A judge has allowed a false arrest claim against a Pennsylvania State Trooper to proceed
in federal court, although he granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss two other claims that had been lodged against the law enforcement officer by a northwestern Pennsylvania woman.
Jamie Essien, of McKean County, filed suit back in June against State Trooper Andrew Brothers over an incident that occurred this past spring in Bradford, Pa., in which the woman was allegedly made to wait in her driver’s seat of her vehicle for more than an hour by the officer while her young daughter was vomiting in the back seat.
The complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania by Bradford attorney Ronald P. Langella, alleged that Brothers pulled the plaintiff over on March 17 at about 9:30 at night in front of a mini mart on Jackson Avenue.
The plaintiff had pulled into the parking lot of the store with the intention of getting medication for her daughter’s stomach ailment, the complaint states.
When her daughter began vomiting in the back seat of the vehicle upon arrival at the store, Essien exited the driver’s seat in an attempt to care for her daughter, but she was ordered back into the front of the vehicle by Brothers, who began “screaming at the Plaintiff … and interrogate[d] Plaintiff regarding her driving and her activities that evening,” the complaint reads.
Brothers accused the plaintiff of drunk driving and proceeded to question whether she had ingested any prescription medication that night, the suit states.
The trooper instructed Essien to remain in the driver’s seat of her vehicle for about one hour, preventing the woman from tending to her sick child, the lawsuit claims.
The activities of the trooper attracted the attention of customers inside the mini mart, the complaint states, one of whom was Tom Riel, the mayor of the City of Bradford, who began taking cell phone pictures of the encounter.
Brothers then threatened Riel with arrest unless he was able to produce identification, according to the complaint.
Brothers eventually issued Essien summary motor vehicle citations for stop sign, yield sign and seatbelt violations, what the suit claims were written to justify the trooper’s lengthy detention of the plaintiff and her children.
The summary charges were dismissed in court.
Brothers subsequently filed a motion for dismissal of the three claims in Essien’s suit: unlawful arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.
In an Oct. 15 order, Senior U.S. District Judge Maurice B. Cohill, Jr., denied Brothers’ motion to dismiss the unlawful arrest claim, although he granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the malicious prosecution and false imprisonment claims, citing sovereign immunity in those instances.
Essien had also conceded that the latter two claims should be dismissed, the ruling states.
On her unlawful arrest claim, Essien asserted that her Fourth Amendment rights were violated because Brothers lacked probable cause and reasonable articulable suspicion to justify the traffic stop, to lodge charges against her and to detain her.
Brothers had argued that the false arrest claim should be dismissed because the plaintiff cannot establish that she was, indeed, arrested.
The trooper contended that Essien could simply show that she was subjected to an investigative detention as a result of a traffic stop, which is not considered a custodial arrest.
Cohill determined that the facts of the case are sufficient to state a claim.
The judge wrote that not only does Essien allege that she was subject to arrest, but that she was initially subject to an unconstitutional seizure based upon an unlawful traffic stop.
“Thus, even if she was not subject to a custodial arrest she has stated a claim for a Fourth Amendment violation based on an unlawful traffic stop,” the judge wrote.
Cohill wrote that despite Brothers’ claim that the incident constituted a mere detention, the facts of the complaint are sufficient to support that the initial traffic stop turned into a custodial arrest.
“Whether Ms. Essien’s allegations would ultimately support a determination that the investigative detention turned into a custodial arrest is not an issue we can determine at this stage of the proceedings,” the ruling states. “Accordingly, we will deny Defendant’s motion to dismiss this claim.”