U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
PHILADELPHIA – A federal court judge has denied a motion seeking to dismiss a plaintiff’s claims of excessive force, bystander liability and Monell violations against the City of Chester and several of its police officers.
On Tuesday, Judge Robert F. Kelly of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied a motion from the City of Chester, Arthur Grenier and five John Doe Chester police officers to dismiss the suit brought by Reginald Cummings for failure to properly allege liability.
On Jan. 2, 2014, Cummings returned to his home in Chester and found his 19-year-old son was having a party. Cummings had given his son permission to host the party, but stipulated it could last no longer than 1 a.m. Cummings attempted to get the partygoers to leave his residence, but when they refused, he called the police to break the party up.
Shortly thereafter, Grenier and five Chester County police officers arrived, with Grenier speaking to Cummings’ wife and son. During this time, Cummings asked Grenier to come into the dining room to disperse the last of his son’s guests, but Cummings alleged Grenier cursed at him several times in response.
When Cummings told Grenier not to use that language towards him, the suit says Grenier slammed Cummings to the ground and told him he was under arrest. According to the suit, Cummings broke no laws and offered no resistance at this time, even as his right knee was injured in the process. Further, Cummings claimed the John Doe officers did not intervene during this alleged assault and/or arrest.
Cummings was held in jail for nine hours on charges of disorderly conduct, public drunkenness and resisting arrest, with the latter two charges being dismissed. Cummings added Grenier allegedly prepared a false report misrepresenting the events of the incident, in order to justify the force he used to arrest Cummings.
While in custody, Cummings’ knee swelled with pain and a later MRI confirmed he suffered a tear of both his medial meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). According to Cummings, two subsequent arthroscopic knee surgeries in April and June of 2014 have not alleviated his pain and discomfort.
On Aug. 11, 2015, Cummings filed a complaint alleging excessive force against Grenier, bystander liability against Chester and the John Doe Police Officers and Monell violations against Chester.
Under the criteria used to allege Monell violations, Kelly opined Cummings had indeed stated a valid case.
“We find that Cummings has sufficiently alleged a policy, custom or practice on the part of Chester that caused civil rights violations to be made against him. Cummings alleges that Chester has a policy, custom or practice of covering-up and avoiding detection of acts of police abuse or improper use of police authority by charging victims of police abuse with criminal offenses and, thereby, attempting to prevent access of the victim to the courts and due process,” Kelly said.
Moreover, Kelly said Cummings further alleged for many years, Chester “adopted and maintained a policy, custom or practice allowing for the false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution of suspects”, which is the same type of treatment Cummings was subjected to by defendants. As a result, the suit says the John Doe officers did not intervene because they believed their conduct would not be monitored, investigated or sanctioned, but instead, “tolerated and condoned.”
Kelly stated the facts as alleged by Cummings, do support a failure-to-train claim against Chester and its police officers in violating his constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
“He identified a specific unconstitutional custom or policy, and alleged facts to support the assertion that Chester failed to properly train, supervise, or discipline the defendant officers,” Kelly said.
Kelly then denied the defense’s motion to dismiss the suit.
“Dismissal of Cummings’ Monell claims against Chester is not warranted at this moment; however, whether Cummings will be able to produce evidence supporting liability will be resolved at a later stage of this litigation. Consequently, Chester’s motion to dismiss is denied,” Kelly said.
The plaintiff was represented by Brian S. Chacker of Gay Chacker & Mittin, in Philadelphia.
The defendants are represented by Nicholas A. Cummins of Bennett Bricklin & Saltzburg, also in Philadelphia.
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-04504
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org