Allentown Police officers Joseph Iannetta and Patrick Bull, along with former chief Joel Fitzgerald, Allentown's mayor Ed Pawlowski, & the city itself, have been named in a lawsuit filed on Thursday by Hector Medina-Pena. The suit alleges use of excessive force, failure to properly train officers, turning a blind eye to misconduct & failing to intervene. It also sites a conspiracy by Iannetta and Bull to violate Medina-Pena's civil rights.
In the dash-cam footage of the May 30, 2015 arrest, you can see Medina-Pena complies with orders & has his hands up in the air. When instructed, he got down on all fours. Apparently, he wasn't getting down fast enough as Officer Joseph Iannetta felt it necessary to boot-kick Medina-Pena's head to the ground. Then, despite Medina-Pena being restrained by Officer Bull, Iannetta decides to drop, knee-first onto Medina-Pena's head. Officer Bull did nothing to stop Iannetta from this.
As a result, Hector Medina-Pena spent three days in the trauma unit at Lehigh Valley Hospital for treatment of a broken jaw, three missing teeth, and other less-serious injuries.
Excessive force lawsuits are nothing new to Officer Iannetta. His actions that day are part of a pattern of violence over the course of a decade. He has been named in 14 different investigations involving abuse, in-custody injuries, and using excessive force between 2006 and 2016- none of which resulted in discipline. The most recent resulted in a $350,000 settlement when Iannetta stomped on Angel Guerrido-Lopez's ribs in 2013- directly after another officer had lifted the man and slammed him head-first into a sidewalk. Before the settlement was reached, the lawsuit had revealed that Iannetta had covered up his misconduct by filing false reports and lying about the incident. Internal affairs had been complicit in hiding the abuse.
Iannetta's ongoing use of force is a direct result of city officials' failure to properly train officers and turning a blind eye to misconduct. In doing so, they are allowing such behavior to become part of the police department's policies and customs. The city has effectively condoned & encouraged this behavior. This isn't news to contributors at the Freedom Paradox. We've reported on several excessive force stories out of Allentown. It got so out of hand that we also held a protest calling for accountability.
Upon hearing of this lawsuit, our very own Severin Freeman, sent the following email to Allentown PD's Chief Keith Morris:
As of late I have commended you and your department for the effort in the community and the change in overall officer attitude that we have observed. I have even put up a number up posts commending you. I am not heartless and I do honestly see an improvement overall. I even posted the dog show you guys did at the "time for unity" day.
I had planned to attend the last council meeting to give you my endorsement and say a few words about two incidents that happened recently. One of those was a friend in need that your officers handled professionally and kindly. They other was an incident where we witnessed a drunk man that had been in a fight outside one of the clubs. The police not only respected our right to film, but also asked security to leave us alone. After that they spent nearly an hour making sure the man was going to make it home okay.
I commend these officers. I also commend the change that your leadership has brought.
It is with sadness that I read the recent story in the news.
I have a few questions.
Were you in charge during this?
How was this not ruled misconduct?
What is the officers current position in the department?
Will anything else come of this?
What was the full outcome of the officers discipline?
Mr. Morris I truly hope this case does not turn into another case of an officer's actions being ignored by everyone except the tax payer. The officer in question has cost the city more than a quarter-million dollars. That is your raise for the next 10 years.
These cases need swift and open action by you.
I want to fully support the changes you have made so please consider my words. I may be the most vocal in my opinions, but I am by far not alone. The public needs to feel trust in you and your department. I hope that you can provide that.
As expected, the Chief did not respond to this email. However, he did release an official statement to the Morning Call the following day. In his statement, Chief Morris defends his officer's actions & states "Iannetta took action to protect himself, his fellow officers, and the public and take this later-convicted robber into custody by using the minimal amount of force necessary to overcome the threat."
Minimal force?! Did you watch the video? I fail to see how kicking someone in the head who is already down on all-fours, then while he is being restrained by another, knee-dropping onto his head again is minimal. Let's be real, the suspect was a "slimeball" and deserved to be held accountable. With that said, the police are neither paid nor ever asked to be the hand that inflicts punishment. The slippery slope that this opens up takes away all due-process and rights of individuals.
Personally, I don't blame Officer Iannetta. It was a very heated moment in which many of us would have acted out of emotion as well. The biggest problem I have with this is: rather than admit a human slip in judgement, the Allentown Police have chosen the same path as past incidents. Cover up & silence- that is their modus operandi.
If this is how they will treat such an understandable incident, how will they treat the next national scandal? Through all the public appearances, speeches, and promises of transparency, the new chief has yet to make any change in police procedure & policies.
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