A civil lawsuit filed by Robert Leone, 36, of Vestal, N.Y. that accuses five Pennsylvania State Police law enforcement officers of alleged police brutality relating to a March 8, 2010 incident in Bradford County is moving to trial on Monday.
Documents filed with the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania show Leone is seeking action for money damages in excess of $75,000 and names Corporal Roger Stipcak, Trooper Scott Renfer, Trooper Andrew Burian, Trooper Matthew Knock and Trooper Thad Warnick as defendants in the case.
According to a criminal complaint filed at the time of the 2010 incident, state police responded to a report of a black Pontiac being driven erratically westbound on Route 6. Police spotted the vehicle, driven by Leone, driving westbound out of Towanda and attempted to pull him over with lights and sirens. A low speed pursuit followed, which involved state police utilizing spike strips and pit maneuvers to stop Leone.
After police spun Leone’s Pontiac into a ditch along Route 6, police claim Leone refused to comply with orders to get out of the car. Police said Corporal Stipcak used a TAZER on Leone, which did not have much effect. Officers then used “reasonable and necessary force,” according to the criminal complaint, to extract Leone from the vehicle.
In a 2012 interview with The Daily Review, Larry Hohol, who called himself a spokesman for the Leone family refuted many claims from the state police in regard to the incident.
Hohol admitted that Leone should have pulled his vehicle over after he noticed the lights of police cruisers behind him, but questioned the amount of force used by police.
He said Leone could not comply with officers’ orders to get out of his vehicle because the driver’s side door was blocked by a police cruiser.
Hohol also claimed officers assaulted Leone at Memorial Hospital in Towanda while he was receiving medical care after the roadside incident concluded, despite hospital records allegedly describing Leone as “calm” at the time.
During the interview Hohol said officers also assaulted Leone at the state police barracks in North Towanda and that Leone was also pepper sprayed by officers while attempting to transport Leone to the Bradford County Jail.
Police said Leone kicked an officer in the leg and attempted to escape before being pepper sprayed and subdued with a police baton.
Police brought 24 charges against Leone after the incident. He was found guilty of four: simple assault, accidents involving damage to attended vehicles, fleeing or eluding police, and resisting arrest.
The lawsuit asserts that the officers named “severely assaulted, battered and otherwise abused Mr. Leone and/or failed to prevent this conduct despite their duty to protect him and numerous, reasonable opportunities to do so.”
A response filed with the court by Attorney General Linda L. Kelly, representing the state police, said, “At no time have the Commonwealth defendants, either individually or in concert with others, deprived or sought to deprive the plaintiff of any rights, privileges or immunities secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”
The response goes on to deny any allegations of police brutality and states, “All actions taken by the Commonwealth Defendants were proper, lawful, correct and in full accord with all (laws).”
Two Towanda Borough Police Officers, Patrolman John Werner and Sergeant David Lantz, who were originally named in the lawsuit in 2012, are no longer defendants in the case, according to Towanda Borough Police Chief Randy Epler.
Lantz and Werner were called to a deposition hearing last year when Leone said to his attorney, “These guys didn’t do anything,” Epler said.
The two officers are still required to testify as witnesses during the upcoming trial on either Tuesday or Wednesday, he said.
A jury selection is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Monday at the Max Rosenn United States Courthouse in Courtroom No. 3 in Wilkes-Barre before Judge A. Richard Caputo. The trial is scheduled to begin immediately after a jury has been selected.