Five trial videos show struggle between York City officer and woman outside city bar
The attorney who successfully defended York City Police Officer Galen Detweiler in a civil-rights lawsuit alleging he used excessive force to arrest bar patron Melissa Penn outside Pandora’s Box bar in 2017 told The York Dispatch that videos of the struggle, recorded by the bar’s security cameras, were integral to the jury clearing Detweiler.
Penn, 24, had sued Detweiler in Harrisburg’s federal court.
On Monday, Sept. 19, jurors took about a half hour to exonerate Detweiler of the three allegations against him, York City solicitor Don Hoyt said.
They found that he didn’t commit battery against her, didn’t use excessive force and didn’t commit intentional infliction of emotional distress, according to the trial’s verdict slip.
The U.S. Clerk of Courts office in Harrisburg's Middle District released the videos to The York Dispatch on Thursday, Oct. 22.
Trial jurors watched all five videos, court records indicate.
Hoyt said it helped his case to be able to stop those videos frame-by-frame to ask Detweiler what was going on.
Detweiler has said he tried to arrest Penn after she refused to leave the area of the 466 E. Market St. bar on July 3, 2017. She had been kicked out but kept trying to get back inside, police have said.
Detweiler said he struggled to get Penn under control, but felt he was losing his advantage when she wrapped her arms around his neck while they were grappling on the ground. That’s when he punched her several times in the face.
York City Police determined Detweiler acted appropriately, and Hoyt said it was a serious situation that could have turned worse had Detweiler not acted.
“If she had caused him to black out, his weapon was available (for the taking),” Hoyt said.
Videos show a crowd of people hovering around the struggle, some of them recording video. One of those videos, a nine- or 10-second clip, went viral on Facebook.
Plaintiff's attorney Leticia Chavez-Freed has said that while she and Penn were surprised and disappointed by the verdict, they are OK with it. That’s because Penn was still able to have her day in court, which was important to her, Chavez-Freed told The York Dispatch.
Penn pleaded guilty in December 2017 to resisting arrest and defiant trespass, and was sentenced to house arrest and probation. In exchange for her plea, prosecutors dropped a felony count of aggravated assault against a police officer.
Detweiler is still a York City officer and remains on active duty.
Read more about the case here:
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.