Pittsburgh SWAT officers must face claims that they raided a family’s home, violently dragged a child from the bathtub, and “terrorized” them at gunpoint, a federal judge ruled.
Georgeia Moreno and her family sued Pittsburgh, its police chief and 14 police officers in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
The events unfolded as Georgeia, her husband, William; and her stepfather, Mark Staymates were watching television in their living room as Georgia’s sick mother, Darlene, slept upstairs at 7 p.m. on Dec. 7, 2010. They suddenly heard a loud explosion and saw bright lights, “as if grenades were going off,” the complaint states.
Pittsburgh Police SWAT officers wearing helmets and facemasks then broke and “stormed through” the front and back doors of the home, according to the complaint.
Those officers allegedly never identified themselves, pointed assault rifles at the family, shouted obscenities and destroyed their property.
Although the team purportedly sought to arrest William for quarreling with a drunk, off-duty police officer at a local veterans club early that morning, the family says that their “terrorization” continued for another 45 minutes after William was apprehended.
The officers threw to the floor, kicked and handcuffed Georgeia, her stepfather and her adult son Billy. They also injured Mark’s shoulder and forced Billy to lie face down in broken glass, according to the complaint.
When Georgeia pleaded repeatedly that she had young children in the house, at least one officer allegedly stated, “You think you can get one of ours, and we won’t get one of yours?”
The family says the police proceeded to drag Georgeia’s 10-year-old son Trentino violently from the bathtub, injuring his ankles. They allegedly then made the boy stand naked at gunpoint next to his 4-year-old sister Briseis.
Officers have continued to harass and threaten the family since the raid, telling them “that’s how we do things here” and that they should move out of Pittsburgh, the complaint states.
The family asserts claims for violations of their Fourth and 14th amendment rights and seeks $50,000 in damages.
U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer refused to dismiss the case Monday, holding that the plaintiffs’ claims are not time-barred, and the officers knew or should have known that the action would be brought against them.
She noted discrepancies with claims from the SWAT defendants that they were not notified of the action within 120 days, i.e. by Sept. 9, 2012.
This claims is belied by Officer Michael Reddy’s answer, which was filed on July 11, 2012, and “contained specific facts about the Dec. 7, 2010, raid of which defendant Reddy later testified he had no personal knowledge,” Fischer wrote (emphasis in original).
“Reddy’s answer contains other statements regarding facts that would have been only known to the SWAT team members involved in the initial raid,” the judge added. “Yet, his answer also avers that in response to certain SWAT team allegations, ‘after reasonable investigation,’ he was without sufficient knowledge to answer. Given these details, it appears that defense counsel may have secured information from other sources, likely the SWAT officers involved in the raid, to craft defendant Reddy’s answer.”
Fischer also tossed aside Officer Carl Morosetti’s claim that he solely arrested William and did not participate in the actual raid.
“If the court accepts plaintiffs’ factual allegations as true and considers them in their favor, as the court must do at the motion to dismiss stage, then plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to support a §1983 claim against Morosetti,” Fischer wrote. “Once discovery has concluded, Morosetti can renew his arguments, if appropriate, at the summary judgment stage.”