Jury picked in police use-of-force trial
Share with others:
An eight-member jury was picked this morning to hear a civil trial in which state and city of Pittsburgh police are charged with excessive force.
"A law enforcement officer, official, may only use the amount of force necessary to make the stop," U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab told the jury. "The police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions" in difficult situations, he added.
The case pits David Palmer, a Whitehall engineer, against state Trooper Samuel J. Nassan III, city of Pittsburgh Detective Sheila A. Ladner, and city Sgt. Terrence J. Donnelly.
Trooper Nassan has said in court filings that Mr. Palmer was speeding, and his registration plate light was out, when he veered briefly into the lane of oncoming traffic. So he pulled the engineer over at a BP station at 10th Street and East Carson Street.
He claimed that Mr. Palmer just stared straight ahead when asked for his license and registration, and then said he was "set up" and was being "harrassed" before complying. Mr. Palmer then confirmed that he'd been drinking.
When Trooper Nassan asked Mr. Palmer why he kept reaching into his pants pocket, according to the state's court filings, he said, "I'm getting my gun." Trooper Nassan yelled "gun" and grabbed Mr. Palmer's arm, a struggle ensued in which Sgt. Donnelly participated, and Detective Ladner shocked the engineer with her Taser.
Trooper Nassan and Sgt. Donnelly took Mr. Palmer to the ground, and it took another Taser zap before he stopped struggling, the state argues. They then found a loaded Kel-Tec 9 mm semi-automatic handgun in his pocket.
That differs starkly from Mr. Palmer's account. He has said in court filings that he complied with the request for license and registration, volunteered that he had a permitted gun, and then suffered unprovoked hits to the head, neck and face before being taken down and shocked twice with the Taser. Mr. Palmer was 37 at the time of the stop, with no prior criminal record.
Mr. Palmer is expected to testify after opening statements this afternoon.
Trooper Nassan, 38, has been in court before, most notably in a civil lawsuit stemming from his 2002 shooting of 12-year-old Michael Ellerbe in a Uniontown foot chase following the boy's theft of a Ford Bronco. After a federal jury rendered a $28 million verdict, the state appealed and then settled for $12.5 million.
The state has paid a total of $262,930 to settle three other civil lawsuits in which Trooper Nassan has been a defendant.
He and Sgt. Donnelly are also defendants in a civil lawsuit pending in the 2009 death of Nicholas Haniotakis, who was 33 when shot on the South Side. The defense is expected to argue that Mr. Haniotakis, who had a significant criminal record was on an impaired-at-the-wheel rampage through the neighborhood's streets and drove at them before they fired on him.
First Published February 22, 2011 12:31 pm