Man shot by Chester, Pa. police files federal civil rights claim

By Jon Campisi | Aug 29, 2011

Attorneys for a Chester, Pa. man who claims he was shot in the back by a Chester City police officer have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the patrolman, a fellow cop and their superiors.

Philadelphia lawyers Jeffrey R. Lessin and Mark T. Richter filed the complaint Aug. 25 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Christopher Cooper.

Named as defendants in the suit are the City of Chester, the City of Chester Police Department, police Officer Steven T. Byrne, police Officer Patrick Mullen and Police Chief Darren Alston.

In the complaint, Cooper alleges that on Feb. 5, at about 2 a.m., he was shot in the back at close range by defendant Byrne while in the area of 9th and Kerlin streets in Chester.

Police, through a spokesperson, initially told the news media that officers had shot a 21-year-old suspect, but never divulged the reason for the shooting, the lawsuit states.

The initial police account of the incident said Byrne, while on patrol, heard gunshots ring out in the area of 8th and Kerlin streets, the suit states. Bryne claimed to have then witnessed a large SUV drive by with an occupant shooting out of the window.

When officers caught up to the SUV, and were able to block it from leaving the scene, the lawsuit states, a man police identified as the plaintiff they got out and attempted to run.

The police account of events, which is described at length in the lawsuit, states Byrne then shot the plaintiff because Byrne believed the suspect was turning toward officers and pulling what appeared to be a handgun out from his waistband.

The complaint, however, paints a different picture, saying officers never admitted in paperwork to having shot Cooper in the back, while that is, in fact, where he was hit by police gunfire.

The lawsuit also claims that a handgun was never found on Cooper, and that subsequent charges of possessing a weapon without a license and drug possession were also bogus, as proven by the fact that they were later dropped in court.

Furthermore, Cooper’s lawyers contend that nothing was found in the SUV either, let alone on Cooper’s person.

“Law enforcement officers searched the entire contained and small area where the foot pursuit took place, and found no firearm or shell casings, because there never was a firearm in Plaintiff’s possession,” the lawsuit states.

Cooper’s attorneys claim that Byrne used “excessive force and unconstitutionally used deadly force,” thereby violating Cooper’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit contains a separate count accusing the two defendant officers of lodging the more serious criminal charges against Cooper months after the actual incident happened in what is more or less being contended as retaliatory in nature.

“Said Defendants … intentionally arrested and prosecuted Plaintiff for crimes which Plaintiff did not commit, and for which probable cause did not exist, and intentionally falsified, exaggerated, and trumped up charges against Plaintiff in a malicious attempt to frustrate and hinder him, cover up and/or justify the egregious shooting and other gross violation of Plaintiff’s civil rights, and/or to punish Plaintiff for exercising his rights,” the lawsuit states.

After Cooper was shot he required surgery to repair his wounds, the lawsuit states. This included the temporary placement of a colostomy bag, since the bullet ripped away part of Cooper’s bowel.

“The shooting of Plaintiff has caused, and continues to cause great pain, suffering, anguish, torment, disability and disfigurement, humiliation and embarrassment, all of which are and/or may be continuing ad permanent,” the complaint states.

For each of the six counts listed in the lawsuit, Cooper demands judgment against the defendants in a sum in excess of $100,000 in compensatory damages, $100,000 in punitive damages, plus attorney’s fees and related court costs.

A jury trial has been demanded.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-05381-MMB.

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