Suit Alleges Abusive Arrest
BY CLAUDIA N. GINANNI
Special to the Legal
A 4-foot 11, 100 pound man with “severe congenital birth defects” claims that a Philadelphia cop mocked his disability and then, in a “violent rage” at the man’s response, severely beat him in the course of a false arrest.
Attorney Gavin Lentz of Bochetto & Lentz filed the suit on behalf of Stephen Smith, naming Officer Frank Gatto and the City of Philadelphia as defendants.
Smith, 43, also has “a history of respiratory problems stemming from the removal of one lung” and suffers from ” depression an psychosis,” which were allegedly exacerbated by the attack according to the complaint.
Smith alleges that he was at the corner of Roosevelt Boulevard and Cottman Avenue waiting to see the Olympic torch parade on the evening of July 18, 1996, when he approached Officer Gatto’s patrol car and asked if he knew the whereabouts of George Schweizer, a Philadelphia police effacer assigned to the same district, who was Smith’s cousin.
Gatto allegedly responded with abusive and profane language and then mocked Smith asking him “does your mother know you’re out this late?” and “where did you get that mustache, it almost looks real.”
Smith claims he walked away from “the most obnoxious cop I’ve ever met.”
According to the suit, Gatto then leapt from his car and beat Smith “until he was nearly knocked unconscious,” using his fists, knees and nightstick. The beating caused injuries that required emergency medical treatment the suit alleges, as well as permanent damage.
Smith also alleges that Gatto and his fellow officers laughed at the coughing spell provoked by Gatto’s assault and refused to help the prisoner despite the fact that he told them he had only one lung and couldn’t breathe.
Smith was acquitted in August of disorderly conduct charges in connection with the incident. At the August proceeding, Gatto denied that he had made offensive statements about Smith’s stature and claimed Smith had been “flailing” his arms, yelling curses at Gatto and attempting to reach into the patrol car when Gatto arrested him.
But Lentz told the judge the arrest report Gatto filed the night of the incident didn’t contain any record of Smith reaching into the patrol car or flailing his arms.
The complaint alleges violations of Smith’s civil rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and 14th Amendments as well as battery, false imprisonment and actionable damage to reputation. The City of Philadelphia is accused of negligence in permitting Gatto to remain on the police force ‘despite his obvious violent tendencies. The case, Smith v. City of Philadelphia, 97-cv-0179.