Gilberton councilman sues mayor, police chief
POTTSVILLE - A Gilberton borough councilman sued the municipality, its mayor and its police chief Thursday in federal court, alleging they unconstitutionally caused him to be arrested and strip-searched for using profanity.
The American Civil Liberties Union represented Councilman Robert Wagner, who alleged Chief Mark Kessler, at the direction of Mayor Mary Lou Hannon, improperly had him arrested for two counts of harassment because he made telephone calls to them complaining of youths riding quads and dirt bikes at late hours.
"The arrest caused Mr. Wagner to undergo public humiliation and emotional distress," the lawsuit reads in part.
Wagner asked the court to award him unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, plus costs and attorneys fees.
Wagner alleged that he called Kessler and Hannon on July 13, 2010, and complained about the noise made by the riders.
"As a Borough councilman, Mr. Wagner's neighbors complained to him and looked to him to do something about this recurring problem," according to the lawsuit.
Wagner did not deny using profane language in each call, but said he did not threaten either Kessler or Hannon, that the arrest was legally incorrect and that the charges were dismissed on Aug. 4, 2010.
"My choice of language was unfortunate, arising from frustration due to the lack of response from law enforcement to my previous requests for assistance," Wagner said in a press release the ACLU issued.
"There was no probable cause for the prosecution of Mr. Wagner. It was, rather, purely retaliation for his exercise of his right to speak and to express himself in the words of his choosing," the lawsuit reads in part. "Citizens have the right to use common profanity."
Wagner alleged that following his arrest the day after making the calls, he was strip-searched and held for about six hours until his wife posted bail on his behalf.
The arrest violated Wagner's constitutional rights of free speech and to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures, according to the lawsuit.
The constitutional violations occurred directly as the result of Kessler's and Hannon's actions and borough practices and policies, the lawsuit reads in part.
"I felt very disappointed when I received notice that a lawsuit had been filed," Hannon said. "I expected better from Mr. Wagner, and I hope this lawsuit does not significantly affect our small community."