Philadelphia settles excessive force lawsuit as citizens await launch of police body cam program

By Kathy Kaye | Nov 15, 2016

PHILADELPHIA – Police misconduct continues to be a pressing concern across the U.S., and the City of Philadelphia paid a $35,000 settlement to resolve allegations earlier this year. 

Philadelphia attorney Philip J. Capone on May 4 filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Santiago Galeano, alleging his civil and constitutional rights under the U.S. Constitution's Fourth and Fourteenth amendments and the laws of Pennsylvania were violated when he was arrested by Philadelphia Police Officer Michael Kuzianik.

The lawsuit was settled in July for $35,000, Armando Brigandi, chief deputy solicitor in the Philadelphia Law Department's Civil Rights Unit, told the Pennsylvania Record in an email response to questions.

Requests for additional information - including the nature of any city or departmental investigations, Kuzianik's employment status and whether he received any punishment or was directed to undertake remedial training - went unanswered.

The number of lawsuits involving alleged instances of police misconduct and violating fundamental civil and constitutional rights has been rising in Philadelphia and across the country in recent years, as has the amount of public funds awarded to defendants in such cases, Philadelphia attorney Patrick G. Geckle noted in an interview.

More than 200 suits have been filed alone in a federal criminal corruption case in which six Philadelphia narcotics officers were ultimately acquitted last May, Geckle highlighted.

¨In my personal opinion, the city historically has not taken appropriate remedial measures when police misconduct has occurred," he said.

"That's one of the main reasons this is an ongoing problem, is that the officers are not disciplined or asked to undergo additional training, even after it's clear that an incident of misconduct occurred.¨

The allegations in Galeano's lawsuit included unlawful assault, battery and excessive use of force, all of which allegedly occurred on May 4, 2014, inside the Sheraton Hotel in Philadelphia.

As the lawsuit recounts, a disturbance erupted. Police arrived and ordered Galeano to leave a cafe and come outside, where they allegedly threw him to the ground and began beating him relentlessly.

Arrested and charged with various crimes, Galeano attests that upon his release he sought and received medical treatment for injuries to the head and lumbar vertabrae, as well as contusions and lacerations to his arms, legs, torso, head and face.

In the lawsuit, Galeano asserted that Kuzianik and the City of Philadelphia used excessive force, conspired to harm him, deprived him of his constitutional rights and concealed their unlawful and unconstitutional behavior in an attempt to deprive him of access to due process and the courts.

Galeano sought a trial by jury and a declaratory judgment from the court stating that the practices and policies of the City and Philadelphia Police Department are unconstitutional, as well as compensatory and punitive damages, attorneys fees and costs and any other additional relief deemed just.

Geckle pointed out that former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey co-chaired President Barack Obama's Task Force on Policing in May 2015. The final report issued thereafter made 59 recommendations aimed at improving policing and law enforcement, including measures to avoid or prevent use of excessive force.

In addition to more training, these included use of body cams. Philadelphia's police department announced that it would launch a pilot field trial that would entail mandatory use of body cams by a select group of officers on patrol this year.

"My understanding is that they should begin a pilot program soon, but I don't believe they have done so yet," Geckle said.

"I think use of police body cams is certainly a step in the right direction," he added. "I think it will decrease incidence of police misconduct and will serve not only to protect the public, but serve to protect good cops who are unjustly accused of misconduct. Anything that provides transparency and openness and helps reveal the truth is a good thing." 

There are some privacy issues that need to be addressed in order for the police body cam pilot program to be accepted and successful, however. In addition, firm, clear policies and standardized procedures need to be instituted, Geckle added.

He noted that a recent study of a police body cam program in Chicago revealed that a very high percentage of video from police body cams disappeared.

"Good, proper policies and procedures have to be instituted to ensure footage from police body cams is properly retained," he said.

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