City sued over police department's 'Live Stop' enforcement tactic

By Jon Campisi | Jun 1, 2011

Two separate lawsuits were filed against the City of Philadelphia and representatives of the Philadelphia Police Department and Philadelphia Parking Authority over the law enforcement tactic known as “Live Stop.”

Both civil actions were filed May 31 at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas by attorneys Stephen A. Sheller and Kimberly A. Aponte of the firm Sheller, P.C.

Both complaints raise constitutional questions regarding the police department’s use of the “Live Stop” program, in which officers impound a vehicle on the spot if it is discovered that the driver/vehicle owner is without proper registration, insurance or licensing.

The first case involves J. Michael Parnell, a Drexel Hill, Pa. man who alleges officers Robinson and Peterson, also named as defendants in the suit, (their first names are not given), refused to work with him when he was pulled over in late June 2009 for what the officers said was an expired registration.

In the lawsuit, Parnell states that the officers, who pulled him over at the intersection of 58th and Walnut streets, refused to listen to Parnell’s explanation of how his special Mississippi tag should be run in the computer. The first two letters needed to be entered last, not first, when running the license plate, Parnell told them, but the officers wouldn’t listen.

Parnell also attempted to show his valid registration paperwork to the officers, but he was ignored, the complaint says. The officers then arrested Parnell for driving without valid registration, and called to have the plaintiff’s car towed by the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

Parnell, who said his car was registered in Mississippi because he owns a home there and considers it his primary residence, was on his way to pick up his 1-year-old daughter from daycare at the time he was pulled over, which was about 5:30 p.m., and he asked the officers if he could call his wife so she wouldn’t worry when he didn’t show, the lawsuit states. His pleads were ignored, the suit states.

Parnell, while in the back of the patrol car, then offered to have the officers speak to the Mississippi Tax Assessor’s office to verify his vehicle registration, but one of the officers “laughed” at Parnell, and he was then taken to the police station where he was booked and held for 28 hours, the lawsuit states.

Meanwhile, Parnell’s wife had made multiple calls to the police department, at one time being told that she couldn’t file a missing persons report because Parnell was an adult, and another time being told that “your husband done run off from you,” the complaint states.

The police department never instituted criminal proceedings against Parnell, and the traffic court matter relating to the vehicle’s lack of registration was also eventually dismissed, the suit states.

On June 24, Parnell was finally able to get his vehicle back from parking authority’s impound lot, but not before being forced to pay about $300, money that cannot be returned because the city lacks a policy to do so, the suit states.

The second lawsuit involves the case of Abdur-Rahim Muhammad and Dana Drake, who allege in their lawsuit similar constitutional violations on the part of the defendants.

In that case, Muhammad and Drake, his fiancé, were driving home around 10 p.m. on March 27 of this year when they were pulled over for running a red light at the intersection of Cobbs Creek Parkway and Florence Avenue, the complaint states. Muhammad’s then-3-year-old daughter was also in the car.

After about 45-minutes, the officers, who are only named in the suit as P.O. Wakefield and P.O. Schaeffer, returned to the plaintiffs’ vehicle after running paperwork and told Muhammad that his registration had been suspended due to lack of insurance, the lawsuit states. Muhammad offered written proof that his insurance was, in fact, up to date, and he offered to call his insurance company’s automated phone system, but the officers ignored his pleads, the lawsuit states.

Muhammad pleaded with the officers that if they were going to tow his vehicle, could they drop it at his home, which was 17 blocks away, but they refused, the suit states. Muhammad, his daughter, and his fiancé, who was 6 months pregnant at the time, were then stranded and left to walk home at 11 p.m. in an unsafe neighborhood.

Both lawsuits accuse the defendants of violating Articles I and III of the Pennsylvania Constitution, relating to due process rights and the prohibition against special laws, (the latter relates to the ‘Live Stop’ program), and for violations of state law since the city’s program is at odds with a state statute governing traffic enforcement.

Both lawsuits demand injunctive relief seeking the termination of the “Live Stop” program, as well as declaratory relief, deeming the city’s towing and impound procedures unconstitutional.

In the Muhammad case, the plaintiff seeks compensatory damages in excess of $50,000, plus interest, attorneys’ fees and other court costs, in four separate counts listed in the lawsuit, for a total of $200,000.

In the Parnell case, the plaintiff also seeks compensatory damages in excess of $50,000, plus related costs, but Parnell’s suit contains six counts, for a total of $300,000 being sought.

Parnell’s case also contains counts of malicious prosecution, false arrest and theft by extortion.

Both plaintiffs have demanded jury trials.

The case numbers are 110503472 and 110503496.

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