Great Civil Rights Decision

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued a groundbreaking, precedential decision that reinstated our client’s § 1983 civil rights case alleging a 4th Amendment malicious prosecution violation and a 14th Amendment due process violation.  Our 55-year-old client was  charged with arson of her 105-year-old family home when she was helping her mother clean out their possessions after the home was sold.  At the time the fire started, electricians were working, without a permit, to bring the old knob and tube wiring up to code.  The fire started right at an outlet box and was extinguished by the electricians themselves.

Despite irrefutable evidence that the interior of the  outlet sustained fire damage, and despite the clear “V” pattern of fire damage extending from the base and right side of the outlet, indicated that this was a classic electrical fire; and despite their self-admitted lack of electrical knowledge, the police and fire personnel decided that this fire was intentionally set with an open flame.  In the process, they did not inspect the circuit breakers, and did not preserve any of the evidence including the electrical outlet, supporting brackets, electrical box and outlet cover.  This evidence, if it had been inspected by a person with the requisite expertise, was totally exculpatory, and its spoliation put our client in danger of being wrongfully convicted.  The police and fire personnel also fabricated evidence in violation of our client’s due process rights.  Finally, the prosecutor and lead detective refused to meet with world-renown fire expert John Lentini who offered to show them why this was a textbook case of an electrical fire.  Based on Lentini’s testimony, the jury deliberated less than one hour before finding our client not guilty of all charges.

3rd Circuit Opinion

Recently filed cases

Some of our recently filed complaints

Police Charge Driver with DUI whose

In May 2013, James, Schwartz & Associates filed a civil complaint in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, against two Philadelphia police officers for assault and battery, false arrest (imprisonment), malicious prosecution, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff was stopped at a gas station when the defendant police officers investigated him for suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI). Defendants ordered him to perform field sobriety tests, due only to the fact that his eyes were red and puffy and, of course, claimed that his speech was slurred. Our client explained to Defendants that his mother had just passed and he had been crying, resulting in red and puffy eyes, and also that he had a speech impediment. Despite successfully completing the sobriety test, Plaintiff was handcuffed and was told by Defendants that he needed to provide a blood sample which caused our client to ask if he was under arrest, to which Defendants replied “No.” This was not true, and despite the lack of probable cause, Plaintiff was charged with DUI. He was photographed, fingerprinted, kept in a holding cell for over 24 hours, and was forced to sign documents that he did not understand and could barely see. Our client was released but not before his mother’s funeral had to be postponed. Ultimately, the DUI charge was withdrawn by the District Attorney’s Office. Plaintiff now seeks compensation for his attorney’s fees, the additional fees associated with delaying his mother’s funeral, as well as for pain and suffering.

On August 14, 2013, James, Schwartz & Associates filed a civil complaint in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, alleging that four Philadelphia police officers engaged in the malicious prosecution of our client. Our client was subjected to false allegations pertaining to allegedly selling marihuana to a confidential informant. Based on these allegations, defendants were able to obtain a search warrant for his home, where Defendants claim that they found three packets of marihuana, similar to the ones that the CI had obtained, and a twenty dollar bill that supposedly had been pre-recorded by Defendants. Although Defendants allegedly found these materials in Plaintiffs home, no other contraband was found, such as scales or empty plastic baggies and the cell phone that was allegedly used to make the drug deals. As a direct result of these false allegations, Plaintiff was charged with criminal use of a communication facility, of which he was found not guilty, delivery/possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, and simple possession of a controlled substance, which the DA nol-prossed, meaning no further actions were taken to proceed with the case. Plaintiff was released from jail following the rulings, spending, overall, two and one half years in jail for crimes that never happened.

On August 15, 2013, James, Schwartz and Associates, filed a civil complaint in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, in which our client is suing two Philadelphia police officers for assault and battery, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle that was driven by a male whom Plaintiff did not know but paid $5 for a ride. Defendants initiated a traffic stop for an alleged traffic violation, whereupon the driver and the front seat passenger fled the scene. Our client, who had no reason to flee, exited the vehicle and began to walk toward Defendants. Without any warning, or legal cause or justification, one defendant punched our client in eye, causing him to fall. That defendant continued to physically assault our client, with no justification, until he stepped on our client’s face after he was already handcuffed, causing Plaintiff’s face to suffer a laceration that required four stitches to close. Defendants proceeded to arrest our client for being in possession of a stolen car based upon an allegation that he was the driver of the vehicle, even though they knew that he had exited the rear passenger seat. When Plaintiff asked why he was being charged, Defendants replied that since the driver got away, and Plaintiff could not identify him, “someone had to get charged.” Plaintiff was found not guilty of all the charges brought against him including, recklessly endangering another person, and fleeing or attempting to elude police. Plaintiff is seeking to recover damages for his attorney’s fees, hospital bills, and pain and suffering. He will seek punitive damages as well.

