PHILADELPHIA (CN) - A Liberian man may amend claims that a Pennsylvania cop punched, Tasered and arrested him when he approached a friend's car, costing him his chance at citizenship, a federal judge ruled.
Fayiah Lebie was attending a National Liberian Organization meeting in Darby Borough, Pa. on June 10, 2012, when he heard that police were about to tow a red minivan, according to the complaint.
Seeing that the car belonged to his friend, Lebie asked Officer Paul McGrenera to let the owner move his vehicle, the complaint states.
When the officer said it was too late, Lebie took out his cellphone to take photos of the abandoned garage the van was blocking, so he could show them to a judge if his friend chose to dispute the citation, according to the complaint.
McGrenera then punched Lebie in the face and pointed his Taser at him. Lebie begged the officer not to shoot and "maneuvered around a parked vehicle," the complaint states.
The officer then allegedly Tasered Lebie in the thumb, arrested him, and took him to Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital to treat his wounds.
Lebie was charged with multiple counts of aggravated assault, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, harassment, and obstruction of highways, though the district attorney dropped all but the first three charges.
Because Lebie could not post the $75,000 bail, he spent 10 days in county jail until bail was lowered to $25,000.
Due to his arrest, Lebie says, he missed his naturalization ceremony and so was unable to become a U.S. citizen, though he was found not guilty of all charges at a jury trial.
Lebie sued the borough and McGrenera, asserting claims under federal and state law for assault and battery, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and emotional distress.
The Taser incident allegedly was not McGrenera's first, as he used his Taser to "pistol whip" a man in another town in 2011, who later sued for excessive force, according to Lebie.
Since 2000, more than 20 complaints have been filed in Pennsylvania's Eastern District against Darby Borough and its police, alleging civil rights violations such as unlawful arrest and excessive force, including two cases involving use of a Taser, Lebie claims.
But Senior U.S. District Judge J. Curtis Joyner dismissed the complaint on May 13, finding that Lebie failed to allege an official policy or custom to support a Monell claim.
"Plaintiff has not directly named a single official who may reasonably be inferred to have policymaking authority," Joyner wrote. "Nor does plaintiff address in his response the fact that the complaint names no such policymaker. Without reference to a natural person with policymaking authority, the court cannot infer that a policymaker acquiesced in the customs that plaintiff attributes to Darby Borough."
The judge also tossed Lebie's claim that the borough failed to train its police on citizens' rights, unlawful detentions and use of force.
"Plaintiff points only to entities - the Darby Borough City Council and Darby Borough, as shouldering responsibility for the unconstitutional failure to train," Joyner wrote. "Without an allegation that a policymaker of Darby Borough was on 'actual or constructive notice that a particular omission in their training program causes city employees to violate citizens' constitutional rights,' the court cannot infer that the Borough was deliberately indifferent."
The court gave Lebie 15 days to amend his complaint a second time.