father Supreme Court: Pittsburgh not liable for police officer’s damage in pumpkin smasher case

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the city of Pittsburgh is not responsible for paying a $75,000 jury award against an off-duty police officer who stalked a teenager and broke his nose after the 16-year-old was caught smashing pumpkins in the man’s neighborhood.

Shane McGuire, now 26, was out with friends in the city’s New Homestead area on the night of November 12, 2012 when he banged on the front door of off-duty Pittsburgh Police Officer Colby Neidig.

Neidig claimed he thought someone was breaking into his home and pursued McGuire and caught him in a woods about half a mile away.

Envy broke McGuire’s nose and then held him down until the police officers on duty arrived. Neidig was not in uniform at the time and had neither a badge nor a weapon with him.


Related:

• Pittsburgh is seeking damages for a police officer who beat up a teenager caught smashing pumpkins


McGuire was not convicted of a crime. He filed a federal lawsuit against Neidig and the city, alleging civil rights claims including excessive force, assault and assault.

The judge dismissed the city as the accused, and a jury ruled in McGuire’s favor in 2017.

Neidig was ordered to pay $75,000 in damages plus $160,000 in attorneys’ fees.

The officer assigned his right to sue for compensation to McGuire, who subsequently filed a lawsuit against the city. McGuire argued that Pennsylvania law protects city employees from being held personally responsible for claims arising out of their official duties and that the city of Pittsburgh has an obligation to pay the judgment.

However, the city resisted the compensation, arguing that Neidig was acting as a private individual and was therefore responsible for the claim himself.

That matter went before a jury in the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court in 2019, and the jury found in the city’s favour.

McGuire appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which upheld the jury’s decision, and then to the Supreme Court, which heard an oral hearing in April.

The case revolved around specific language in Pennsylvania compensation law.

A municipality has an obligation to indemnify an employee if the act in question “was within the scope of his office or duties”.

McGuire’s attorney argued that the federal jury determined that Neidig, who was no longer with the Metropolitan Police at the time of the trial, was acting under “color of the law” and that the two terms should be interchangeable.

But the city — and Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision — said otherwise.

“[T]The “color of state law” inquiry revolves around whether the public employee purported to exercise official state authority, rather than whether he or she was authorized – or reasonably believed to be authorized – to act in a particular manner.” , wrote Judge David Wecht. “This means that a police officer can sometimes act both ‘below the color of state law’ and outside the scope of his or her employment.”

He continued, “The federal jury simply did not consider whether Neidig was acting within the limits of his office or duties.”

Paula Reed Ward is a contributor to the Tribune-Review. You can contact Paula via email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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