Claims Over Fatal Traffic Stop Will Go to Trial

     (CN) – Rejecting a magistrate’s recommendation, a federal judge refused to nix claims over the death of an apparently sober man police arrested for drunken driving.
     U.S. District Judge Robert Mariani notes that a camera mounted on patrol car dashboard captured most of the Aug. 17, 2007, encounter between Edward Rose and two police officers from Barret Township, Pa.
     Officers Larry Raisner and Roger Burns initiated the traffic stop after noticing a registration lamp dangling from below Rose’s truck bumper. Raisner then told Burns “to cover his rear end” with the stop by telling Rose that he smelled alcohol.
     Raisner and Burns then subjected Rose to four field-sobriety tests, in addition to two breathalyzer tests.
     Burns did not want to make an arrest because the breathalyzer results revealed that Rose’s blood alcohol content was substantially below the legal limit, but Raisner told Burns that he would arrest Rose if Burns refused to do so.
     After Raisner arrested and handcuffed Rose, Rose collapsed.
     Resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful, and Rose was pronounced dead at the hospital.
     The widow, Doloros Rose, sued Raisner, Burns and Barret Township for false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution under federal law.
     U.S. Magistrate Judge Mildred Methvin recommended granting the defendants summary judgment on Dec. 17, 2012.
     But Judge Mariani rejected the report last week and set the case for trial.
     While Mariani agreed that Rose does not have a case for malicious prosecution, he said a jury must decide whether the “fact that a light hung beneath Mr. Rose’s bumper constitutes ‘reasonable’ suspicion warranting an investigatory traffic stop.”
     Mariani tossed aside Methvin’s finding that the officers had probable cause.
     “Methvin placed emphasis on the fact that Mr. Rose admitted to consuming five (5) beers,” Mariani wrote. “Although Mr. Rose admits to drinking beer, and the number five was uttered by Mr. Rose, the recording is not sufficiently clear to definitively establish that Mr. Rose consumed five beers within a period that might render him in violation of Pennsylvania law.
     “Judge Methvin also acknowledged that Burns testified that he smelled alcohol on Mr. Rose’s breath. At the summary judgment stage, however, the court cannot credit such testimony as an objective fact. The credibility of defendant Burns is an issue that must be determined by a jury.”
     Mariani said questions remain as to whether Mr. Rose failed the sobriety tests.
     “Reasonable jurors might differ as to whether they believe that Mr. Rose failed any of the sobriety tests, and making such a determination at the summary judgment stage would require the court to engage in inappropriate fact-finding,” the eight-page opinion states.
     “Further, the breathalyzer test administered by defendants yielded results far below the legal limit of blood alcohol content levels permitted for an automobile driver in Pennsylvania,” Mariani added. “Although the test is not definitive for the purpose of determining probable cause, it does not support defendants’ contention that Mr. Rose was under the influence of alcohol. Particularly troublesome is the discussion between Raisner and Burns in which Burns told Raisner that he would not place Mr. Rose under arrest. Raisner responded to Burns that if Burns refused to arrest Mr. Rose, then Raisner would do it himself. A jury should be permitted to determine whether this conversation, captured by the police cruiser’s mounted camera, negates a finding of probable cause.”

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