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Lawsuit claims excessive force

Charges ‘substantiated’ by chief

Three men are suing the city of Rochester and several Rochester police officers claiming the use of excessive force when they were accused of interfering with an arrest.

Lawyers for plaintiffs Anthony Hall, Craig Puritt and Shamell Killings filed the complaint in U.S. District Court in Rochester on Thursday.

The plaintiffs are represented by Elliot D. Shields, an associate attorney with Roth & Roth LLP, in New York City.

In addition to the city of Rochester, the named defendants in the case are officers Michael Stephens, Michael Munior, Victor Martinez, Carlos Oquendo, Robert Trosinski and Sgt. Bryant Johnson.

About 1:30 a.m., on May 27, 2018, Puritt, Hall and Killings were walking on the sidewalk of Monroe Avenue near Meigs Street. Puritt was about half a block behind Hall and Killings, when he attempted to walk around Stephens, who was arresting a man named James Pacheco.

As Puritt walked past Stephens, “he did not interfere with the arrest of Pacheco in any way,” according to the complaint.

“Nevertheless, without cause or justification, Stephens pushed Mr. Puritt in the chest, seized him, attempted to throw him on the ground and punched him in the face,” the suit claims.

Johnson and Munier put Puritt in a headlock and choked him, then handcuffed him, the suit claims

After Johnson and Munier seized him, Stephens punched Puritt “multiple times in the body and pepper sprayed Mr. Puritt directly in the eyes from within one foot,” according to the complaint.

When Hall and Killings saw that Stephens was assaulting Puritt, they approached them with their cell phones in their hands to record the incident, according to the suit.

Stephens hit Killings in the hand, knocked his phone to the ground, kicked his phone, and then hit him several times in his right knee, on which he was wearing a brace due to a pre-existing injury, the suit claims

Stephens hit Hall in the hand and took his phone from his hand and tried to place it in a trash bin. Stephens punched Hall in the face, hit him in the head with his baton and physically seized him, the suit claims.

Munior, Martinez, Oquendo and Trosinski then handcuffed Hall. As Hall was being handcuffed, Stephens pepper sprayed him in the face from just inches away for no reason, according to the suit.

Puritt, Killings and Hall were charged with obstruction of governmental administration “based on a fabricated account of the incident in official police paperwork,” according to the suit.

Eventually, the court granted the Monroe County District Attorney’s motion to dismiss all charges against the plaintiffs.

The entire incident was recorded on the officers’ body worn cameras and the city’s blue light cameras.

The Rochester Police Department’s Professional Standards Section reviewed the video recordings and investigated the incident, and “substantiated” charges against Stephens for falsely arresting and using excessive force against plaintiffs; and also substantiated charges against Johnson for his failure to supervise Stephens at the scene, according to court papers.

Former Police Chief Michael Ciminelli concurred with the conclusions of the Professional Standards Section and substantiated the charges against Stephens for falsely arresting and using excessive force against Plaintiffs and substantiated charges against Johnson for his failure to supervise Stephens at the scene, according to the complaint.

Stephens should not have been on the street as a patrol officer because the city and RPD knew he had a long history of using excessive force and seriously injuring people but had never disciplined him, according to the suit.

On Aug. 21, 2014, Stephens attacked a young man named Dudley Scott after he was handcuffed. The city of Rochester paid Scott $750,000 to settle his excessive force lawsuit against the city, Stephens and other officers involved in the incident.

The suit claims Stephens should not have been allowed by police and city officials to continue working after the incident involving Scott.

“If the city and RPD had properly disciplined Stephens after the Aug. 21, 2014 incident where he blinded Dudley Scott … he never would have been able to violently attack plaintiffs on May 27, 2018,” the suit claims.

“The RPD, as a matter of policy, deliberately fails to discipline officers like Stephens who use excessive force, and instead permits officers to fabricate evidence against arrestees to falsely charge them with crimes they did not commit, to suppress and destroy evidence favorable to arrestees and criminal defendants, and to testify falsely in court to cover up their unlawful behavior,” the suit claims.

City officials do not comment on pending lawsuits.

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