York City dropped from excessive force lawsuit

York City Police Department, 50 W. King Street, York. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

York City has been dismissed from a lawsuit alleging a police officer used excessive force while arresting a woman.

Melissa Penn, 23, sued York City and Officer Galen Detweiler in federal court in 2018 after she was punched in the face by Detweiler during an arrest outside Pandora's Box bar in York City in July 2017.

She alleges that Detweiler used excessive force in arresting her, and that York City was negligent for hiring him.

According to the lawsuit, York City inadequately investigated Detweiler's background, including his social-media posts and disciplinary history.          

Presiding U.S. Middle District Judge John E. Jones III on Oct. 23 ruled in favor of York City, which argued that Penn didn't raise her negligent-hiring theory in a timely manner and, "after months of discovery," failed to identify "the policy that allegedly caused her constitutional deprivation," according to Jones' order.

In order for her to present a claim against York City, Penn would have to allege she was injured as a result of a municipality's policy or custom, according to the ruling. 

Detweiler remains a named defendant in the federal civil-rights lawsuit.

Melissa Dyann Penn

Philip Given, acting director of Community and Economic Development, said Detweiler is still employed with the city.

Penn's attorney, Leticia Chavez-Freed, declined to comment on the case because of how close the trial is. The trial is scheduled for February.

Given declined comment when asked if the city would be changing its hiring process based on the lawsuit.

Background: Penn was arrested in July 2017 after an altercation with a police officer outside Pandora's Box, 466 E. Market St. A 10-second video of her arrest, which included Officer Galen Detweiler punching Penn multiple times, was shared on Facebook.

In December 2017, Penn pleaded guilty to resisting arrest and defiant trespass. As a result of her negotiated plea agreement, her charge of aggravated assault was dismissed, according to online court records.

Penn was sentenced to two years of probation, with the first three months on house arrest. She also was ordered to never go back to Pandora's Box, according to court records.

A video showing a physical confrontation between a York City police officer and York City resident Melissa Dyann Penn on July 3, 2017, was widely shared on social media.
(Video courtesy of Facebook)

Detweiler and Officer Bradley Engle were outside Pandora's Box about 1:40 a.m. July 3, 2017, to make sure the bar closed safely, according to officials.

Penn was trying to get back into the bar after bouncers removed her, police said at the time.

Multiple people, including her father, were trying to escort her from the property, according to charging documents.

Her father was able to remove her from the property, but police say she returned and again tried getting into the bar. 

She was "extremely confrontational" to those around her, police said. On several occasions her father pleaded with her to leave, even telling her "the cops are right there," but Penn responded, "I don't give a f— about the cops!" according to charging documents.

Detweiler said during Penn's preliminary hearing that he decided to arrest her to ensure the well-being of those around her and that he tried to maneuver her into a "compliant handcuffing position."

Penn pulled away from him violently, he testified, and he tried a number of compliance measures to bring her under control, all of which failed.

He tried an "arm-bar takedown" on her, but Penn stood back up, he said. Detweiler did it a second time and was successful.

Penn's arrest was filmed and posted on Facebook. It had more than 100,000 views as of Wednesday, Nov. 6.

A research website called the Plain View Project compiling public Facebook posts from individual police officers found two from Detweiler, including one from 2014 in which he wrote, “Bucket list: Punch a guy so hard he poops himself.”

In a reply comment, he explained that he punched the man because the man was physically assaulting Detweiler's partner.

Detweiler in 2012 posted a link to a video of an “activist cameraman” being shocked with a Taser inside a courthouse.

At the times of both postings, Detweiler was a Baltimore City police officer.