City lawyers seek venue transfer in claim against Phila. Police Dept.

By Jon Campisi | Nov 7, 2011

Lawyers for the City of Philadelphia have filed a Notice of Removal with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, seeking to have a civil complaint served last month against the police department in state court transferred to federal court.

Chief Deputy City Solicitor Craig M. Straw and Assistant City Solicitor Amanda Shoffel filed the venue transfer request Nov. 2 at federal court.

The lawsuit, which names as defendants the Philadelphia Police Department, city Detective Kathryn Gordon and Philadelphia resident Lauren Houck, was filed on Oct. 18 at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

The complaint, which was filed by Wayne, Pa. attorney Barry J. Goldstein on behalf of Philadelphia residents John Hart and Jill Pizzola, alleges that police improperly executed a search warrant against Hart in late August 2009. The search stemmed from what Hart contends were false allegations made by defendant Houck, who told police Hart had kidnapped, robbed and sexually assaulted her in January 2009, the complaint states.

After Houck made the allegations, Gordon submitted a probable cause affidavit and application for a search warrant, which were soon issued, allowing police to conduct a raid at Hart’s Presidential Boulevard apartment, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit claims that the search warrant was “vague and does not specifically describe the property to be seized but uses generic descriptions of items to be seized such as records, information written or electronically stored, clothing, jewelry, keys and ‘any and all other items of evidentiary value.’”

“The number of invalid portions of the warrant, which is one element in analyzing the validity of the search warrant, so predominate the search warrant that, in essence, the warrant authorized a general exploratory rummaging of Plaintiff’s belongings,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also claims that police failed to attach a copy of the affidavit of probable cause to the search warrant, which is required under Pennsylvania’s Rules of Criminal Procedure.

Furthermore, the suit states, investigators seized items from Hart’s home that were “not at all described in the search warrant.”

It took Hart a total of 19 months to get all of his seized items back, the suit claims.

Gordon informed the plaintiffs that there were additional items still in her possession that were not listed on any property receipt and which were still being held as part of an “ongoing investigation,” the suit claims.

“The aforesaid violations are outrageous, arrogant and a pervasive violation of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure and Plaintiff’s constitutional rights,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit contains counts of civil rights violations, abuse of process, intentional misrepresentation and negligence.

City lawyers Straw and Shoffel filed the venue transfer request because the lawsuit contains claims of federal civil rights violations, which they say need to be addressed in U.S. District Court.

The Philadelphia Common Pleas Court ID number for the case is 110803146.

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