Summary judgment granted to remaining two defendants in Chester City police brutality case

By Jon Campisi | Nov 15, 2012

A federal judge in Philadelphia has dismissed the remaining two defendants in a police

brutality case involving a suburban Philadelphia municipality and its law enforcement officers.

U.S. District Judge Berle M. Schiller, sitting in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, granted summary judgment to Officer William Swanson and the City of Chester in a civil rights case that had been initiated in December 2011 by city resident Stacy Strange.

Strange alleged she was beaten, called racial slurs and shot with a Taser gun by Chester cops following an early morning altercation outside of her home in late August 2009.

In her complaint, Strange had claimed that her constitutional rights were violated after Swanson, and officers Avery Freeman and Luis Rodriguez, tackled the plaintiff after she exited her home to retrieve her niece and daughter.

The two girls had become involved in a confrontation in the driveway behind Strange’s home at the time.

One claim in particular alleged that Swanson punched Strange in the face after she was already handcuffed and placed into the back of a police squad car.

The lawsuit also claimed that Swanson threatened to kill Strange during his tirade.

Back in mid March, Schiller dismissed Officers Freeman and Rodriguez from the litigation, but allowed a remaining malicious prosecution claim against Swanson to move forward.

At the time, the judge wrote that the “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.”

This week, however, Schiller granted Swanson’s motion to dismiss, writing that based on accepted judicial standards, Strange has failed to state a claim for malicious prosecution.

A malicious prosecution claim must generally proceed against a prosecutor, not a police officer, since it is the prosecutor who brings charges against an individual, Schiller wrote.

A police officer can be liable for malicious prosecution only if he or she provides false information to the prosecutor or prevents the prosecutor from making an informed decision about whether or not to file charges, the ruling states.

Schiller determined that there is no basis for the court to conclude that Swanson played a role in bringing charges against Strange, since Swanson completed no paperwork regarding the incident and did not initiate the prosecution against the plaintiff.

After Swanson brought Strange to the police station, he had no further contact with the woman prior to the litigation, the ruling states.

“The Court thus has no basis to conclude that Swanson played any role in bringing charges against Strange or interfered with the prosecutor’s ability to decide whether to press charges,” Schiller wrote.

Schiller further wrote that Strange’s arrest, even if inappropriate, is not enough to make out a malicious prosecution claim, since false arrest and malicious prosecution are two “distinct claims.”

Schiller also dismissed an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim that had previously survived the defendants’ motion to dismiss because that claim was based on the malicious prosecution claim.

With regard to the claims against the City of Chester that it failed to properly train its officers in the use of Taser gun deployment, Schiller ruled that Strange failed to raise a Monell claim against the city.

The judge wrote that Strange pointed to no specific training that the City of Chester failed to provide that could have prevented Swanson’s use of a Taser gun on the plaintiff.

“There is no evidence that the City of Chester had a policy, custom, or practice of failing to document taser usage,” the memorandum states. “Finally, although Plaintiff claims that the City of Chester was aware of similar improper activities by these Defendants in the past, there is no evidence in the record of any such activities."

Schiller went on to write that the claim is “baseless,” and that there is nothing to suggest that an “ongoing and tolerated policy” exists allowing Chester City officers to improperly use their Taser guns.

Schiller directed the clerk of court to mark the case closed.

In his March ruling, Schiller had dismissed Strange’s claims of Fourth Amendment right violations, false arrest and imprisonment, and assault and battery.

The judge had determined that those claims had fallen outside of the statute of limitations.

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