$1m suit against Philly police alleges ‘conscience-shocking’ brutality

philadelphia pd car
File photo. (Credit: Rikard Larma/Metro)

Four people have filed a $1 million civil rights lawsuit against the Philadelphia Police Department and three law enforcement officials for allegedly using excessive force to stop the plaintiffs from filming a confrontation.

They’re asking for a jury trial in the suit filed in federal court Monday on the grounds of unlawful search and seizure, excessive force, violations of the right to due process, intentional infliction of severe emotional distress, assault and battery, and false imprisonment.

According to the complaint, plaintiffs Roderick King, Thomas Stenberg, Sara Tice and Brian Jackson were walking near 13th and Rodman streets in South Philadelphia around 2 a.m. on March 31.

The group said they saw a uniformed officer driving a white Philadelphia Police Department SUV in an “unsafe manner.”

Stenberg called out to the officer regarding an illegal turn he made, prompting the cop to pull over and confront the man, according to the suit.

King, Jackson and Tice took out their cell phones and began recording the argument.

The officer allegedly grabbed Stenberg by the shirt and yelled at him, then slapped the phone from Jackson’s hand, causing it to break in the street.

But it was when King told the cop his behavior was “way above and beyond, officer” that he truly became enraged, according to the complaint.

The officer allegedly approached King, who backed away with his hands raised while still recording the incident and told the officer “I have a right to videotape.”

The suit states the officer then grabbed King by the shirt collar and slapped his cell phone from his hand while yelling, “Don’t f—ing touch me!” as King continued to back away and tell the officer he wasn’t touching him.

The officer is accused of shoving King into the street, grabbing him, throwing him up against the patrol car and handcuffing him.

The complaint states the officer told King he was under arrest for “public intoxication,” but never took him to a police precinct.

The officer instead allegedly drove around with King handcuffed in the back of the car, eventually taking him to a dark, unknown location and asking him if he wanted to be taken back to the place where he was initially picked up.

He then drove King back to 13th and Rodman streets, where the other three plaintiffs were still standing, and told the man he was free to go.

But Stenberg, Jackson and Tice said they made repeated calls to 911 requesting a supervisor to the scene so they could report the incident, to no response.

King wasn’t issued any citations or charged with any crimes in connection with the seizure.

The suit alleges the officer used “unreasonable, unjustifiable and unconstitutional” excessive force against King “to silence him from exercising his First Amendment rights.”

It states the actions and motivation of the officer, as well as the district’s sergeant and captain responsible for the cop’s conduct, “were conscience shocking, without conscious regard or due care for plaintiffs” and showed “such wanton and reckless disregard of the consequences as to show defendants’ deliberate indifference to the danger of harm and injury.”

The suit claims the four people continue to suffer “fear, horror and loss of liberty” and were forced to endure “physical pain and horrible mental anguish.”

It also places blame on the city, claiming the violations were a result of Philadelphia’s “policies, procedures, customs and practices of allowing its officers to make stops without reasonable suspicion, and to use unreasonable and excessive force” and claims the city has maintained “an inadequate review of instances of misconduct, abuse of police powers or violations of citizens’ rights by a police officer, a system which has failed to identify instances of abuse of police powers or violations of citizens’ rights by police officers.”

The plaintiffs are asking for $1.05 million in compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney fees and reimbursement for the cost of prosecution.


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