Alleged punch by cop leads to assault claim against city and police officers

By Jon Campisi | Nov 8, 2011

A Philadelphia man is suing the City of Philadelphia and two municipal police officers for what he claims was an unprovoked assault by the two cops and the subsequent filing of false criminal charges against him.

James Ricketts, 21, claims in his civil action that two city police officers approached him on March 14 of this year, punched him in the eye, took him into custody, but never had legal justification for doing any of the above.

The lawsuit, which was filed Nov. 4 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by Philadelphia attorneys Jonathan H. Feinberg and Dana L. Bazelon, accuses the defendants of illegally detaining the plaintiff, using excessive force against him and wrongfully charging him with crimes he never committed.

According to the complaint, Ricketts and a friend were walking near the intersection of Edgemore Road and Haverford Avenue in West Philadelphia when they spotted a Philadelphia police car.

The two officers, each of who are identified as defendants in the lawsuit, then exited their vehicle and approached the plaintiff, the complaint states.

The officers, identified only by their last names – Haas and Ondarza – began to give chase after the plaintiff began to run away from the officers.

The lawsuit claims that Ricketts ran from the cops because he feared for his life due to the “demeanor and actions” of the officers upon their approach.

Ricketts soon stopped running, after which Haas grabbed the man’s hands, placed them behind his back, and allowed defendant Ondarza to get in a cheap shot, punching the plaintiff in the left eye, the lawsuit claims.

After the alleged assault, Ricketts was placed into the rear of a police vehicle.

“To the extent that either defendant did not use force against plaintiff, that defendant failed to intervene to protect plaintiff from the unlawful use of force by the other defendant,” the lawsuit claims. “At no time during this incident did plaintiff use any force against the defendant officers, nor did he do anything that would have provided the officers with a legal basis to use force against him.”

The two cops eventually released Ricketts from their custody, the lawsuit claims, yet they failed to notify him of any pending criminal charges against him.

The officers did, however, end up “falsely and maliciously” charging Ricketts with disorderly conduct against his knowledge, the lawsuit claims.

Ricketts ended up having to retain the services of an attorney and fight the charges in court, the suit states.

In late July, during his trial, Ricketts was found not guilty of the charges against him, the suit claims.

“At no time did plaintiff commit any offense in violation of the laws of the City of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or the United States,” the complaint states. “There was no legal cause to justify the stop, detention and/or arrest of plaintiff or the institution of charges against plaintiff.”

The lawsuit also maintains that the officers used excessive force by allegedly punching the plaintiff in the eye while he was being held down.

“At all times relevant to this Complaint, the conduct of Defendants Haas and Ondarza was in willful, reckless and callous disregard of plaintiff’s rights under federal and state law,” the suit states.

The lawsuit contains claims of federal and state constitution violations.

Ricketts demands judgment in the form of unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney’s fees and other court relief.

A jury trial has been demanded.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-06913-TON.

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