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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
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Cops Must Face Suit Over Alcoholic’s Toilet Scare

(CN) - A bipolar woman can advance claims that Pennsylvania police officers pulled her off the toilet and handcuffed her with her pants down, a federal judge ruled.

After attending a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, Malinda Horninger downed a pint of vodka at her home in Swiftwater, Pa., on Dec. 16, 2008.

Horninger's sponsor, Roberta Bush, became concerned when her calls went unanswered. When Horninger didn't answer her door either, Bush, who was 72 years old at the time, peeked through the window and saw Horninger unconscious on the couch.

Thinking Horninger had died, Bush summoned police and paramedics from Pocono Township.

Officer Christopher Gupko later said he was already en route to Horninger's home before receiving the emergency call, as he believed she had keyed the car of her estranged husband, Kevin Young.

Horninger, an admitted recovering alcoholic who suffers from bipolar disorder, finally woke up when the emergency personnel entered her home. Bush then allegedly accompanied Horninger to the bathroom, but Gupko barged in just as Horninger was trying to urinate in the toilet.

Horninger said Gupko smashing the door into Bush's back and pulled Horninger off the toilet while her pants were down.

Gupko then allegedly handcuffed Horninger, kneed her in the rear and legs, raised her handcuffed arms behind her back, slammed her onto a stretcher, and brought her to jail.

Horninger sued Gupko, Pocono Township, Police Chief Chester Staples and several anonymous officers in December 2010, ultimately substituting Sgt. Shawn Goucher and Officer John Manuel for the Doe defendants in January 2012.

U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik last week refused to grant the defendants summary judgment or let them strike exhibits that Horninger had filed in opposition of their motion.

Horninger can advance claims of excessive force, negligence, failure to intervene, and assault, and Pocono Township will remain a defendant, according to the ruling. "After reviewing the record, we find that there are genuine issues of material fact in regards to these claims, and as such, summary judgment will not be granted on these claims," Kosik wrote.

Horninger did not fare as well, however, with federal and state conspiracy claims.

"Though there are questions of material fact surrounding plaintiff's underlying constitutional violations, there is nothing in the record to suggest an agreement between the defendants to violate plaintiff's rights in furtherance of a conspiracy," Kosik wrote.

A claim for emotional distress claim also failed.

"While plaintiff did describe the medical treatment she received in her deposition testimony, she has failed to provide or cite to any evidence in the record that would be considered competent medical evidence (i.e. doctor's report, expert report, etc.)," Kosik wrote (parentheses in original).

The judge refused to grant the defendants qualified immunity.

"The use of force by defendant Gupko on the night in question may be found to be excessive under the objective standards of reasonableness," the 14-page opinion states. "As such, defendants cannot be granted qualified immunity on these grounds."

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