PITTSBURGH (AP) - A western Pennsylvania police detective wrongly arrested and beat a woman with his flashlight and kicked her during a traffic stop that began when she was driving her father’s car with an expired registration after going to an evening Mass, the woman alleges in a federal civil rights lawsuit.
The lawsuit contends Indiana Borough Detective Scott Schuller, a 20-year veteran, falsely claimed the car’s license plate light wasn’t working properly as a pretense to make the stop. The suit says the officer dragged Karissa Nikole Smith, then 23, from the car when she tried to phone her father after she was pulled over Nov. 1, 2013.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, was first reported by the Indiana Gazette.
According to the complaint, Smith had attended a Mass with her parents, then prayed for deceased relatives at a cemetery and was giving a friend a ride back to the Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus in her dad’s car when the officer stopped her.
Schuller and his chief, William Sutton, on Wednesday referred questions to attorney Anthony Rash, who said he’s “confident that my clients will not be found liable in this matter.”
Rash said he couldn’t say whether Schuller was disciplined in connection with the traffic stop because it would be unethical to speak about a confidential personnel matter.
Smith’s lawsuit says Sutton “determined that Ms. Smith’s complaint against Schuller was founded and required disciplinary/corrective action.”
“Chief Sutton admits that Ms. Smith posed no threat and that Schuller struck her ‘several times with an impact weapon later determined to be a flashlight,’” the lawsuit says, though it doesn’t make clear the source of the quoted information.
The suit alleges Schuller broke one of Smith’s teeth and caused bruises to her head and knees before she spent the night in jail on charges that were later withdrawn.
Online court records confirm that criminal charges of simple assault, resisting arrest, obstruction of justice and disorderly conduct were all dropped along with four traffic citations - including driving an unregistered vehicle, which Smith acknowledges she did.
The lawsuit also contends Sutton asked the Indiana County district attorney to consider charges against Schuller, prompting the prosecutor to refer the matter to the state attorney general.
The attorney general’s office does not confirm or comment on investigations or referrals from other agencies.
Smith’s lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and contends she was so traumatized that she eventually moved from Indiana, a borough about 45 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
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