Judge will leave it up to jury to decide fate of Philadelphia cop who shot suspect

By Nicholas Malfitano | Dec 22, 2015

U.S. District Court Judge Stewart Dalzell  

PHILADELPHIA – The City of Philadelphia has lost its motion for summary judgment against a young man’s claim of civil rights violations against the City and two Philadelphia Police Department officers.

Judge Stewart Dalzell, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, explained plaintiff Samir Coyett provided “evidence of record [which] could lead a reasonable jury to impose municipal liability on the City," and thus denied the defense’s summary judgment motion.

On July 21, 2013, Officer Vincent Perone and three colleagues responded to a call of two supposedly-armed African-American men arguing on the 5300 block of Hazelhurst Street in Philadelphia. When arriving at the scene, two men fitting that description fled the area, with one discarding packets of marijuana as he ran away.

After giving chase, Perone encountered Coyett sitting down on the ground nearby and commanded him to put his hands up, then shot him once in the right forearm when he allegedly didn’t obey Perone’s command. Coyett was then found to be unarmed. Before being taken to a hospital for treatment of his gunshot wound, he was arrested and charged with possessing a small amount of marijuana. Coyett later pled guilty to that charge.

According to court records, Perone did not express remorse for the shooting and said he acted in self-defense and fear for his safety.

An Internal Affairs investigation and Use of Force Review Board (UFRB) decision later found Perone used his service weapon improperly, a finding Perone appealed to the Police Board of Inquiry (PBI). In a brief, 30 minute-long hearing where Coyett was not present to offer testimony (and hadn’t been advised a hearing was occurring), the PBI exonerated Perone of the UFRB’s decision.

“Based on the evidence of record, a reasonable jury could find that the City failed to train its police officers on the use of force and acquiesced in a custom of tolerating the use of excessive force by maintaining an ineffective disciplinary system for its officers,” Dalzell said.

“The facts in this case show that Perone shot an unarmed teenager because he was afraid for his safety, mistakenly believing that this was the correct standard for determining when it is appropriate to use deadly force,” Dalzell added.

Dalzell further cited a March U.S. Department of Justice report, detailing 59 unarmed suspects were shot by PPD officers in Philadelphia, between 2007 and 2013.

“This evidence suffices to establish a pattern of constitutional violations,” Dalzell stated.

Dalzell said while the Court does not look for perfection from the Philadelphia Police Department, the city’s residents deserve “a police department that implements adequate officer training and accountability measures regarding the use of force, specifically the use of deadly force.”

Further, Dalzell stated, “The question of causation between the City’s customs and Perone’s actions is one to be answered by a jury, not a judge.”

As a result, the Court dismissed the City’s motion for summary judgment on Coyett’s Monell claim. A settlement conference between the parties has been slated in this matter for Jan. 27, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacob P. Hart. According to Dalzell, further proceedings are stayed while this mediation takes place.

The plaintiff is represented by Brandon A. Swartz and Joseph P. Guzzardo of Swartz Culleton, in Newtown.

The defendant is represented by Dimitrios Mavroudis and Brock Atkins of the City of Philadelphia’s Law Department.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-00869

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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