SCRANTON, Pa. (CN) - A federal judge gave a green light to an ATV passenger's excessive force claim against Carbondale, Pa. and a police officer, citing the passenger's contention that police there have a history of injuring minors through dangerous takedown maneuvers against ATV drivers.
Plaintiff Chelsea Rocuba says she was 17 when she was ejected from the ATV she was riding after defendant Officer Timothy Mackrell "rammed" the vehicle "and performed a classic 'pit maneuver' ... by which one car pursuing another can force the pursued car to abruptly turn sideways to the direction of travel, causing the driver to lose control."
Rocuba says she and her friend were headed for the trails when, "Seeing the two youths drive on a public roadway without helmets, Officer Mackrell rationalized that punishment must be inflicted upon [them]."
Mackrell executed the maneuver with his police cruiser, Rocuba said in her July 2010 complaint.
"This maneuver lifted the ATV up on its rear tire and forcibly pushed it to the curb, placing it directly in the path of oncoming traffic," according to the complaint.
It continues: "Initially with the first impact, Chelsea's neck was jarred and when the ATV hit the curb, she flew off the quad and landed on pavement. Chelsea instantly developed severe neck and back pain, as well as soft tissue injuries to her wrist and right knee. When emergency medical personnel arrived on the scene, Chelsea was immobilized and take[n] to the emergency room at Marian Community Hospital.
"The accident was significant enough to warrant a 9-1-1 phone call from
observing bystander Patricia McGuire. Other witnesses to Mackrell's inappropriate
and unwarranted actions include [three named men]."
Mackrell arrested the driver, Gregory Perri, without bothering to inquire about his or Chelsea's health, "although Chelsea was clearly lying in pain," according to the complaint.
It continues: "During his arrest, Gregory was violently thrown against the hood of Mackrell's cruiser. When he raised his head to check on Chelsea's whereabouts, Mackrell shoved him back down. At no time during Gregory's arrest did Officer Mackrell walk over to Chelsea or, at the minimum, inquire about her injuries.
"Doug Hess, a witness to the accident, asked another police officer for Officer Mackrell's badge number. This unidentified female officer replied 'shut the fuck up.' Hess was then arrested for his probing, although no official charges were ever filed against him.
"Special Investigator Lewis apologized to Hess later for the officers' poor treatment."
Rocuba says she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder and panic disorder after the ordeal, and that she's now "plagued" by headaches.
Adding insult to injury, she says Mackrell issued her a bogus charge of "possession, consumption, or transportation of an alcoholic beverage by a minor" because of five beers that had been left in the ATV's cooler by her father, who owns the vehicle.
Denying summary judgment for defendants Mackrell and Carbondale, U.S. Magistrate Malachy Mannion noted that according to Rocuba, this wasn't the first time that a Carbondale police officer injured a minor because of a freewheeling approach to ATV takedowns.
"Officer Mackrell has a history of chasing minors on ATVs. He has gone on radio and boasted about chasing minors on ATVs with his police cruiser," Rocuba wrote in her complaint.
Summarizing the allegations, Mannion wrote that "less than one year before the instant incident, [Mackrell allegedly] used his patrol vehicle to strike an ATV driven by a twelve-year-old boy, which resulted in a broken collarbone for the minor. Further, another officer of the City of Carbondale Police Department ... struck an ATV driven by a minor, which caused the individual severe injuries."
Rocuba seeks punitive damages for unlawful arrest, malicious prosecution and excessive force.
Mannion wrote: "Upon review, nowhere in the two-page brief submitted in support of the defendants' motion for summary judgment are any of these claims addressed."
He set a pretrial conference for Jan. 26 and a trial for Feb. 13.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.