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Keeping Mom From Sick Kid May Be False Arrest

(CN) - A state trooper must face false-arrest claims for ticketing the mother of a sick child whom he detained and accused of drunk driving for over an hour, a federal judge ruled.

Jamie Essien had been driving in Bradford, Pa., with her 7- and 4-year-old daughters in the back seat one evening in March 2012 when the elder daughter said she felt ill.

As Essien headed to a store for medicine, the child allegedly started vomiting in the vehicle, so Essien made a left-hand turn into a minimart parking lot.

Pennsylvania State Trooper Andrew Brothers, who had been following Essien, pulled up directly behind her car.

As Essien exited the vehicle to tend to her child, Brothers allegedly insisted that she return to the driver's seat, ignoring her protests that her daughter was ill.

Essien says Brothers asked her how much she had had to drink, accused her of drunken driving, and asked her if she was on or had ever taken prescription medicine.

Though Essien denied any sort of impairment, Brothers forced her to stay in the driver's seat for an hour, preventing her from caring for her sick daughter, according to the complaint.

Essien says many shoppers gathered to watch the parking lot spectacle and that the mayor of the city of Bradford even took photographs on his cellphone.

The public interest pressured Brothers to justify the lengthy detention citing Essien for ignoring a stop and yield sign and breaking the seatbelt law, according to the complaint.

Essien says she fought the charges, and that a judge dismissed them when Brothers failed to appear for the summary trial. She then sued the officer for unlawful arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.

Brothers moved to dismiss, but U.S. District Judge Maurice Cohill Jr. tossed only the claims that conceded: malicious prosecution and false imprisonment.

The false arrest charge will hold, according to the Oct. 15 ruling.

"First, Ms. Essien does not merely allege that she was unlawfully subject to a custodial arrest," Cohill wrote. "Ms. Essien also alleges that she was initially subject to an unconstitutional seizure based upon an unlawful traffic stop. Thus, even if she was not subject to a custodial arrest she has stated a claim for a Fourth Amendment violation based on an unlawful traffic stop."

The court also found that, "despite defendant's claim that this was solely an investigative detention as a result of a traffic stop, the facts of the complaint are sufficient to support that the initial traffic stop turned into a custodial arrest.

"Specifically, after Trooper Brothers initiated the traffic stop, he ordered Ms. Essien to be confined to her car, would not let her attend to her sick daughter, and ultimately detained her for a lengthy period of time," Cohill wrote.

Cohill declined to say whether this detention constituted a custodial arrest.

"Whether Ms. Essien's allegations would ultimately support a determination that the investigative detention turned into a custodial arrest is not an issue we can determine at this stage of the proceedings," he wrote. "Accordingly, we will deny defendant's motion to dismiss this claim."

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