PHILADELPHIA - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and co-counsel filed two separate federal lawsuits today on behalf of individuals arrested for observing Philadelphia police in public. These lawsuits are part of a series aimed at stopping Philadelphia police officers' unlawful practice of arresting citizens in retaliation for observing the police performing their duties.
"Police have extraordinary power in our society," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Citizens have the right to serve as a check on that power by observing and recording police officers in the course of their duties."
The first case involves Alexine Fleck, a professor at the Community College of Philadelphia. On the morning of June 15, 2011, Fleck was walking down her block on her way to work when she noticed a police officer standing over a semi-conscious man sitting on a stoop. Concerned about the officer's aggressive manner, Fleck stopped to observe the interaction. Fleck complied with the officer's order to step back ten steps. She was then asked to leave the area. When she refused to leave and explained that she was merely observing, she was arrested.
Ms. Fleck was handcuffed behind her back, even after she advised the officer that her shoulder was injured and to have both arms pulled behind her back would cause her great pain.
Fleck was transported to the police precinct and held for three hours. She remained cuffed, in pain, for the entire time. She also was not allowed to notify colleagues that she would be unable to teach her class that morning. Fleck was charged with failure to disperse. The charges were later dismissed in Community Court.
"I believe we are all responsible for the community we live in. I guess I paid for that belief by getting arrested, but I'd rather take my knocks than sit by and do nothing when I see something I think is wrong, said Fleck.
"The police are not above the law and citizens have both the right and responsibility to make sure that they do not abuse their power. I was just trying to be a good citizen."
In the second case, Coulter Loeb, then a photojournalism student at the University of Cincinnati, was walking through Rittenhouse Square on July 14, 2011, taking photographs. He noticed a police officer speaking to a man and a woman, both of whom appeared to be homeless. Concerned by the way the officer was speaking to the two homeless individuals, Loeb began to photograph the encounter, while standing over 16 feet away.
As the officer began to escort the homeless woman out of Rittenhouse Square, Loeb followed the two out of the park at a distance. The officer ordered Loeb to walk in the other direction. He refused, saying words to the effect of, "No, I know my rights." Loeb was then arrested, handcuffed, and transported to the local police precinct and held for an hour. He was cited for disorderly conduct. The charges were dismissed in Community Court a month later.
In January of this year, the ACLU-PA filed the first in a series of lawsuits arguing that Philadelphia police officers routinely manufacture criminal charges to retaliate against individuals who observe or record police activity. That case involved Christopher Montgomery, a Philadelphia resident who was arrested for using his cellphone to record an arrest. The police also erased the video he had made. More on the Montgomery case can be found at: https://www.aclupa.org/our-work/legal/legaldocket/montgomery-v-city-philadelphia-et-al/
The cases are Fleck v. City of Philadelphia and Loeb v. City of Philadelphia. Loeb and Fleck are represented by Molly Tack-Hooper and Mary Catherine Roper of the ACLU-PA; John Grogan and Peter Leckman of Langer, Grogan & Diver, P.C.; Jonathan Feinberg of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, & Feinberg; and Seth Kreimer of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
More information about the cases, including a copy of the complaints, can be found at: