City and police officers sued for false arrest and beating of man with autism

Jon Campisi Feb. 22, 2012, 6:28am

A teenager with special needs who alleges two Philadelphia police officers beat him severely after they mistakenly suspected he was involved in the theft of a cell phone belonging to one of the officers’ friends has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia and the officers involved in the alleged assault.

Attorney Adrian J. Moody filed the civil action Feb. 21 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Marvin Smith, who is an individual with autism and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the latter of which leaves him in a weakened physical condition.

In addition to the city, the other defendants named in the lawsuit are Philadelphia Police Officers Ryan Sullivan and Jason Shensky, as well as Detective Anthony Anderson.

The lawsuit claims that Sullivan and Shensky went to Smith’s Corlies Street home at about 11:15 a.m. on Dec. 14, 2010, in an attempt to investigate the theft of a cell phone and other items belonging to a friend of Sullivan’s.

At the time, the two officers were not officially on duty, having made court appearances earlier in the day, but they were in uniform.

Sullivan had offered to give Shensky a ride back to his police district, since the two finished up their court appearances at roughly the same time.

On the way back to the 22nd District, the two stopped at a police department satellite office to use department resources to conduct a “personal investigation” into the theft of the items from Sullivan’s friend, the lawsuit claims.

“Based upon his own personal investigations, Defendant Sullivan entertained nothing more than a personal suspicion or belief that Plaintiff Smith might have been involved in, or have knowledge about, a robbery, possibly of one of Defendant Sullivan’s friends,” the lawsuit states.

The two officers eventually made their way to Smith’s home.

When Smith opened the door, Shensky said to Sullivan, “This is our guy,” according to the complaint.

At that point, the lawsuit alleges, the officers forced their way into Smith’s home. When Smith attempted to retreat inside the house, Sullivan struck the 19-year-old in the face with a metal police baton.

Smith’s face was lacerated beneath his right eye and he began to bleed profusely, the suit claims.

Smith was then further beaten about his face and torso, so badly that the young man sustained fractured facial bones and additional heavy bleeding.

The officers then conducted a warrantless search of Smith’s home, retrieving two cell phones, an iPod and a skateboard, the suit states.

The officers then transported Smith to the 22nd Police District, at which point Smith was again beaten in an attempt to gain a confession, the complaint alleges.

Smith eventually confessed to having carried out the robbery, although the complaint alleges that Smith never actually committed the crime, and only confessed because he feared for his life.

As a result of the beatings, Smith sustained fractured bones in his face, nerve damage, a concussion, facial lacerations, a blackened right eye and loss of blood, the suit claims.

He eventually had to undergo surgery at Temple University Hospital to repair his fractured facial bones.

Detective Anderson is named as a defendant in the suit because he tacked on a resisting arrest charge against Smith “for the purpose of bolstering and giving justification for the excessive use of force by Defendants Sullivan and Shensky,” the lawsuit claims.

The resisting arrest charge was eventually dismissed by a judge after the defendant officers failed to show up to a court hearing to testify on their own behalf.

In addition to the physical injuries, the lawsuit claims that Smith suffered mental pain, anguish, humiliation and embarrassment.

The lawsuit contains federal civil rights claims, in addition to unreasonable seizure, false arrest, deprivation of liberty, assault and battery and malicious prosecution.

For each of the six counts contained within the lawsuit, Smith demands judgment against the defendants in an amount in excess of $150,000, plus attorney’s fees and other court costs.

A jury trial has been demanded.

The federal case number is 2:12-cv-00886-PD.

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