Monday, January 9, 2012

Pennsylvania cops do not have immunity from charges of urine, pepper spray torture

Washington Post
Elizabeth Flock

A federal judge ruled Monday that a Pennsylvania woman can go forward with her lawsuit claiming that state police pepper sprayed her, doused her in cold water and then urinated on her while she was in restraints, The New Jersey Herald reports.
Derena Madison was taken into custody after police arrested her friend for driving under the influence, Courthouse News Service reported Friday.

The troopers initially claimed sovereign immunity from the suit, saying that “subduing persons is one of the acts of law enforcement officers are employed to perform,” and that they were “serving the purposes of ... the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania” in doing so.
Judge Gary Lancaster ruled that sovereign immunity doesn’t apply in this case, as the alleged misconduct is not included in their duties.

Lancaster was not making a call on the merit of her allegations — only on the fact that the sovereign immunity can't be used.

Under sovereign immunity, a state is immune from lawsuits or criminal prosecution because it cannot commit a legal wrong. It is most often exercised in Pennsylvania.
According to Madison’s suit, she was arrested after she exited the car for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. An officer then “twice sprayed [her] face, head and body with pepper spray, without justification ... for the purpose of torturing her,” according to the suit.

After calling for help, Madison says several officers put large quantities of cold water over her head, which caused her to fall to her knees in the snow and briefly black out.
When she regained consciousness, Madison alleged that she “felt and smelled urine on her head, face, neck and person. She believes that while she was unconscious, one or more of the defendants urinated on her.”

Madison says she was manacled during all three instances, and so the police force was clearly used to “degrade and humiliate” her, not subdue her. She sued two officers, an individual identified as “Cooley,” and two other unidentified individuals.

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