|Grandstanding Public Officials Cleared In Civil Case|
U.S. District Court Judge Paul S. Diamond has dismissed a defamation and false light suit filed by six reinstated police officers and their supervisor against District Attorney R. Seth Williams, former Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, and former Mayor Michael A. Nutter.
The lawsuit, Robert G. Otto, et al., v. R. Seth Williams et al. sought monetary and punitive damages for irresponsible "grandstanding" and some epic tarring and feathering done by the three city officials named in the suit, according to an amended complaint filed last July 24th in U.S. District Court by Philadelphia lawyer Christopher D. Mannix.
But on Monday, Judge Diamond entered a one-page decision on the court docket granting a motion by the defendants, which included the city of Philadelphia, to dismiss the complaint "with prejudice."
"The clerk shall close this case," the judge wrote.
Lawyers for the district attorney and the city could not be reached for comment. But in a telephone interview tonight, Mannix, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, didn't sound like he was ready to wave the white flag.
|Mayor Nutter [right]|
"These guys have been through enormous battles, and they've prevailed," the lawyer said. He was referring to an odyssey that began with a RICO indictment, followed by a transfer to desk jobs, followed by getting fired. Then came the big racketeering trial where the narcs were completely exonerated, followed by an arbitration hearing, where they were reinstated with back pay.
"But on the other hand, an enormous stigma has still prevailed," Mannix said, referring to the allegations in the RICO indictment. Because instead of apologizing to the officers, the city officials named in the lawsuit have continued to trash the cops.
"So this battle is not over at all," Mannix said, referring to the battle to restore the officers' reputations. "The opinion has just been hand down and we are actively considering all options."
The original civil lawsuit against the D.A. the former mayor and former police commissioner was filed on behalf of Lt. Robert G. Otto, and six former narcotics officers that he supervised: Michael Spicer, Brian Reynolds, Perry Betts, John Speiser, Thomas Liciardello, and Linwood Norman.
On July 29, 2014, the six narcotics cops were indicted by the U.S. Attorney's office and charged in a RICO indictment with robbing and beating the drug dealers they arrested, as well as extortion, kidnapping, possession with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine, and falsifying records.
But on May 14, 2015, in a humiliating defeat for the feds, the six former narcotics officers were found not guilty by a jury on all 47 counts in the RICO indictment.
The lawsuit was also prompted by a July 31, 2014 press conference, where Mayor Nutter called the indicted cops "sick scumbags." Not to be outdone, Commissioner Ramsey said the indictment was the worst case of police corruption he'd seen in his 40-year career, and then he promised to melt the officers' badges.
Following their acquittal on all charges, on July 10, 2015, the defendants were reinstated to their jobs with back pay. But in August 2015, Perry Betts, one of the reinstated cops, was fired again after he allegedly tested positive for marijuana.
In a 16-page memorandum that accompanied his decision, the judge wrote that the plaintiff's complaint "which reads more like a press release than a pleading" has "no basis in law."
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The judge noted that Commissioner Ramsey subsequently told the Philadelphia Daily News, "It's very, very unfortunate that the U.S. Attorney's Office did not win the case." Not to be outdone, D.A. Williams told the Daily News that the acquittal of the officers "would not alter [the D.A.'s office's] approach concerning these officers."
After the officers filed their civil complaint, the city moved to dismiss the charges.
"Faced with compelling dismissal motions," the judge wrote, the plaintiffs then decided to withdraw their complaints against D.A. Williams and withdraw their false light and defamation claims against the other defendants.
Lt. Otto also asked to withdraw from the civil case as a plaintiff, the judge wrote.
The problem the plaintiffs were up against was that Pennsylvania state law "absolutely immunizes" the district attorney, mayor and police commissioner, the judge wrote. The state has an unlimited doctrine of absolute privilege for high public officials that absolves them of damages in any civil suit, even in the case of false, defamatory statements made with malice, the judge wrote.
But the judge claimed that the plaintiffs' decisions to withdraw their complaints left him in a bind.
"Were I to accede to Plaintiffs requests, the only claim remaining would be" a "procedural due process claim against former Mayor Nutter, former Commissioner Ramsey, and the city, the judge wrote.
"Plaintiffs' decision to withdraw wholesale their most incendiary claims before any discovery has been taken is troubling, to say the least," the judge wrote, adding that "claims must be brought in good faith."
"This highly unusual action suggests that even though there is no reasonable basis to prosecute the claims, Plaintiffs nonetheless wish to retain the right to bring them again," the judge wrote.
The plaintiffs argued the false stigma of being corrupt officers remains, due to the continuing actions of city officials.
The judge, however, ruled that this claim of being stigmatized is not plausible because the plaintiffs "have failed to make out that their criminal trial and arbitration 'did not provide due process of law.'"