Posts Tagged ‘lawsuit’

ACLU sues over man’s arrest for videotaping police

August 14, 2009

By Jill King Greenwood
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, August 13, 2009

The ACLU of Pennsylvania has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Hill District man who was arrested for recording an incident between his friend and police.

The suit, filed today, stems from an April 29 incident between a friend of Elijah Matheny, 29, and University of Pittsburgh police officers. Matheny and his friend, who isn’t named in the suit, went to Oakalnd to search for furniture and other items discarded by Pitt students leaving for the semester and were picking through a Dumpster outside Bouquet Gardens on Oakland Avenue when the University police approached, according to the suit.

The officers asked Matheny and his female friend for identification. His friend gave police her name but did not have ID and was placed in handcuffs after police could find no record of her in their system, the suit states.

Matheny took out his cell phone and began recording the incident. Police were able to verify his friend’s identity and she was released but Matheny was arrested for violating the state’s Wiretap Act, said Witold Walczak, ACLU-PA legal director and one of the attorneys representing Matheny.

Matheny was also charged with “possession of an instrument of crime” in regards to his cell phone, Walczak said.

The Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office is also named in the lawsuit because Assistant District Attorney Chris Avetta talked to Pitt officers and agreed that Matheny had violated the state statute and authorized the arrest, Walczak said.

In July, a judge dismissed all charges against Matheny.

A message left with University of Pittsburgh police Chief Tim Delaney and with Mike Manko, spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. were not immediately returned.

Walczak said the state law is “absolute” in its terms regarding obtaining permission to record people in public but said case law states that public officials — including police officers — are exempt.

“This is a widespread misunderstanding among law enforcement and the staff at the District Attorney’s office,” Walczak said. “If the police are doing something wrong, a citizen has a right to record it. For the same reason the police want cameras on the front of their police cars, citizens should be able to record the behavior and actions of police officers. It’s for everyone’s benefit.”

Walczak said he worries that “dozens of lawsuits” will result in September if police arrest protesters and others recording interactions between them and officers at the Group of 20 summit.

“If there are problems at the G-20 you can bet people will be whipping out their cell phones and recording what is happening,” Walczak said. “The police will have enough going on with people vandalizing and breaking things, and they don’t need to be arresting people who are simply recording them. We need to educate local police before the G-20 or this is going to be a nightmare.”

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Court says strip search of child illegal

June 25, 2009
By JESSE J. HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer Jesse J. Holland, Associated Press Writer 4 mins ago

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a school’s strip search of an Arizona teenage girl accused of having prescription-strength ibuprofen was illegal.

The court ruled on Thursday that school officials violated the law with their search of Savana Redding, who lives in Safford, in rural eastern Arizona.

Redding, who now attends college, was 13 when officials at Safford Middle School ordered her to remove her clothes and shake out her underwear because they were looking for pills. The district bans prescription and over-the-counter drugs and the school was acting on a tip from another student.

The high court, however, said the officials cannot be held liable in a lawsuit for the search. The justices also said the lower courts would have to determine whether the school district could be held liable.

A schoolmate had accused Redding, then an eighth-grade student, of giving her pills.

The school’s vice principal, Kerry Wilson, took Redding to his office to search her backpack. When nothing was found, Redding was taken to a nurse’s office where she says she was ordered to take off her shirt and pants. Redding said they then told her to move her bra to the side and to stretch her underwear waistband, exposing her breasts and pelvic area. No pills were found.

A federal magistrate dismissed a suit by Redding and her mother, April. An appeals panel agreed that the search didn’t violate her rights. But last July, a full panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the search was “an invasion of constitutional rights” and that Wilson could be found personally liable.

The case is Safford Unified School District v. April Redding, 08-479.

Judge: Man Who Gave Pittsburgh Cop ‘Finger’ Didn’t Break Law

March 24, 2009

Federal Lawsuit Claims Flip-Off Gesture Is Protected Speech

PITTSBURGH — A federal judge said a man who flipped his middle finger at a Pittsburgh police officer shouldn’t have been cited for disorderly conduct.

 

David Hackbart, of Pittsburgh, said he made the gesture at another driver while trying to back into a parking space on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill in April 2006.

 

When he heard someone else yelling at him, Hackbart gave the finger again — not realizing that the second person was a police officer.

“While flipping somebody off or using profane language may not be pleasant, it is constitutionally protected speech, especially when it’s uttered towards a public official,” said Vic Walczak, of the American Civil Liberties Union, when he sued on Hackbart’s behalf in September.

 

U.S. District Judge David Cercone filed a 19-page decision Monday, agreeing that the gesture was protected under free speech.

 

Still to be determined at an upcoming trial is whether city police were improperly trained. The ACLU claims city police have filed 188 citations for similar offenses in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

 

 

“The police need to understand that they’re not Miss Manners, they can’t be enforcing nice language, and that it’s inappropriate for them to use the criminal laws to punish somebody because they may use profane language,” Walczak said in September.

$1.15M settlement in suit over 1995 NYPD shooting

March 23, 2009

By COLLEEN LONG, Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK – The families of two robbery suspects who died in a barrage of police bullets more than a decade ago settled a lawsuit with the city Friday for $1.15 million.

The families’ attorneys had just rested their case during the trial when the deal was announced. Relatives had sought $20 million, but their attorney said they were content, accepting the settlement as affirmation that excessive force was used.

“We believe justice has been done,” lawyer Seth Harris said. “The city waved the white flag, and this clearly shows the officers used excessive force, and these boys didn’t have to die.”

Hilton Vega was shot eight times and his cousin Anthony Rosario 14 times when they arrived at an apartment on Jan. 12, 1995. The officers, James Crowe and Patrick Brosnan, had been there interviewing residents on a tip that a robbery would take place.

The victims were face-down on the ground when they were killed. Some of the 28 shots fired hit the floorboards.

The city Law Department continued to defend the now-retired officers. A New York Police Department investigation found the officers acted within department guidelines, and a grand jury in the Bronx brought no criminal charges. Federal prosecutors said there wasn’t enough evidence for them to pursue charges.

“We believe that our police officers acted appropriately when confronted with three armed gunmen after being called by a man in fear of his life,” said Fay Leoussis, chief of the Law Department’s Tort Division. “However, we have agreed to resolve these cases in light of the uncertainties of litigation.”

Versions of what happened the night of the shooting varied greatly during the civil trial, including who was shot first, how the men came to be face-down, and what the detectives were doing at the apartment.

Crowe and Brosnan were there for at least an hour before Rosario and Vega arrived. The victims said they had come to the building to collect a debt they believed was owed to one of their girlfriends in a scam run by the man who lived at the apartment.

The officers told them to get on the ground and opened fire when Rosario and Vega did not comply quickly enough. Vega, 21, and the 18-year-old Rosario died, and another man with them was injured. The men were armed, but they fired no shots.

The officers retired from the force on a disability pension related to the incident in 1996.

The shooting happened during an era of community outrage against then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani‘s administration over allegations of excessive force by police officers who, like those in the Bronx case, received little or no punishment. Critics said the NYPD had overlooked incriminating details because Brosnan served as a volunteer bodyguard for the mayor’s 1993 campaign.