Philly narcotics cops accused of civil rights violations in federal suit

By Jon Campisi | Jul 9, 2013

A Philadelphia family has filed a federal civil rights complaint against members of the

city’s police department over allegations that they were physically and emotionally injured following an in-home search conducted by members of a narcotics strike force.

The City of Philadelphia and five individual police officers are named as defendants in the civil action, filed July 3 by attorney Paul Messing, of the Philadelphia civil rights firm Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, on behalf of Raymond and Nicole Knighten, and Dawn and Demetrius White.

A minor child, Nicholas Knighten, is also listed as a co-plaintiff.

The lawsuit states that the plaintiffs, who are all related, were at a home on the 2400 block of Gratz Street in North Philadelphia back on Dec. 5, 2011 when the narcotics officers forced their way into the structure with guns drawn.

The officers, who were in plainclothes and did not identify themselves as law enforcement agents at the time of the raid, “grabbed and verbally abused” the plaintiffs, roughly manhandling some, and assaulting others, the suit states.

Plaintiff Dawn White in particular was physically pushed onto a couch and detained, while the minor plaintiff, Nicholas Knighten, was forced to undergo what the suit terms an invasive strip search in full view of his female cousin, Dawn White.

The defendants went on to search the plaintiffs and the premises, causing physical damage to the property, according to the complaint.

At the heart of the litigation are claims that the narcotics officers falsified information used to obtain a search warrant from a city bail commissioner, and then fabricated evidence to support the claim that the plaintiffs were involved in criminal activity, which they claim was a false charge leveled at them.

“The unlawful searches, use of force and detentions in this case were the direct result of all defendants’ pattern, practice and custom of subjecting citizens such as the plaintiffs to search, force and detention in the absence of probable cause,” the complaint reads. “The defendant officers acted willfully, deliberately, maliciously or with reckless disregard of the plaintiffs’ constitutional and statutory rights.”

The plaintiffs, the suit claims, have suffered, and continue to suffer from, physical and psychological harms, damage to reputation and financial losses.

The suit takes a specific shot at the city, alleging that the failed leadership on the part of police department higher-ups and administration officials has led to incidents such as these occurring on a fairly regular basis.

The City of Philadelphia, the suit claims, has exhibited a deliberate indifference to supervise, monitor and properly train narcotics officers with respect to their duty to provide only truthful information in securing search and arrest warrants, their duty to ensure that relationships with confidential informants are in accord with police department protocol, their duty to provide accurate and truthful information to the District Attorney’s Office, their duty to report misconduct and illegal actions of other officers, and the fabrication of evidence against an accused to justify their illegal actions and conduct.

“Defendant City of Philadelphia has failed to properly discipline the defendant officers and other officers in the Police Department in cases involving violations of rights of civilians, including cases of improper searches, seizures, arrests, and prosecutions, thereby causing the violations in this case,” the lawsuit states.

The complaint alleges that Philly narcotics cops have for years engaged in a widespread pattern of systematic abuses of power.

In addition to the federal civil rights count, the suit also contains supplemental state law claims of false arrest and imprisonment, assault and battery, negligent infliction of emotional distress, outrageous conduct causing emotional distress, defamation, and invasion of privacy.

The plaintiffs seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees and costs, and declaratory judgment.


The federal case number is 2:13-cv-03873-GP. 

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