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Sunday, June 16, 2024 | Back issues
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Court Revives Dancer’s Lawsuit Against Police

(CN) - The 1st Circuit allowed an exotic dancer who was nabbed by police in a prostitution sting to make a case for excessive force but not for unlawful detention.

Rosanna Morelli, who dances under the name "Vanessa," danced in Room 203 of the Best Western Motel in South Portland, Maine. Her customer was actually an undercover police officer whose colleagues were watching and listening on surveillance equipment in the next room.

Morelli suspected that the customer was a police officer, so she stopped her performance, took a $20 transportation fee from the $300 payment on the table and started to leave.

Outside, Morelli met the other officers. She said Officer Steven Webster manhandled her and pinned her against the wall for three or four minutes, saying "look missy, you're not going anywhere."

Webster allowed her to leave after informing her that he could not arrest her.

Morelli sued Webster for alleged unlawful detention and excessive force. She said she suffered from shoulder, arm, and back pain stemming from the incident.

The trial court granted summary judgment to Webster. Judge Selya of the federal appeals court in Boston agreed that Webster had the right to detain Morelli based on the fact that she took the $20 bill.

"The plaintiff had taken money before leaving Room 203," Selya wrote. "That fact gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that the plaintiff had committed an act of theft."

However, Selya remanded the case for a jury trial on the excessive-force charge, since Webster is more than a foot taller than Morelli and had considerable police backup.

"There is no evidence of any meaningful degree of resistance," Selya ruled. "A jury might also choose to infer that the defendant, frustrated at the looming failure of the sting operation and the prospect of the plaintiff avoiding arrest, lost his temper and intentionally used more force than the situation warranted."

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