On August 20, 2013, James, Schwartz & Associates filed a civil action in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, on behalf of our client against four detectives from the Philadelphia Police Department for assault and battery, false imprisonment, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Our client was on her porch when she heard shots fired nearby. She quickly grabbed her children and ran inside. Plaintiff cooperated entirely with a detective who came to home and interviewed her. Nonetheless, Plaintiff was brought in the Police Administration Building for questioning. Although Plaintiff was told that her questioning would only take an hour, she was unlawfully detained by the defendant homicide detectives for nearly 24 hours during which time, Plaintiff was verbally abused and kept in unfit conditions, until she became physically ill. Although Plaintiff had told Defendants the truth about what she knew about the shooting, she was repeatedly called a liar and was told she “would not leave till she told the truth.” Plaintiff became so distraught that her blood pressure soared, forcing defendants to transport her to a hospital emergency room for treatment. She is seeking compensation for pain and suffering, as well as punitive damages.

James, Schwartz & Associates has also filed three more federal civil rights actions under § 1983 against the discredited narcotics officers, Liciardello, Betts, Reynolds, Speiser, Spicer, and Otto. This brings to twelve the number of our clients whose civil rights were violated by this crew.

…custody of non-existent grandchildren

Defendant loses post trial motions in case where plaintiff arrested for interfering with custody of non-existent grandchildren

Last summer, in a state claim of malicious prosecution brought in Philadelphia, James, Schwartz & Associates, secured a jury verdict of $150,000 plus $1,000 in punitive damages in favor of Joyce Combs and against the detective who arrested her.  On August 1, 2013, the Honorable Annette Rizzo denied Defendant’s post trial motions, opening the door for an appeal.  Post-judgment interest now brings the award to $160,000.  This was the highest award for an intentional tort in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the year 2012.

Plaintiff was arrested and charged with, inter alia, interfering with the custody of her infant grandchildren.  The charges stemmed from an allegation made by Plaintiff’s estranged daughter.  The arrest warrant was not executed for ten months when Plaintiff was escorted out in handcuffs in front of the students at the elementary school where she worked for 15 years (over 30 years with the Philadelphia School District) s a special needs aide.

The problem with the criminal prosecution was that the grandchildren did NOT exist.  Plaintiff’s theory that the defendant failed to investigate, failed to follow police directives regarding the investigation of missing children, and failed to follow police directives requiring law enforcement personnel to  re-investigate once the information becomes stale and the warrant has not been issued within 30 days,   The detective failed to investigate Plaintiff, or any other witness identified as having knowledge about the case, and was caught in significant fabrications about what she did do, including NOT interviewing the so-called mother in person at her home as indicated in the interview form.

At trial, the defense theory was that the detective did everything in her power to locate the missing children.  The jury necessarily rejected her testimony and found that the detective’s conduct constituted willful conduct, and that her actions were so outrageous (exhibiting a reckless disregard for the rights of Plaintiff) to warrant the imposition of punitive damages.

On post trial motions, defendant took a different tack, and argued that a failure to investigate may be negligent or even grossly negligent but does not amount to willful misconduct.  Plaintiff’s position is that the appeals court does not have to reach that issue because here the detective’s conduct rose above gross negligence particularly here where the detective’s credibility was called seriously into issue, and for that reason, the issue of willful misconduct was a jury question.

…top Pennsylvania verdicts of 2012!!!!

James, Schwartz, and Associates, P.C. included in Top Pennsylvania Verdicts of 2012!!!!

Our firm has been mentioned in Top PA Verdicts of 2012 on page 24 under Intentional. It’s in reference to the Combs V. Blowes matter, an Intentional Tort: Malicious Prosecution case in which the Plaintiff, our client, was awarded $151,000.00!

See Link Below!

http://www.evergreeneditions.com/publication/?i=160462

Drug charges withdrawn…over questionable narcotics squad…

Drug Charges Withdrawn, Dozens More Cases at Stake Over Questionable Narcotics Squad
December 07, 2012|BY BARBARA LAKER, Daily News Staff Writer lakerb@phillynews.com, 215-854-5933

A NUMBER OF DRUG cases involving a recently dismantled and controversial narcotics squad were withdrawn Thursday, a move that defense attorneys across the city said was long overdue.

