No Admission of Wrongdoing

Updated 4 years ago by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
No Admission of Wrongdoing

A “no admission of wrongdoing” and $75,000 has settled a pending federal civil rights case against the City of Huntington and three police officers. Prior to the settlement, defense council Steven K. Nord strongly denied that police had arrested plaintiff Joseph Pniewski, seized his video camera and erased footage of him recording a “search” of a Northcott Court vehicle.

Courtenay Craig and Rick Weston, two of three attorneys that represented Pniewski in a published report stated that the tape had not been erased, that it had been found by an employee of Marshall University, and that the tape would have provided the best evidence to support the claim.

The civil rights complaint had additional components aside from the video camera, including allegations of excessive force, improper use of “obstruction” statute, and an alleged refusal to provide medical treatment. The latter related to allegedly too tight handcuffs. After his arrest, the plaintiff allegedly requested medical attention for chest pains to no avail. He then kicked out the window of the police car screaming, “I’m having a heart attack”.

EMS took him to Cabell Huntington Hospital for treatment and he remained hospitalized until law enforcement took him into custody upon discharge the next day.

Hospital blood testing indicated an elevation of at least one enzyme (and another with low specificity) for a potential heart attack marker for patients that experience chest pain. Plaintiff has a history of heart attacks.

Officers retorted the simple taking video footage statement by asserting that the car search occurred in a “high crime and drug trafficking” area, and that the vehicle belonged to a cousin of plaintiff’s roommate and contained a prescription pill bottle in it. Under those statements, attorney Michael Dockery argued that the police officers were entitled to “qualified immunity” from suit due to the circumstances under which a reasonable officer would act.

One of the three officers did not take part, according to the argument and depositions, in the actual arrest of the plaintiff.

According to a published report, neither the plaintiff nor the City of Huntington wanted to settle the case. City Attorney Scott McClure in a prepared statement called the decision to settle a financial one by the city’s insurer. The case had been scheduled for trial soon in U.S. District Court subject to a ruling on Defendant’s pre-trial summary judgment motion.

Although not a result of the complaint, police officers have started a continuing education styled course on First Amendment and obstruction. Two additional lawsuits filed by the plaintiff’s attorneys that question police use of “obstruction” as a “pretexual reason for excessive force.”

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