The Allentown, Pennsylvania, Police Department, is being sued after one of their own brutally kicked an unarmed robbery suspect in the face, breaking his jaw and knocking out three of his teeth.
The lawsuit is seeking damages in excess of $150,000 and a court order barring the defendants from engaging in similar behavior in the future.
During a felony traffic stop on May 30, 2015, Hector Medina-Pena and three other men were pulled over by officers. They matched the description of men accused of a robbery at the Platinum Plus strip club.
Images captured by a dashboard camera, show that Medina-Pena seemed not to fully understand the officers' commands. Although he got out of the vehicle with his hands up, he was slow to get fully prone on the ground. Officer Joseph Iannetta is seen walking over to Medina-Pena, pointing a gun at him, and delivering what the suit calls a “WWE-style kick” to his head.
“What the officer should be doing is seeking to get control of the suspect via verbal commands so we don’t have to expose ourselves to jeopardy,” David A. Klinger, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and a former police officer, told the Washington Post. “They should keep their distance with their guns drawn so that the suspect is in a position of disadvantage.”
The lawsuit also alleges that Ianaetta continued to assault Medina-Pena, kneeing him in the back of the head and driving his face onto the pavement.
Once Medina-Pena was in handcuffs, Iannetta "smiled, smerked (sic) and made comments” to the officers after inflicting the injuries, according to the complaint. The suit alleges Iannetta fist-bumped one of the other officers.
Officer Patrick Bull, along with two other unnamed officers, are named as defendants in the suit. Medina-Pena accuses Iannetta and Bull of conspiring to deny him his civil rights.
Allentown Police Chief Keith Morris has called the lawsuit's version of the May 2015 event "biased," and said that Iannetta used appropriate force, alleging that Medina-Pena refused to comply with officers' orders.
In a statement, Morris hinted at the many recent cases of excessive force in policing, but said Iannetta’s use of force was not excessive:
“In today’s society, where officers are routinely being criticized for their use of firearms in encounters with suspects, this is an incident where an officer (based on his training) used a reasonable amount of force in response to the report of an armed suspect and necessitated by Mr. Medina-Pena’s criminal actions and took a felon into custody with minimal risk and injury to all involved.”
Medina-Pena pleaded guilty to the Platinum Plus robbery in May and was sentenced to 4½ to 10 years in state prison.
City solicitor Susan Ellis Wild told the local newspaper, the Morning Call, that Iannetta is a 14½-year veteran of the department who has been commended for merit and bravery and also serves as an instructor in the police academy.
Nevertheless Iannetta has been accused nine times of physical abuse and has been the subject of four use-of-force investigations.
Medina-Pena's lawsuit cites an incident involving Iannetta allegedly using excessive force against a suspect in 2013. The city recently settled the federal claim for $350,000, after admitting that the police officers involved smashed a suspect's head into a sidewalk and stomped his ribs after he admitted to possessing drug paraphernalia.