The reaction came on the heels of Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey transferring five officers – Perry Betts, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Thomas Liciardello and Brian Speiser – and Lt. Robert Otto out of narcotics.
For years, the officers had been targets of numerous federal lawsuits – many of which the city settled – and mounds of Police Internal Affairs complaints.

Defense attorneys had complained to the District Attorney’s Office about them and told judges that this group fabricated evidence, planted drugs, stole money and used excessive force.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to use them as witnesses in federal drug cases for at least two years, sources said.

And recently the D.A.’s office told Ramsey that prosecutors no longer wanted to use the testimony of these officers in drug cases due to credibility problems.

“I would characterize them as a group of cowboys who run roughshod over the truth to create criminal prosecutions,” said Michael C. Schwartz, an attorney who is representing Theodore Carobine, who has filed a civil suit against Liciardello, Spicer, Betts, Reynolds and three other cops.

“It’s a long time coming,” Schwartz said.

Now, dozens of criminal cases are at stake. Those pending could be dismissed, while closed cases could be overturned, legal experts say.

Ramsey has transferred Betts, Spicer, Liciardello and Speiser to Center City districts and Reynolds to the traffic unit. Otto was moved to South Detectives.

None of the officers could be reached for comment and John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, did not return a phone call. McNesby reportedly has defended the officers, saying that they are hardworking and aggressive, and that the accusations are unfounded.

This is the second group of narcotics officers since 2009 that have been prohibited from working drug cases over allegations of misconduct. The first group was the subject of the Daily News’ 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning “Tainted Justice” series.

Guy Sciolla, a defense attorney in the city, said that many of the search warrants prepared by the squad in the recent cases were cookie-cutter with duplicate language and scenarios.

“It was always the same story and when you do that, even the district attorney is somewhat skeptical,” he said. “How can it all be the same?”

Sciolla said that he talked to the D.A.’s office about his concerns, as did others.

He applauded Ramsey and D.A. Seth Williams for removing the officers from drug cases.

In an October hearing on a drug case, attorney Larry Krasner implored Municipal Judge Charles Hayden to take into account that the officers, including Spicer and Liciardello, have “integrity issues” and have been accused of theft.
“Obviously, when you steal money, drugs or both, you don’t write on your police paperwork, ‘Oh, by the way, I stole some money, drugs or both.’ You have to cover it up. You have to falsify it. And you have to be prepared to testify falsely in court,” Krasner told the court.

Michael Pileggi, who has several lawsuits against the squad, said that he expects some of those convicted to be freed as a result of the transfers.

“A lot of these guys are sitting in jail and shouldn’t be,” Pileggi said. “They’re sitting there because these guys contrived stories or evidence was planted.”

Bradley S. Bridge, an attorney with the Defender Association of Philadelphia, said that these officers “had been on my radar for a long time. Those names are all familiar because clients had complained that these officers fabricated evidence and perjured themselves.”

Theodore Carobine, of Northeast Philadelphia, was 50 years old and had no criminal history when he was arrested in July 2009.

In his lawsuit, Carobine alleges that the officers planted methamphetamine in his house and took more than $2,300 and rings. He was jailed for five weeks until he could raise bail. Prosecutors later withdrew the case.

Christopher Conolly, of South Philadelphia, alleges in his lawsuit that on Dec. 20, 2010, Liciardello and another officer pulled him over after he had left his martial-arts class.

Conolly couldn’t tell that they were officers because they drove an unmarked car with tinted windows and wore hooded sweatshirts, jeans and boots. He thought that he was going to get carjacked.

The officers cursed at him when he asked to see a badge and would not identify themselves. Fearing for his life, Conolly drove away and tried to call 9-1-1.

The officers caught up to him and Conolly got out of the car with his hands up. Liciardello threw him to the ground and slammed his head against the pavement and choked him with a flashlight, according to the lawsuit.

“If you don’t shut up, I will put a f—— bullet in your head. Don’t think I am kidding, I will blow your f—— head off,” Liciardello allegedly told him.

Conolly was charged with recklessly endangering another person, resisting arrest and fleeing to elude a police officer. The charges were dropped and the city settled the suit.

Original article can be found at: http://articles.philly.com/2012-12-07/news/35672836_1_drug-cases-group-of-narcotics-officers-perry-betts#.UMPHCajbvDQ.facebook