PA Trooper Loses $500K Repossession Lawsuit
JOHNSTOWN, Pa., Feb. 5, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — A federal court jury in Johnstown, PAhas awarded punitive damages of $500,000.00 against a Pennsylvania State Police trooper for violating a former Johnstown-area woman’s civil rights when he assisted a local repo-man in the repossession of her automobile.
Angela Hyman, now of Norfolk, VA sued Pennsylvania State Police Corporal Bryan Devlin, Lewistown, PA, in an action under Section 1983 of the federal Civil Rights Act. Hyman said Trooper Devlin violated her rights under the U.S. Constitution, specifically her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and to be free from unreasonable seizures of property. In general, government officials may not take part in the seizure of a person’s property without a court order or due process of law.
The 12-person jury found that Devlin responded to a scene of a repossession at Hyman’s home in Nanty Glo, PA in 2016 and affirmatively aided the repossession by ordering Ms. Hyman’s wife out of Hyman’s car by threatening to break the car’s window, pull the wife out, and arrest her for disorderly conduct. The event was captured by cell phone video (VIDEO available upon request). In their unanimous verdict, the jury found that Trooper Devlin willfully violated Ms. Hyman’s civil rights, warranting an award of punitive damages of $500,000.
“This verdict by a group of citizens from the heartland of Pennsylvania sends a clear message to police officers around the Commonwealth and beyond that they cannot take sides and help the repo-man in civil repossessions,” said Andrew Milz, of Flitter Milz, PC in Narberth, PA, Ms. Hyman’s lawyer.
“We expect our police to maintain the peace, not breach it,” Attorney Milz said. “Our Constitution is very clear – police simply cannot take sides in a civil dispute between private parties.”
The half-million-dollar punitive damage award is one of the largest of its kind ever awarded in a civil rights case involving improper police involvement in vehicle repossessions. The jury also awarded Hyman $5000 for mental and emotional distress. The verdict was entered and released on the public docket on Monday Feb. 4, 2019.