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Unlike state governments, municipalities and local governmental figures can be sued under Section 1983 for depriving others of their constitutional rights, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has ruled. In an opinion written by Judge John Padova, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied in part a motion to dismiss claims against Glenolden Police Chief Edward Cooke in Mitros v. Borough of Glenolden. The court held that the police chief could be sued under Section 1983 although the Police Department could not. The court also found that the police chief could be sued in an individual capacity for punitive damages but that the municipality and the police chief in his official capacity could not be sued. The plaintiff, Marianne Mitros, brought a Section 1983 action against the Glenolden, the Police Department, Cooke and Glenolden Police Officer Christopher J. Scaggs for an alleged sexual assault. In June 2000, Mitros and her 10-year-old daughter were involved in a domestic dispute. Scaggs arrived at Mitros’ home to respond to a call about the dispute. According to Mitros, after Scaggs helped resolve the dispute, he sexually assaulted her and then left her house. Mitros called 911 to report the alleged sexual assault but hung up before placing a statement. Scaggs himself was sent to investigate the 911 hang-up. According to the opinion, Mitros also asserted that Scaggs returned to her house, only to sexually assault her again. In bringing the civil rights suit against Glenolden, the Police Department and Cooke, Mitros claimed that Scaggs “had a prior history of harassing and assaulting females while on duty and that the Department and Police Chief Cooke knew of this history … and that they … tolerated, and allowed Scaggs’ behavior to continue.” Before the Eastern District court, Cooke filed a motion to dismiss the claim against him in his official capacity, arguing that the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case Will v. Michigan Department of State Police dictated that state officials acting in their official capacity may not be sued under Section 1983. The court found that the premise of Will applies to state officials and that Cooke is not a public officer of the state but rather of a locality. According to the court, Mitros’ actions were brought under the 1978 Supreme Court decision Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, which said, “Municipalities and other local government units can be sued under Section 1983 for allegedly unconstitutional action. …” In turn, the court denied the motion to dismiss the Section 1983 claims against Cooke in his official capacity. Mitros can seek punitive damages, Padova wrote, because “the allegations support a claim for punitive damages against Defendant Cooke in his individual capacity.” The court cited the Supreme Court decision in Smith v. Wade, which held that a defendant may be held liable in his individual capacity for punitive damages if his actions are motivated by “evil motive or intent, or when it involves reckless or callous indifference to the federally protected rights of others.” In contrast, the court did dismiss the punitive damages counts against Glenolden and Cooke in his official capacity because “punitive damages claims are barred against municipalities under Section 1983.” Cooke, when acting in his official capacity, is considered a mere arm of the municipality. CRIMINAL CASE Scaggs, 30, has been suspended without pay and is facing criminal charges involving alleged assaults on Mitros and another woman. In a hearing in March, the second woman said that she had had sex with Scaggs on four occasions to avoid going to jail. The woman, a fugitive and cocaine abuser, said Scaggs was armed and in full uniform during the multiple encounters in 1999. In testimony for the criminal case against Scaggs, Mitros contends that there were other complaints about Scaggs engaging in sexual misconduct before the alleged assault on her but that the claims were “dismissed and disregarded without proper investigation.” In an interview several months ago, Cooke said Scaggs was suspended from the force as soon as the first complaint reached his desk. Cooke said there is no truth to Mitros’ claim that either he or the borough tolerated sexual misconduct by any officer. “I would get rid of a bad cop in a minute without any qualms about it. I think all of the officers know that,” Cooke said. U.S. Courthouse Correspondent ShannonDuffy contributed to this report.

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