Judge grants in part, denies in part motion to dismiss filed by Chester, Pa. police

By Jon Campisi | Mar 14, 2012

A federal judge has granted in part, and denied in part a motion to dismiss filed by the City of Chester in a case in which a Chester woman sued three police officers for unlawfully beating and berating her.

Chester resident Stacy Strange filed suit on Dec. 30, 2011, against the city and Officers Avery Freeman, William Swanson and Luis Rodriguez.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Strange alleged that she was awakened by her niece at 1 in the morning on Aug. 31, 2009, regarding a large confrontation that was brewing in the driveway behind Strange’s home.

The lawsuit claims that upon exiting her home to retrieve her niece and daughter, Strange was suddenly tackled by the defendant police officers, who pushed her head into the ground, handcuffed her and shot her with a Taser gun while Strange was detained and lying on the ground.

The lawsuit claims Office Swanson then berated Strange using a racial slur for black people.

After placing Strange in the back of a patrol car, the suit claims, Swanson, without cause or justification, punched Strange in the face and said, “Don’t you ever disrespect me, you don’t know who I am.”

Swanson then proceeded to once again physically assault Strange, the lawsuit claims, first by kicking the plaintiff in her thighs and stomach, and then by choking her around the neck and banging her head into the passenger side window of the police vehicle, all the while threatening to kill Strange.

Strange was eventually booked on charges of terroristic threats, simple assault, reckless endangerment, endangering the welfare of children, ethnic intimidation, resisting arrest, failure to disperse upon official order, riot and disorderly conduct.

All the charges against Strange were dropped by a district court judge on Jan. 4, 2010.

In her lawsuit, Strange alleged violations of her Fourth Amendment rights, as well as claims of false arrest and imprisonment, assault and battery, malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

In dismissing the Fourth Amendment unreasonable search and seizure claim against the defendants, U.S. District Judge Berle M. Schiller wrote that this claim fell outside of the statute of limitations.

The same went for the false arrest and imprisonment allegation, which Schiller also dismissed for not being timely filed.

Schiller also dismissed Strange’s malicious prosecution claim, agreeing with the defendants who argued that it is the prosecutor, not police, who initiate criminal prosecutions.

The police argued that a police officer can only be held liable for malicious prosecution if he or she provides false information to prosecutors or prevents prosecutors from making informed decisions about whether or not to file charges.

The judge agreed.

“Indeed, after the initial encounter with Strange, it does not appear that Officers Freeman or Rodriguez had any additional contact with Plaintiff,” Schiller wrote.

The only motion by the defendants that Schiller denied had to do with the malicious prosecution claim against Officer Swanson.

“The Complaint includes a number of allegations against Officer Swanson that, accepted as true for purposes of this motion, demonstrate an animus toward Strange that calls into question his motivation for arresting Strange and setting in motion her prosecution,” the judicial ruling states.

In allowing this claim to stand, Schiller noted the slurs that Swanson allegedly called Strange and the fact that the officer allegedly told Strange she would never see her child again.

“These factual allegations of abuse of authority demonstrate conduct that raises the possibility that Officer Swanson’s interests strayed far afield from bringing Strange to justice and are sufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss,” the judge wrote.

The judge dismissed assault and battery claims against all three officers because they were not brought within the two-year statute of limitations.

Similarly, Schiller dismissed intentional infliction of emotional distress claims against Officers Rodriguez and Freeman because they were time-barred, however, Schiller allowed to proceed Strange’s intentional infliction of emotional distress claim against Swanson because of his alleged malicious prosecution of Strange.

In the end, the judge only allowed those specific claims outline above to proceed against Swanson and the City of Chester. All claims against Freeman and Rodriguez were dismissed in their entirety.


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