False arrest and malicious prosecution claims against Philly police officers are settled

By Nicholas Malfitano | Jan 20, 2017

PHILADELPHIA – The City of Philadelphia has settled a civil rights complaint which alleged various constitutional and state law violations against the City, the Philadelphia Police Department and several department officers.

On Jan. 6, U.S. District Court Judge Jan E. DuBois announced plaintiff Angel Seagraves’s action against the department, officers Michael J. Tritz, Rueben Ondarza, Captain Frank Llewellyn and Detective Danielle Slobodian was settled and dismissed with prejudice and without costs. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Accompanied by a male passenger and her children, Seagraves was arrested by the aforementioned officers on Sept. 22, 2013, subsequent to a traffic stop in West Philadelphia. According to Seagraves, Tritz told her the reason for the stop was “because her handicap placard was obstructing her view because it was hanging from the rearview mirror.”

At the start of the stop, the officers removed the male passenger from the vehicle, handcuffed him, and detained him in the back of a police car. Plaintiff claims that the officers conducted an ‘illegal search of the passenger side'” of her car. Plaintiff then got out of her car and “informed the defendants that she was planning to call her attorney.”

Seagraves said as she exited the car, one or more of the officers began cursing at her and used racial epithets towards her and children. At this time, Seagraves says she was thrown to the ground, beaten and arrested, suffering a left ankle fracture and a contusion on her head in the process.

Seagraves was charged with aggravated assault, possession of an instrument of crime, simple assault, and resisting arrest. After a preliminary hearing on Oct. 7, 2013, the charges of aggravated and simple assault were dismissed for lack of evidence. After a bench trial on Dec. 2, 2013, Seagraves was found not guilty of the remaining charges.

Seagraves filed a complaint against the City, the Philadelphia Police Department, Tritz, Ondarza, Llewellyn and Slobodian for federal and state law claims; alleged violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 for “failure to train violation, for failure to properly screen and hire police officers, violation for failure to train police officers, violation for failure to supervise and discipline police officers and a claim for unspecified injunctive relief.

On May 10, DuBois approved a previous motion to dismiss from the City on the aforementioned claims, but permitted Seagraves to file an amended complaint. The complaint’s original version omitted all of the defendant officers’ names except Tritz, but the newly-filed version from May 27 contained them.

The new complaint contained claims of violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 for unlawful stop and detention, retaliation and malicious prosecution, violation of Article I, Section VIII of the Pennsylvania Constitution for excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence against all defendants.

On May 31, the defendants filed another motion to dismiss towards the amended complaint, and argued Seagraves’ various claims were barred by the requisite two-year statute of limitations.

In DuBois’s recent Jan. 6 memorandum, he noted the defendants’ motion to dismiss was rendered moot and the case dismissed with prejudice and without costs, upon its settlement.

The plaintiffs are represented by Vernon Zachary Chestnut in Bala Cynwyd.

The defendants are represented by Michael R. Miller of the City of Philadelphia’s Law Department, in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:16-cv-01219

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

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