Innocent man who spent seven months in county lockup sues borough, police officers

By Jon Campisi | Sep 7, 2012

A suburban Philadelphia man who spent seven months locked up in the county jail for a

crime he did not commit is suing the police officers who initially arrested him and the municipality for which they work.

Phillip Sudler, of Downingtown, Chester County, is suing the Borough of West Chester, Police Officer Albert McCarthy and Cpl. Joshua Lee for hardships he claims he endured as a result of his wrongful arrest back in November of last year.

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 6 at the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia by attorney Paul Messing, of the Philadelphia firm Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, states that Sudler was pegged as the man who committed an attempted robbery in the parking lot of the Bradford Plaza Shopping Center on Downingtown Pike in West Chester on Nov. 19, 2011.

A shopping plaza patron had contacted police to inform them he had been the victim of an attempted robbery committed by a person only described as a black male wearing a black hooded jacket and jeans.

McCarthy ended up watching a short snippet of surveillance video footage from the Giant supermarket in the plaza, during which he noticed a man inside the store, later identified as the plaintiff, who was wearing clothing similar to that attributed to the perpetrator, the suit states.

The victim of the crime was never asked to view the surveillance video to determine whether or not the man depicted on the tape was the same person who committed the attempted robbery against him, according to the complaint.

The following day, McCarthy received word that the man who was on the video had returned to the Giant store; the officer went to the scene and arrested Sudler.

The lawsuit claims that Sudler’s arrest was undertaken without probable cause and that the defendant officers failed to conduct a “reasonably thorough investigation and ignored available exculpatory evidence.”

The complaint goes on to state that Lee and McCarthy subjected Sudler to a lengthy interrogation during which the plaintiff denied involvement in the attempted robbery.

Nevertheless, Sudler was subsequently charged with attempted robbery and related counts, the suit shows.

Unable to post bail, Sudler was sent to the county prison, where he remained for the following seven months until a judge eventually nolle prossed the charges in mid June of this year, according to the lawsuit.

The charges were dropped after Sudler’s criminal defense attorney obtained a copy of the store surveillance video, which clearly showed that Sudler was inside shopping during the time the attempted robbery was taking place in the shopping plaza’s parking lot.

“The defendant officers, alone and/or in concert and conspiracy, without cause or justification, and without conducting a reasonable investigation to determine whether Mr. Sudler had violated Pennsylvania law, caused Mr. Sudler to be arrested, detained and prosecuted for a crime where evidence available to the defendants at the time of the arrest demonstrated the plaintiff’s innocence,” the lawsuit states.

“The unlawful arrest, detention and prosecution in this case were the direct result of all defendants’ pattern, practice and custom of subjecting citizens such as the plaintiff to arrest and detention in the absence of probable cause or other lawful ground.”

The complaint contains counts of federal civil rights violations as well as state law claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, defamation, invasion of privacy and civil conspiracy.

Sudler seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees and declaratory relief. He also seeks a jury trial.


The federal case number is 2:12-cv-05084-ER.

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