Pittsburgh Hurdles Suit Over Cop Behind Bars
(CN) - A woman who was allegedly threatened with jail and the loss of her children by a Pittsburgh police officer who wanted oral sex cannot sue the city, a federal judge ruled.
Pittsburgh police officer Adam Skweres had allegedly been investigating in June 2008 when he first crossed paths with Christie Leonard, of Knoxville, Pa.
Leonard said Skweres threatened her with arrest if she did not testify in person as a witness to a crime and then threatened to take her three children away.
Knowing that Leonard was involved in a child custody dispute, Skweres allegedly said if Leonard performed oral sex on him, he would write a positive letter to the Allegheny County Department of Human Services Office of Children, Youth, and Families. If she refused, he said she would lose her children, according to the complaint.
When Leonard did refuse, Skweres gave her "time to [re]consider" and his cellphone number, and allegedly threatened her again.
Leonard told child services, her counselors and her family about the incident, and learned some weeks later that Skweres had similarly victimized other women.
The mother then went to Detective Paul Beckert, but said that another officer then had her take two lie-detector tests and that she "felt intimidated."
Leonard heard nothing further from the bureau until January 2012 when she learned that the FBI was investigating Skweres. In March the 35-year-old officer pleaded guilty to 26 counts of sexual assault and was sentenced to 3 1/2 to eight years in prison and 10 years probation.
In a complaint filed in state court two days later, Leonard accused Pittsburgh of failing to protect her and others from Skweres, who allegedly failed a psychological examination in 2005 and was later allowed to retake it the next year - against city policy.
Leonard claimed that the police and Chief Nathan Harper ignored allegations of Skweres' misconduct from her and another woman in 2008 and 2009.
Her complaint asserted violations of the Fourth and 14th Amendment, as well as state-law torts.
The city defendants removed the case to the Western District of Pennsylvania and moved to dismiss the claims against them under the statute of limitations.
U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak granted the motion last week, holding that Leonard could have realized that "the city could have been wrongfully looking the other way regarding Skweres' misconduct long before February 2012, when plaintiff became actually aware of the FBI's involvement in investigating the matter, and well before March 13, 2011, the date two years prior to her filing this action."
Hornak added: "Leonard's clock began to run at the time of her initial encounters with Officer Skweres, where it was immediately apparent to her that she was injured by the conduct of another, regardless of when she appreciated she might also have a viable legal claim against the city as to her injuries."
While the court "does not doubt the veracity of Ms. Leonard's most troubling claims," it dismissed her fraudulent concealment claim against Pittsburgh.
"In short, while Ms. Leonard may have alleged that the city was fundamentally indifferent to her interests, she has not alleged its concealment of her rights, or of the injury to her interests," Hornak wrote (emphasis in original).
The judge also tossed aside Leonard's claim that she could not sue Skweres until he was behind bars out of fear of retaliation.
"While a rogue police officer who has demonstrated a willingness to use the power of his badge to behave in the most reprehensible manner is something wholly intolerable, the possibility of the duress doctrine tolling Pennsylvania's statute of limitations is foreclosed under state law," Hornak wrote.
Skweres still faces Leonard's claims for gender-based harassment, emotional distress and false imprisonment. The ruling notes that no attorney had appeared for him as of Aug. 27.