Philly cop faces federal lawsuit over arrest conduct

By Jon Campisi | Jul 25, 2011

A Philadelphia bike patrol officer who became engaged in a scuffle with a group of bar patrons is facing a federal civil rights lawsuit, accused of using heavy-handed tactics during an arrest.

Philadelphia police Officer William Gress, Jr. is named as a defendant, as is the City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Police Department, in a complaint filed July 20 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The civil rights suit was filed by Philadelphia attorneys Jeffrey R. Lessin and Mark T. Richter on behalf of Beverly, N.J. resident Ebony Harris.

According to the complaint, Harris was with her boyfriend and a relative of the boyfriend on Aug. 7, 2010 outside of the bar Fat Tuesday’s, located on the 400 block of South Street, when they were approached by Gress, who told the boyfriend’s relative to dump out a drink he had carried with him outside of the establishment.

Gress became mad when the relative placed the drink down on the ground without first emptying it out, the lawsuit states. The officer then started cursing and using ethnic slurs toward the boyfriend’s relative.

The boyfriend, identified in the lawsuit as Isai Garcia, then intervened, telling the officer he had no cause to use such language in front of the group.

It was at this point that the plaintiff, Harris, spit on the ground near the officer to show her disgust at what had transpired, the lawsuit states. The officer, however, accused Harris of spitting on him, and he then punched Harris, causing the plaintiff to suffer a broken nose. She also sustained a sprained left wrist as Gress placed her under arrest for harassment, the suit states.

Through the lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges that she did nothing wrong, and she denied the charge of harassment, which was eventually “non prossed” in her favor, the lawsuit states.

“Plaintiff had done nothing to provoke such a physical attack or arrest by Defendant Police Officer William Gress, Jr.,” the complaint states.

Gress, the complaint alleges, “intentionally arrested plaintiff without probable cause and falsified charges against the plaintiff in a malicious attempt to bully and intimidate plaintiff, and further to teach plaintiff a lesson for plaintiff’s unwillingness to accept defendant Police Officer William Gress, Jr.’s unreasonable and unconstitutional conduct,” the suit states.

The lawsuit claims that Harris has endured great physical pain and suffering due to her alleged injuries at the hands of the defendant, and that she has been unable to attend to her usual duties and occupation, all to her great financial detriment and loss.

In addition to incurring medical expenses, Harris has also incurred legal expenses to fight the supposed false charges that were filed against her, the suit claims.

For each of the four counts listed in the lawsuit, Harris seeks both compensatory and punitive damages, each in excess of $100,000, plus attorney’s fees and related court costs.

A jury trial has been demanded.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-04588-JHS.

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