Federal civil rights lawsuit filed against city and police officers

By Jon Campisi | Jul 2, 2011

A woman who was tailgated by a man who later said he was a police officer has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia and two Philly cops.

Huntingdon Valley, Pa. resident Susan Soyfer filed the civil action June 30 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the city and Philadelphia Police Officers Michael Dunbar and John McCloskey.

According to the complaint, Soyfer was driving her vehicle northbound on Interstate 95 near the Woodhaven Road exit in the evening hours of Jan. 8, 2010, when an unmarked vehicle operated by defendant Dunbar began to tailgate her vehicle.

After exiting the highway, and stopping her vehicle near Philmont Avenue, Soyfer claims that Dunbar, dressed in civilian clothes, ran up to her car, attempted to open the driver’s side door, and began to yell for Soyfer to get out of the car, the lawsuit states.

As Soyfer began to call 911, Dunbar went to the front of her car, placed one hand on the hood, and drew his firearm with the other, pointing the gun at Soyfer’s head through the car’s windshield and telling the plaintiff he’d shoot her if she moved, using profanity in his speech, according to the complaint.

“Defendant Dunbar, without cause or justification and acting under color of state law, continued to unlawfully detain the plaintiff, repeated his threat to kill her, and threatened to place her under arrest,” the lawsuit states.

Soyfer was detained at the scene by Dunbar until Officer McCloskey, who was in uniform, showed up. Despite her complaining of the mistreatment by Dunbar, McCloskey said he would “take the word of a fellow police officer,” and dismissed Soyfer’s complaints, the suit states.

At first, McCloskey threatened to place Soyfer under arrest if she refused to hand over her keys to the officers, and then she was made to stand outside in “sub-freezing temperatures,” despite the fact that she suffers from medical conditions that may be jeopardized by the extreme cold weather, the suit alleges.

Soyfer was eventually issued a citation for reckless driving, although in her suit the plaintiff claims she never drove in an unsafe manner.

“The detention of the plaintiff and the issuance of the traffic citation by the defendant officers, acting in concert and conspiracy, were undertaken to cover-up their misconduct, including the use of unreasonable force, threats, verbal abuse and unlawful detention, and thus constituted a conspiracy to violate the plaintiff’s constitutional and statutory rights,” she lawsuit states. “At no time did the plaintiff pose a threat of harm to the defendant officers or any other police officers or civilians.”

In September 2010, Soyfer appeared in Philadelphia Traffic Court and was found not guilty of reckless driving, the suit states.

Soyfer seeks compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees and other declaratory relief. She has demanded a jury trial.

The lawsuit was filed by Philadelphia attorney Paul Messing, of the firm Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg.

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