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Brutal Arrest Claim May Stick to Chester, PA, Cop

(CN) - A cop must face claims that he helped arrest a black couple whom troopers allegedly tore from their car, choking the husband and Tasering the wife, a federal judge ruled.

The arrest of Nadine Francis and her husband, Odinga Arthur, allegedly occurred while the black couple was moving from Florida to New York for Arthur's job on the night of Feb. 14, 2012.

Francis said she had been driving below the speed limit and obeying all traffic laws on I-95, but that the Pennsylvania state police pulled her over near Chester, Pa., at about midnight. Chester Township Police Officer Richard Barth allegedly arrived as backup.

After Francis provided her license and registration, Troopers Joseph Harmon and James Sparenga asked for her sleeping husband's identification, without explaining why they had been pulled over, according to the complaint.

When Arthur did not immediately present his ID, and instead sought permission to ask a question, the troopers allegedly ordered him to exit the car.

Before he could do so, Sparenga grabbed Arthur's neck in an attempt to pull him through the passenger window, causing the man to choke, according to the complaint.

Francis said she screamed and begged the trooper to stop, at which point Harmon used his Taser on her. Sparenga meanwhile then allegedly slammed Arthur into the ground, handcuffed him and removed his wallet.

Arthur said Harmon asked him how much money he had and where he was going, then removed his wife from the car, held her face down, and handcuffed and interrogated her.

The complaint insists that Francis and Arthur broke no laws, never posed a threat to the troopers, fully cooperated, and did not resist arrest or act violently on the night of the incident.

After the troopers allegedly said that the IDs "came up clean," they held Francis and Arthur overnight at a Delaware County police station without reading them their Miranda rights, according to the complaint.

Arthur and Francis said the officers meanwhile prepared false affidavits of probable cause, charging them with driving in the left lane, disregarding traffic lane, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest.

Francis and Arthur were released on bail later that day, and the criminal proceedings against them were dismissed in state court on March 6, 2013.

The three officers are accused in the complaint of violating Francis and Arthur's Fourth and 14th Amendments, and of unlawful detention, racial profiling, excessive force, false arrest and imprisonment, and malicious prosecution.

U.S. District Judge Mary McLaughlin refused on Feb. 13 to dismiss the malicious prosecution and false arrest and imprisonment claims against Barth.

"According to the complaint, Barth was present throughout the interrogation and arrest of the plaintiffs, and he participated in preparing the affidavits of probable cause," McLaughlin wrote. "During the time Barth was present, the plaintiffs did not engage in any unlawful or violent activity and did not resist arrest. Because the magistrate judge relied on the statements in the affidavit of probable cause to charge the plaintiffs, it is reasonable to infer that Barth made false statements or omissions or failed to disclose exculpatory evidence in the affidavits."

The court also upheld the false arrest and imprisonment claims, finding that Barth participated in the arrest, despite his ability to determine that the couple had not violated the law.

"The complaint alleges that Barth arrived on the scene shortly after the plaintiffs were pulled over, with time to see for himself that Francis and Arthur were not a threat, were not acting violently, and were not violating the law," McLaughlin wrote. "There are no allegations indicating that Troopers Harmon and Sparenga made statements to Barth regarding probable cause. Barth participated in the arrest of Francis and Arthur without probable cause, and participated in writing affidavits of probable cause by making false statements or omissions. There are no allegations in the complaint that would allow the court to conclude that Barth was acting reasonably under the circumstances. Barth is free to raise the argument again at the summary judgment stage."

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