Payouts increase for lawsuits that allege police misconduct

Posted: January 24, 2011 by scaryhouse in Uncategorized

By Joe Smydo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Settlements in police misconduct cases have cost the city of Pittsburgh about $300,000 in the past 13 months, and another settlement for $150,000 is pending — an uptick in payouts that has some officials and lawyers urging a review of police department procedures, especially those pertaining to officers’ off-duty activities.

The city settled one federal misconduct lawsuit in 2008 and one in 2009.

Last year, however, the city settled four misconduct suits, two of them involving officers who were off-duty or moonlighting when the incidents occurred. So far this year, City Council has taken up two more settlements, both involving off-duty officers.

Because the financially strapped city is self-insured, payouts come from the $450 million operating budget.

“My hope is that the city takes more control over officers’ behavior, when they are on the clock and off the clock,” said Irwin lawyer Gerald O’Brien, who is seeking a $150,000 settlement for Leonard Hamler of Houston, Texas.

Mr. Hamler, a dump-truck driver on the Port Authority tunnel project, claimed that Officer Garrett Brown — in uniform but off duty and driving a personal vehicle — passed him and cut him off on a Downtown street about 2:30 a.m. Jan. 19, 2008. Mr. Hamler said Mr. Brown, “irate and acting erratically,” ordered him out of the dump truck and assaulted him, aggravating a previous shoulder injury.

The altercation occurred after Mr. Hamler tapped his brakes a number of times, something he said he did to avoid the vehicle in front of him. Mr. Brown’s attorney, Bryan Campbell, called it a sign of reckless driving and road rage. Mr. Campbell said Mr. Hamler was “combative” after being stopped.

Council last week postponed a vote on the proposed settlement with Mr. Hamler and gave final approval to a $40,000 settlement with South Side resident Kaleb Miller, who was shot in the hand by off-duty Officer Paul Abel about 2:10 a.m. June 28, 2008. According to court records, the gun accidentally discharged during a tussle that was prompted by Mr. Abel’s mistaken belief that Mr. Miller was the person who had assaulted him earlier in the evening.

via Payouts increase for lawsuits that allege police misconduct.

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