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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
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Arresting Graduate’s Brother May Cost Cop

(CN) - A man who says cheering at his brother's graduation got him assaulted by a cop and arrested may have a case for excessive force, a federal judge ruled.

Christopher Mazzella says the confrontation occurred at a high school graduation ceremony in Jim Thorpe, Pa., on June 10, 2011.

Soon after his little brother's name was called, Mazzella cheered and Officer Lee Marzen escorted him out of the building, without a warrant or probable cause, according to the complaint.

Mazella says Marzen physically assaulted him on the way out and then formally arrested him for resisting arrest and persistent disorderly conduct.

After making bail and seeking medical care for his injuries, Mazella allegedly paid lawyers more than $8,000 to defend him against the charges, and was fully acquitted after a jury trial.

Mazella says Marzen reacted to the acquittal by entering a house Mazzella's family had rented out to one of his witnesses. The officer allegedly kicked in a door and rifled through various dressers and other containers, damaging the family's property.

In a federal complaint, Mazzella alleged violations of his Fourth Amendment rights and state-law claims for assault and battery, false arrest and imprisonment, and harassment and intentional destruction of property.

Marzen moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, arguing that Mazzella failed to comply with the six-month notice requirement of the Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, and that the officer is immune from suit under state law.

U.S. District Judge James Munley denied the motion Wednesday, holding that the requirement does not apply to section 1983 claims, and that Marzen did have notice of the incident connected to the state-law claims.

"In the present matter, when the facts alleged in the complaint are taken as true, it is not only highly unlikely, but impossible for defendant to have been unaware of the incident involving plaintiff that gave rise to the instant claims," Munley wrote. "Defendant personally detained and arrested plaintiff. Defendant attended and testified at both plaintiff's preliminary hearing and jury trial. Additionally, after plaintiff's acquittal, defendant personally entered a rental property, which he knew was owned by plaintiff or plaintiff's family, and proceeded to kick in a door and rifle through plaintiff's personal property, allegedly in retaliation for plaintiff's acquittal. It is these instances, specifically the manner and process of defendant's detainment and arrest of plaintiff as well as defendant's invasion of plaintiff's real and personal property, that gave rise to the instant claims."

Marzen is furthermore not immune from suit as Mazzella alleged that the officer acted with malice and committed willful misconduct, the ruling states.

"Here, plaintiff alleges that defendant committed intentional torts when the defendant arrested plaintiff without probable cause and subsequently invaded plaintiff's home by kicking in a door and rifling through plaintiff's personal property in retaliation for plaintiff's acquittal," Munley wrote. "Viewing plaintiff's allegations as true, immunity may not apply. As such, at the present time, the court will deny defendant's motion on this ground."

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