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Judge dismisses suit against Pa. troopers by parents who claim 12-year-old son was strip searched

By Jon Campisi | Aug 3, 2012

A lawsuit filed against two Pennsylvania State Police troopers by the parents of a young

boy who contended he was unlawfully arrested and then stripped searched while held at a juvenile facility has been dismissed by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe, sitting in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, granted a motion by Trooper James B. Fassnacht and Cpl. Brian Bray to dismiss a civil action against them that had been initiated by Thomas and Janet Benjamin back in early February of this year.

The couple, who reside in Lititz, Lancaster County, alleged that their son, who was 12 years old at the time, had his due process rights violated when the defendants subjected him to an unreasonable search and seizure, an unlawful detention and an unlawful strip search.

The lawsuit contained counts of federal civil rights violations as well as a state law claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The case arose out of a July 2, 2009, incident involving the minor child and his neighbors.

The following day, defendant Fassnacht informed the young boy’s parents that the child would soon be arrested and charges would follow.

Thomas Benjamin received a call from Fassnacht on July 24, 2009, informing the father that a warrant had been issued for his son’s arrest.

The following day, Thomas Benjamin brought his son to a nearby state police barracks where the young man was taken into custody by defendants Fassnacht and Bray and transferred to the Lancaster County Juvenile Intervention Center, where, the suit claims, the boy was told to remove all of his clothes and subjected to a strip search.

The child was held at the facility through the weekend.

In their lawsuit, the parents alleged that the two defendants violated the boy’s constitutional rights by unlawfully arresting and detaining him.

The suit also contained an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim against all of the defendants, which included Lancaster County, two unidentified Youth Intervention Center security officers, the center’s two directors and the center’s probation officer.

The plaintiffs sought more than $150,000 in damages.

In her Aug. 1 memorandum and order, Rufe dismissed the Section 1983 civil rights claims against the two troopers because she wrote it was unclear if the claims were being brought against the officers in their official or individual capacities.

Because the plaintiffs seek only monetary damages, and not injunctive relief, the Eleventh Amendment bars a Section 1983 claim against the two troopers in their official capacities, according to the memorandum, although Eleventh Amendment immunity does not extend to claims brought against the two defendants in their individual capacities.

Since there was ambiguity, Rufe granted the plaintiffs leave to file an amended claim against the two officers in their individual capacities.

They must do so within 21 days of the judicial order.

Rufe also dismissed the state law claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress because the two state troopers are covered by sovereign immunity since they were acting within the scope of their duties as agents of the state at the time of the incident.

Rufe dismissed the state law claim with prejudice and all other claims without prejudice.

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