Penn State student sues police, State College over Paterno riot arrest
A Pennsylvania State University student on Friday filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Borough of State College and two police officers for allegedly detaining him without probable cause during the riot that broke out Nov. 10, 2011 after the announcement of former head football coach Joe Paterno’s firing.
The lawsuit further claims at least one of the arresting officers singled out the student because he was president of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.
In the complaint filed in U.S. Middle District Court, undergraduate student Matthew Maser claims he was not participating in the riots, but standing on a ledge with several friends associated with his fraternity “to merely watch the crowd.”
Though a criminal complaint filed Dec. 12, 2011 alleges Maser ignored officers’ orders to disperse, Maser contends he complied by jumping down from the ledge and attempting to walk away from the area.
Despite that fact, Maser claims, the officers named in the suit proceeded to grab him, “throw him up against a mailbox, grab his wallet out of his pocket, and seized his student identification card.”
The suit further claims one of the arresting officers was prejudiced against the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, citing an interview the officer gave in April 2010 in which he described it to a reporter “as a ‘problem fraternity.’”
The officer also confronted Maser at the fraternity house when issuing a citation just several weeks before the November arrest, the complaint states.
“[Maser] was singled out, detained and charged by the Officer Defendants, at least in substantial part, because he was wearing a t-shirt bearing the Fraternity’s ‘letters,’ which clearly made the statement that [Maser] was proud of his association with the fraternity,” the suit reads, claiming the action constituted retaliation against Maser “for exercising his right to free speech under the First Amendment.”
Maser was later charged with failure to disperse upon official order and disorderly conduct.
Charges against Maser were on Sept. 20, 2012 dismissed once prosecutors realized there had been no probable cause for his arrest or charges, according to the complaint.
The suit claims the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to detain or arrest Maser and that their conduct amounted to the use of excessive force, reaching the level of assault and battery, as well as false arrest and false imprisonment.
It further contends the charges filed against Maser constituted malicious prosecution due to the lack of probable cause.
Maser, who in the complaint claims he suffered from “a loss of liberty, public embarrassment and humiliation, mental anguish and emotional distress,” and was “caused to incur substantial attorneys’ fees and expenses” as a result of the incident, is asking for a declaration his constitutional rights were violated, as well as compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.
He’s requesting a jury trial.
Police Chief Tom King on Saturday told The Centre Daily Times he could not comment in response to the allegations, “as the borough had not been served with the lawsuit.”