Trooper arrested after wedding brawl sues Pittsburgh cops

AP News
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Posted: Mar 24, 2015 7:52 PM

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A state trooper sued Pittsburgh police on Tuesday, saying they arrested him on false charges and used excessive force — including a kick to the groin — when he tried to calm a rowdy groomsman following a brawl after his brother's wedding.

Trooper David Williams, 35, of Plum, contends city officers falsely claimed he attacked them when, instead, they pushed and punched him for no reason, escalating a situation he was trying to help defuse after the Sept. 1 melee.

Williams spent 17 hours in jail and was suspended by state police for 10 days without pay before Allegheny County prosecutors dropped charges including rioting and aggravated assault, both felonies.

"It's just not true, everything they filed against me," Williams told The Associated Press. "All these charges, they just don't exist."

His lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, seeks unspecified monetary damages.

His attorney, Timothy O'Brien, said the lawsuit targets the "unnecessary escalation of otherwise manageable situations. It's a problem within the Pittsburgh Police Department and it's a problem across the country."

City police have a history of excessive force complaints. A class-action lawsuit brought by 66 people alleging rough treatment, false arrest or both resulted in a 1997 consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department requiring the city to better train its officers and monitor complaints against them.

More recently, a federal jury last year awarded $119,000 to a young black man after finding police wrongly arrested him for prowling while walking to his grandmother's house in January 2009. The jury rejected claims that three white officers used excessive force during the arrest.

O'Brien said the case of Williams, who is white, proves nobody is safe from such abuses.

"If it can happen to Mr. Williams — a police officer, a state trooper — then who amongst us is not in danger of having it happen to them?" O'Brien said.

Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar said an internal investigation would be requested through the Office of Municipal Investigations.

"As in all cases involving allegations of excessive force by members of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, an objective, impartial and thorough investigation will be conducted to identify and determine the facts, circumstances and evidence," Bucar said in a statement.

He said an internal preliminary review would determine whether the officers involved would remain on duty, be assigned to administrative duty or suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.

Bucar also said state police and city officers have "a longstanding professional and positive working relationship."

"As I caution the public not to draw broad conclusions about all members of the Pittsburgh Police Bureau when a complaint about specific officers is filed, I also caution the officers from both agencies not to draw those same broad conclusions about all members of their partner agency as a result of this allegation," he said.

Williams' arrest, captured on surveillance video, occurred after a fight broke out among the wedding party in a parking lot after they got off a riverboat.

The groom was handcuffed and seated, but a groomsman was mouthing off to police and claiming to have HIV, Williams said, apparently hoping in his drunken state that would discourage police from arresting him, too.

Williams said he told the groomsman to calm down and to cooperate with police, only to have an officer push him out of the way. After that confrontation, other officers pushed and punched Williams, before several grabbed him and put him on the ground, even though he politely explained who he was, didn't use profanity or attack the police, the lawsuit said.

The video, which doesn't have audio, appears to support Williams' claims that he was acting as a peacemaker and never attacked the officers.