.

The defendants named in the lawsuit are the City of Chester, Mayor Wendell Butler, Police Major Joseph Bail, former Police Chief Floyd Lewis III, and Police Chief Darren Alston.

According to the lawsuit, Gorman was fired in December 2009 after Gorman’s superiors charged him criminally following an October 2008 incident at a Crown Chicken restaurant in which another customer accused Gorman, who was off-duty at the time, of attacking him inside the business.

Gorman had maintained that the other man, identified as Marvin J. Foweler, had known Gorman was a police officer, and that an allegedly intoxicated Foweler had actually made threats against Gorman.

The lawsuit claims that during that incident three years ago, Gorman had to physically defend himself against Foweler, who had accosted the plaintiff to the point where Gorman had to use “minimal force” to stop the assault.

Gorman was not initially charged in the incident, although Foweler ended up filing a private harassment complaint against the officer. The charge, however, was dropped after a court hearing.

About eight months later, the lawsuit states, defendant Bail accused Gorman of bribing Foweler so that the man wouldn’t appear in court. It was alleged that Gorman had made a $2,000 payment to Foweler.

Bail then instructed another Chester police officer, Thomas Worrilow, to reinvestigate Gorman. The investigation was reopened on Jan. 12, 2009, and continued until Nov. 4, 2009, the suit states.

Gorman believed that Worrilow was instructed to investigate him at the behest of defendants Lewis, Alston and Butler.

Lewis was preparing to leave as police chief at the time, the suit states, and Mayor Butler was getting ready to promote defendant Alston to the position of police chief.

During his investigation, Worrilow allegedly learned that people had overheard talk of Gorman’s alleged bribery to Foweler, the suit claims. One of the witnesses was the city’s fire commissioner, the suit claims.

However, when Worrilow spoke with Foweler’s wife, it was discovered that the man hadn’t appeared for court because he was on probation and afraid to participate in the proceeding, the suit claims.

Foweler, who the suit claims admitted having been intoxicated during the incident at the Crown Chicken restaurant, later told Worrilow that he had not been bribed by Gorman.

After the conclusion of his investigation, Worrilow found that no criminal charges against Gorman were warranted, the suit claims.

Nevertheless, defendant Bail sought an arrest warrant against Gorman on Nov. 4, 2009. In the affidavit of probable cause seeking the warrant, however, Bail never informed judicial authorities that an initial investigation done by the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office concluded that no criminal charges against Gorman were warranted, the lawsuit states.

Gorman was eventually arrested on Nov. 11, 2009, and he was suspended with intent to dismiss two days later.

The lawsuit claims that Gorman was never afforded the opportunity to address the suspension or termination letter he received, nor was he given the opportunity to speak about any of the events leading to his subsequent firing.

Through his collective bargaining agreement, Gorman was able to file a grievance against the city, and, after it was determined that the city hadn’t shown good cause to terminate Gorman, he received his job back. Gorman also had the criminal charges against him dropped following a trial at Delaware County Common Pleas Court.

Through his lawsuit, Gorman alleges violations of the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment.

The lawsuit also contains counts of false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious or wrongful process and civil conspiracy.

Gorman seeks declaratory, injunctive, legal and equitable relief. He also seeks lost pay and punitive damages.

A jury trial is being demanded.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-06340-NS.

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