Philly man sues city and police officers for retaliatory arrest

By Jon Campisi | Nov 25, 2011

A Philadelphia man who alleges he was wrongfully arrested last year for what he claims was exercising his right to free speech during a traffic stop in the city is suing the police officers who he came into contact with on that day.

Philadelphia attorney Reginald Allen filed the federal civil rights claim Nov. 22 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Tristan Reid.

The defendants in the lawsuit are the City of Philadelphia, police Officer Thomas Sprague and a handful of unidentified city police officers.

According to the complaint, Reid was pulled over on April 8, 2010 in the area of the 5000 block of Old York Road in Philadelphia for a malfunctioning brake light.

Reid purportedly overheard one of the backup officers who had arrived on scene ask the officer who had initiated the stop say something to the effect of, “what did you pull this prick over for,” the lawsuit states.

Reid then responded by saying that he was not a criminal, and there was no reason for the officers to have to refer to him that way, the suit claims.

The officers responded by saying that Reid must be a “prick,” because the original cop wouldn’t have pulled Reid over for nothing.

From that point on, things apparently soured, with Reid stating words to the effect of, “there are people out there killing cops, raping kids, and if you ride up the street, you have a barrel of ‘he shes’ selling themselves,” the lawsuit states.

Reid stated that he was annoyed at having been pulled over for a brake light violation when more serious crimes were going on throughout the city.

One police officer then took issue with Reid’s reference to dead cops, and proceeded to call Reid, a black man, a racial slur used for African Americans, the suit states.

The same officer then said if Reid referenced dead cops again, the officer would break his face, the suit claims.

Words continued to be exchanged between Reid and the officers, until Reid was eventually told his driver’s license was suspended, and he was going to be arrested for an outstanding warrant for disorderly conduct dating back to 2007 that the officers had just discovered, the lawsuit states.

The officers then held Reid in a patrol car while they wrote out tickets for the broken taillight, driving on a suspended license and disorderly conduct. One of the cops allegedly threw the tickets in Reid’s face, told him to get out of the patrol car, “get his [obscenity] and walk home,” according to the complaint.

Reid then went to retrieve items from his vehicle, which was actually in his mother’s name, but officers screamed at him to get away from the car, and subsequently proceeded to arrest Reid, the suit states.

Reid was officially charged with disorderly conduct and making terroristic threats and he was incarcerated overnight.

In November 2010, Reid was found not guilty of the two charges against him.

“The police did not have probable cause to arrest plaintiff for making terroristic threats and disorderly conduct/fighting,” the lawsuit states. “The police arrest of plaintiff was motivated by racial animosity and discrimination.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Reid’s arrest was retaliation for his exercising of free speech during the encounter.

The complaint alleges that Reid lost his job at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority as a result of his not being able to report to work during the time he was being held by police.

The suit claims that in addition to pecuniary loss related to losing his job, Reid has suffered physical pain and emotional distress as a result of his encounter with the officers.

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of civil rights violations.

Reid seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney’s fees, litigation costs and other court relief.

A jury trial has been demanded.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-07276-MAM.

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