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Woman, arrested for drawing on sidewalk, sues Philly

By Jon Campisi | Mar 9, 2012


PHILADELPHIA (Legal Newsline) - A woman who alleges she was arrested by an overzealous Philadelphia police officer who detained her after she was discovered drawing on a sidewalk with chalk has filed a federal civil rights complaint.

Philadelphia attorney Paul Messing, of the law firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, filed the lawsuit Monday at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of New York resident Emily Hamilton Epstein.

The police officer named as a defendant in the suit is William Gress.

According to the complaint, Epstein was using water-soluble chalk to draw on a piece of sidewalk on the 400 block of South Street on June 19, 2010, when she was ordered to stop her activity by Gress.

The officer subsequently arrested Epstein and charged her with obstructing a public highway.

The suit claims that Epstein had obtained permission by the property owner whose building adjoined the sidewalk prior to carrying out her activities.

The lawsuit claims that Gress retaliated against Epstein for the woman exercising her "protected First Amendment rights," using "unnecessary and unreasonable" force during the arrest process.

Epstein was found not guilty of the criminal charge against her after a bench trial at Philadelphia Municipal Court on Sept. 12.

The lawsuit claims that Gress acted "willfully, deliberately, maliciously or with reckless disregard of the plaintiff's constitutional and statutory rights."

The complaint alleges that Epstein incurred financial losses due to her having to retain legal counsel to fight the criminal charges against her.

The lawsuit contains federal civil rights violations and state law claims of assault and battery, false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution, defamation and invasion of privacy.

The city is accused in the complaint of not properly training Philadelphia police officers in the proper exercise of police powers, including improper arrests and malicious prosecutions of citizens.

The suit also accuses the city of failing to properly train cops in the areas of pretextual arrests relating to protected First Amendment activity, failing to identify and take disciplinary actions against overzealous officers, and failing to monitor officers who are known to be suffering from emotional and/or psychological problems that impair their ability to carry out their job.

Epstein seeks compensatory and punitive damages, attorney's fees and declaratory judgment, as well as a trial by jury.

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