Summary judgment granted to city in all but two claims in Deitrick lawsuit
WILLIAMSPORT - A federal judge has granted summary judgment to the city of Shamokin and several police officers in a lawsuit brought by a woman who accused them of excessive force and false imprisonment in a nine-year battle over the theft of a safe.
In an order filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, all but two of the claims made by Donna Deitrick, of Shamokin, were dismissed in the 2006 lawsuit by U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann, eliminating any charges of unlawful arrest and unlawful detention, municipal liablity, false imprisonment and arrest, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy.
He allowed excessive force claims against Patrolmen Mark Costa and William Miner to proceed in the case.
The order dismissed all claims against current Patrolman William Zalinski, the late Richard Nichols, who was the former police chief, and former special officer Robert Searls.
The case stems from strange turn of events in 2004 in which Deitrick alleged her then-estranged husband, Robert Yoncuski, and his cohorts stole valuables from a safe in her West Cameron Township home. All the defendants named in the suit are accused of conspiring to taking $300,000 in cash and $500,000 in jewelry and coins belonging to Deitrick and her brother, Kenneth Dietrick, though Deitrick said the amount was closer to $4 million.
Robert Yoncuski, who was divorced from Deitrick in June 2007, pleaded guilty to a charge of theft in August 2010 and was sentenced to seven years probation, $1,000 in fines and $100,000 in restitution.
According to the original court filing in 2006, Deitrick claimed she was unlawfully detained by police Aug. 13, 2004, and her vehicle impounded so other defendants named in the suit, Robert Yoncuski, Jane Acri, Linda Long, Vanessa Long Yoncuski, Jeff and Marianna Adams, of Dornsife, Kevin Balascik, of Sunbury, Thomas Yoncuski, of Trevorton, James Brown, of Shamokin, and Dennis Moore, of Shamokin, could come to Deitrick's home and steal the safe and valuables.
On Aug. 16, when Deitrick came to the station to retrieve her vehicle, she alleged, she was physically attacked by her ex-husband's new girlfriend, Vanessa Long. When trying to separate them, Nichols allegedly put Deitrick in a choke hold. Deitrick said she was then unlawfully arrested and violently thrown into a prison cell by Costa and Miner.
Deitrick said she was having difficultly breathing following the altercation at the police station. She said she told her brother, while she was being placed under arrest, she may need medical attention. She said she was not resisting arrest and was dragged to a holding cell by Costa and Miner, an account corroborated by two witnesses.
"In contrast, the officers present at the scene allege that Deitrick became increasingly agitated when informed she would be cited for disorderly conduct, and actively resisted the defendants verbal commands when they attempted to escort her to another room," Arbuckle wrote.
In making his decision, Brann referred to a 47-page report and recommendations filed in July by U.S. Magisterial District Judge William Arbuckle, who wrote about the issue of the police department's defense of qualified immunity, the practice that government officials are shielded from liability for civil damages if their actions did not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.
Arbuckle said the city was justified in the realm of qualified immunity, except in the case of Costa and Miner's use of excessive force, because it was not clear if Deitrick was making any attempt to resist arrest at the time.
Brann remanded the case back to Arbuckle for any further proceedings.
Deitrick claims in court filings that she has not had any dealings with her attorney, Peter G. Loftus, of Waverly, in the last six months, despite the court ordering him to contact her.
The court records show two letters sent to the court administrators from Deitrick complaining about Loftus.
"I have been trying to contact Mr. Loftus now for over two months," Deitrick wrote on Dec. 19. "His office is listed for sale and his current listed phone number has been disconnected. I have no legal representation because of his issue, and I am requesting advice or the next step since Mr. Loftus seems indisposed at the moment."
Because of the binding contract she has with her attorney, Deitrick said she cannot execute any court documents.
On Dec. 23, Arbuckle ordered Loftus to contact Deitrick and report to the court the results of that contact.
On Jan. 7, Deitrick faxed another letter to court administrators, stating Loftus had not followed the order.
"It has been six months since I have heard from him. My friend and I tried to call him at this office everyday until the phone service was disconnected, and his office has thus been sold," Deitrick wrote. "Attorney Loftus has all my files and everything in regard to my case. I need your advice to know if I can retain other legal counsel."
Deitrick ends the letter by saying she hoped no part of her suit was dismissed because of this.