verdicts and settlements
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Date of Verdict:

Nov. 14, 2016

Court and Case No.:

U.S. District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania, Scranton No. 3:13-cv-02945-RDM.

Judge:

Robert D. Mariani

Type of Action:

Settlement.

Injuries:

Other than having stun-gun prongs removed from their backs, the Williamses received no medical treatment. They sought damages for past and future pain and suffering.

Plaintiff’s Attorneys:

Harry T. Coleman of The Law Office of Harry Coleman, Carbondale, Nicholas J. Williams David A. Searles, Donovan Searles, Philadelphia; and Bernard S. Rubb of Sewickley.

Defense Counsel:

Paul G. Lees of Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin, Bethlehem; Michael J. Zicolello of Schemery Zicolello, Williamsport.

James W. Christie, Christie Pabarue Mortensen & Young, Philadelphia.

Comment:

On June 23, 2012, plaintiff Nicholas Williams was charged with aggravated assault, simple assault and disorderly conduct, in the borough of Olyphant, in Lackawanna County.

Williams and plaintiff Chelsea Williams had been married earlier that day. After the reception, the couple separately drove to a family friend’s house. Upon arriving, Nicholas Williams allegedly punched the family friend in the face, twice, after the friend alleged that he had attempted to sexually touch her sister in the car. The friend’s husband and Nicholas Williams engaged in a physical altercation, which prompted police to respond.

Nicholas Williams asserted that Officer Dean Argenta of the Borough of Olyphant Police Department used excessive force against him by repeatedly striking him on the left thigh with an expandable baton. Argenta was assisted by officers Katie Fallon and Christopher Mackey, of the Borough of Dickson City Police Department. The officers used a stun gun on Nicholas Williams while attempting to subdue him, which prompted Chelsea Williams to intervene, and Argenta allegedly repeatedly used a stun gun on her. According to Chelsea Williams, Argenta threw her into the bushes, pulled her dress down, exposing her breasts, and arrested and charged her without probable cause.

Chelsea Williams was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and obstructing administration of law or government function. The charges were dismissed pursuant to an oral plea deal, in which Nicholas Williams would take responsibility for causing the incident by pleading guilty, and the charges against Chelsea Williams would be dismissed.

The Williamses sued the officers, their respective boroughs, and Borough of Olyphant Police Chief John Gilgallon, alleging that they violated their constitutional rights by using excessive force.

According to plaintiffs’ counsel, Argenta was charged criminally when it was determined that he had lied on his application for the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission certification. He entered into a plea with the Lackawanna District Attorney’s Office that ensured he would no longer work in law enforcement.

Argenta contended that he had arrived on the scene with his lights and siren activated and directed his spotlight on the crowd. People were yelling and there were several individuals in the street. The officer said that Nicholas Williams walked toward his patrol vehicle with foam coming out of his mouth, which prompted Argenta to tell Williams to stop and get back. Williams refused, which prompted the officer to strike him in the leg with his baton.

According to the officers, Williams then ran into his wife’s car and refused to get out. After Williams finally exited the vehicle, he pushed the officers and swung his arms at them, while yelling and screaming. The officers testified that Williams was belligerent, would not calm down, and would not comply with several commands. Argenta said that he felt someone on his back scratching his eyes and face, and he discovered that Chelsea Williams had jumped on his back (Chelsea Williams denied this). This prompted one of the officers to use a stun gun on her.

Counsel for the officers and boroughs maintained that the force against the Williamses was necessary, given their non-compliant and violent behavior.

— This report first appeared in VerdictSearch, an ALM publication. •