'Stop-and-frisk' lawsuit against Philly Police doesn't succeed

By Charmaine Little | Sep 10, 2018

PHILADELPHIA - The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted on Aug. 27 Philadelphia's motion to dismiss in a civil rights lawsuit over an alleged "stop-and-frisk" policy.

Officer Brandon Moore was one of the city’s police officers, along with the city itself, named in Victor Jackson’s lawsuit after an altercation outside of a local bar. 

Moore claimed he saw another man, Bernard Johnson, approach the plaintiff before Jackson and Johnson allegedly exchanged money and “unknown objects.”

Moore contacted police, and Jackson and another plaintiff, Anthony Jenkins, were arrested after officers allegedly found an empty vial on Johnson. They were both charged with conspiracy and possession with intent to sell a controlled substance. 

While the charges were later dropped because there wasn’t enough evidence, according to court documents, the plaintiffs maintained their innocence and sued for malicious prosecution, false arrest and false imprisonment. 

They also listed a Monell claim against the city and said that it carries out a policy “of using stop and frisks disproportionately toward minority suspects, who have been observed committing crimes and based on less than probable cause or a reasonable suspicion,” according to the opinion, authored by Judge Richard Barclay Surrick.

While the plaintiffs attempted to apply 42 U.S.C. 1983 to argue their case, that section states that a municipality, such as a city, can’t be held responsible for an action based on a theory of a respondeat superior, or that a party is responsible for the actions of its agents. 

Plaintiffs were then faced with the burden to prove the city itself violated their constitutional rights, which the court said they failed to do. 

While the plaintiffs did not accuse the city of having an unconstitutional stop-and-frisk process, the plaintiffs had the opportunity to accuse the city of adopting a practice of doing so, according to the opinion. They also had to prove the city was intentional in their actions and that they suffered injuries based on the alleged custom.

Even though the plaintiffs accused the city of having a custom of “using stop and frisks disproportionately towards minority suspects,” the court determined the accusation, among others, did not align with their amended complaint. The court pointed out the plaintiffs were arrested under suspicion of narcotics, not for a stop and frisk. It agreed with the defendants that the plaintiffs failed to prove the Monell argument.

“In addition, there are no facts to support the causation requirement of a Monell claim,” according to the opinion. When it comes to the plaintiffs’ amended complaint, the district court said they also don’t have enough proof to back up their causation argument.

The plaintiffs also said the city is guilty on the Monell argument because its alleged failure to properly train. The district court also disagreed with this point. They not only didn’t pinpoint what training the officers were missing, but they also didn’t prove the city was aware its officers were carrying out any misconduct. The court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss.

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