A 27-year-old Philadelphia woman who alleges she was roughed up by a suburban police officer after a night out with friends two years ago has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the cop and others involved in the alleged incident.
Philadelphia attorneys Ronald L. Greenblatt, Patricia V. Pierce and Margaret Flores, of the firm Greenblatt Pierce Funt & Flores LLC, filed the civil action Jan. 18 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Justine Knoll, and her parents, Gerald and Sheila Louise Knoll of Lansdale, Pa.
The lawsuit claims that Upper Gwynedd Township police officer Michael Romanowicz forcefully detained Justine Knoll after she arrived at her parents’ Lansdale home during the early morning hours of April 4, 2010.
Justine Knoll spent the previous evening out dining with her parents before heading out to a sports bar with some friends, according to the complaint.
She arrived back at her parents’ house at about 2:30 the following morning, having been dropped off by a courtesy shuttle so as to avoid driving.
After she arrived in the housing development where her parents live, Justine Knoll sat down on a curb to call a friend, the suit states. It was at that point that she was questioned by Romanowicz, who had been sitting in his parked patrol car in the development.
At first, the officer asked Knoll if she had just been dropped off by the shuttle, and if she was OK, to which she replied she had and she was.
As she began walking toward her parents’ home, Romanowicz continued to question Knoll and follow her up the driveway, the suit claims.
Knoll quickened her pace because she felt uncomfortable being pursued by a man she didn’t know in the early morning hours, the suit states.
“Despite Ms. Knoll’s repeated assurances and requests to be left alone, Officer Romanowicz continued to pursue her,” the suit states.
Knoll initially attempted to enter the home via security keypad on the garage door, but then remembered that it had been broken. She then attempted to retrieve her keys and enter the home through a locked door, but Romanowicz instead knocked the keys out Knoll’s hand, grabbed the plaintiff by the arm and began “groping her about the body, including her buttocks and inner thigh,” the lawsuit claims.
“As Officer Romanowicz assaulted her, Ms. Knoll began screaming and flailing her arms in an attempt to protect herself and alert her parents,” the lawsuit states.
Romanowicz then retrieved his Taser gun and shot an electrical jolt into Knoll’s breast and abdomen, the suit claims. The jolt was “so strong” that it knocked Knoll out of her shoes and caused her to lose control of her bladder.
The commotion caused Knoll’s parents to awaken and go outside to see what was going on, the suit states.
Despite inquiries as to what had occurred, Romanowicz and other officers who eventually arrived on scene would not divulge the reason behind their decision to arrest and detain Justine Knoll, and would not offer an exact account of what had led up to the incident, the suit claims.
Justine Knoll was eventually taken to the hospital to have the Taser prongs removed from her body, after which she was taken into police custody and charged with assaulting Romanowicz, resisting arrest and reckless endangerment.
Following a June 2011 jury trial in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, Justine Knoll was acquitted of all charges.
The lawsuit claims that the officers involved violated Justine Knoll’s Fourth Amendment rights.
The plaintiff suffered loss of liberty, physical pain and emotional trauma, permanent disfigurement of her breasts and expenditure of money for attorney’s fees, which included fighting what Knoll claims were “cover charges” brought by the officers.
In addition to Romanowicz, the other defendants named in the lawsuit are Sgt. Benjamin Townsend of the Upper Gwynedd Police Department, Upper Gwynedd Police Chief David Duffy, Upper Gwynedd Township Commissioner for Public Safety Eugene Ziemba, the Upper Gwynedd Township Board of Supervisors and Upper Gwynedd Township.
Additional defendants are Towamencin Township, the Towamencin Township Board of Supervisors, Towamencin Police Chief Paul T. Dickinson and Towamencin Police Officer Raymond Alexander.
The lawsuit accuses the defendants of assault and battery, unreasonable use of force, unlawful detention, and various other acts of negligence, such as improper exercise of police powers, failure to take disciplinary actions against officers who were subject of prior civil complaints and “refusal of police officers to intervene when other officers violate the rights of citizens in their presence.”
Justine Knoll seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney’s fees and other court costs.
Knoll’s parents seek the same.
A jury trial has been demanded.
The federal case number is 2:12-cv-00282-LDD.