A New Jersey man is suing a suburban Philadelphia municipality, two police officials and
a website that publishes information about criminal defendants over claims that the defendants violated state law when they both failed to have the plaintiff’s criminal record properly expunged and subsequently allowed the publication of his mugshot and supposed crimes on the Internet.
Attorney Alan E. Denenberg filed a civil action Dec. 7 at the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on behalf of Sicklerville, N.J. resident Daryoush Taha.
The defendants named in the complaint are Bensalem Township, (Pa.), Bensalem Director of Public Safety Steven Moran, Bensalem Police Lt. Christopher M. Barry, Sr., and Ching-O-Chang LLC, which does business as Mugshots.com.
The case has its roots in Taha’s Sept. 29, 1998, arrest by the Bensalem Police Department for various unspecified criminal offenses.
The New Jersey man contested the validity of his arrest and subsequently filed a civil action against the township and various police officers for false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, excessive force and related state claims about two years later, the record shows.
Meanwhile, Taha had been placed in what is known as the Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition program, or ARD, for one year in early January 1999, in relation to one of the five criminal counts, while all other charges were either discharged or nolle prossed, according to the latest complaint.
“While plaintiff strongly believed himself to be innocent of all charges, the plaintiff nonetheless accepted ARD in order to secure the automatic expungement of all charges and avoid the damage to his reputation and career prospects that would arise from having a criminal record,” the lawsuit states.
Taha completed ARD on Jan. 5, 2000.
At the end of that month, a Bucks County Common Pleas Court judge ordered the Bensalem Township Police Department to expunge Taha’s arrest record, according to the suit.
Taha’s criminal defense attorney subsequently contacted Bensalem police officials informing them of the court decision.
In late May 2000, Bensalem police told Taha’s lawyer that it had complied with the expungement order by removing the records from the municipality’s publicly accessible files, the lawsuit states.
However, township officials also stated that the records had been preserved in a “secure location in a legal file so as to allow for the defense of the civil action that is being pursued by your client,” the latest complaint reads.
Taha now claims that defendants therefore technically failed to abide by the court’s Jan. 23, 2000, order requiring the expungement of the plaintiff’s records.
Taha’s original civil action against the township and its officers settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Then, on Dec. 23, 2011, more than 13 years after Taha’s arrest, the plaintiff learned that his police headshot, better known as a criminal “mugshot,” had been posted on the website Mugshots.com., operated by defendant Ching-O-Chang LLC, according to the lawsuit filed last week.
The website, the complaint states, is in the business of publishing criminal records of various individuals, allowing Internet users to comment on the photographs in order to draw social media attention to the peoples’ images and history.
The suit also claims that the website can “extract” a $400 fee from the “publically (sic) disgraced individual” in order to “unpublish” the photo and information from the site.
In this case, Taha claims that the website operator succeeded in getting the plaintiff’s information from Bensalem Police, which is accused of never having fully completed the expungement of Taha’s criminal record, thereby making his information publicly accessible.
The complaint alleges that the website published Taha’s police photo along with his date of birth, physical description, date of confinement, date of release, county in which he was arrested and a partial list of charges arising from his arrest, none of which ended up resulting in any criminal conviction.
As a result of the defendants’ acts, Taha has experienced damage to his reputation, anxiety, frustration, emotional distress, embarrassment, the invasion of his privacy and the deprivation of the benefit of bargain in accepting the ARD plea agreement, the lawsuit claims.
The suit accuses Bensalem Township of failing to expunge Taha’s records, and of wrongful dissemination of criminal history record information.
A claim of the latter is also lodged against Ching-O-Chang.
A count of intentional infliction of emotional distress has been filed against both the township and the website operator.
Taha seeks injunctive relief ordering the website to take down the plaintiff’s information.
He also seeks compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $75,000, plus other court relief deemed just and applicable.
The federal case number is 2:12-cv-06867-TJS.