Lawsuit claims harassment of lawful gun owners is turning Phila. into a 'police state'

By Jon Campisi | Mar 19, 2012

A federal civil rights lawsuit filed by a Philadelphia man on March 15 alleges that the City of Philadelphia and its police department have been engaging in a widespread assault on citizens’ Second Amendment rights, specifically by unlawfully arresting people who are legally carrying firearms using gun licenses from reciprocal states.

In a 43-page lawsuit filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by Philadelphia attorney James E. Lee, of the firm Brooker, Richardson, Dickerson, Lee & Associates, on behalf of city resident Jeff Lavalliere slams the City of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Police Department and various law enforcement higher-ups for a slew of constitutional rights violations, asserting that the city’s constant and longstanding assault on the Second Amendment is turning Philadelphia into a “police state.”

Despite the fact that Philadelphia cannot legally enact its own gun laws due to the state’s preemption statute, the city “has a long and unsuccessful history of attempting to regulate lawful gun ownership,” the lawsuit claims.

The suit goes on to label Mayor Michael Nutter as a “malicious and vocal advocate of abolishing the Second Amendment rights of citizens like Mr. Lavalliere.”

“Highly prone to rhetorical hyperbole, Mayor Nutter often misstates facts and claims that lawful gun owners are violating the civil rights of other citizens,” the lawsuit states. “Mayor Nutter wrongfully and maliciously claims that the formal reciprocity agreements with other states … is a ‘loophole’ that allows firearms to be unlawfully possessed in the City of Philadelphia.”

The lawsuit outlines three separate incidents in which Lavalliere was unlawfully detained, accosted by police and had his firearm and Florida gun license seized without provocation.

(Florida and Pennsylvania have a reciprocity agreement by which each state recognizes the others’ gun licenses. Philadelphia, however, passed an ordinance banning the practice. The local law is believed by many to be illegal).

Lavalliere makes his living as an armed security agent, and his lawsuit alleges that the constant police harassment, and the fact that officers seized, and have yet to return, his property, has made it so he has been unable to make a living in his chosen field.

The lawsuit states that following a third incident in May 2011, during which he was arrested and charged with three felonies – he was later found not guilty of all criminal charges – Lavalliere lost his job as an armed security agent and he has been unable to find work since.

“Even though Mr. Lavalliere was completely exonerated by a state court judge, [the defendants] have refused to return Mr. Lavalliere’s firearm, ammunition, concealed weapons license and Act 235 Permit,” the lawsuit states.

Act 235 relates to armed guard certification in Pennsylvania.

The lawsuit claims that the defendants’ actions unlawfully interfere with Lavalliere’s right to bear arms, his rights to contract for lawful employment, and his rights to lawful travel.

The complaint also alleges that because the City of Philadelphia and its police department allow city officers to work as armed security agents while off-duty, the defendants can personally benefit from denying Lavalliere his ability to carry firearms, which he does for his job.

The lawsuit contains numerous allegations of constitutional violations. It also lodges a claim of failure to supervise against Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and Deputy Police Commissioner Stephen Johnson, as well as claims of failure to intervene and stop a violation of civil rights against the two department higher-ups.

The suit also contains counts of denial of due process, retaliation, taking property rights, invasion of privacy – false light, assault and battery, false arrest and false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and abuse of process, intentional infliction of emotional distress and conspiracy under the color of state law.

Lavalliere demands punitive damages in the amount of $150,000 on all claims for relief, as well as attorney’s fees and other litigation costs. He is also demanding a jury trial.

Additional defendants named in the lawsuit are Lisa King, the lieutenant in charge of the police department’s Gun Permits Unit, Detective Vincent Guarna, and Officers Velez, Cartagena, Johnson, Monahan and Rivera. None of the officers’ first names are given.


The federal case ID number is 2:12-cv-01357-BMS.


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