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York City officer faces second excessive force lawsuit since 2018

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
York City Police Officer Galen Detweiler returns to his squad car after stopping a driver who violated pedestrian safety during an enforcement detail at the intersection of North George Street and Clarke Avenue in York City, Friday, Aug. 10, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert

For the second time in less than two years, York City and one of its police officers have been sued over his alleged use of excessive force. 

York City Police Officer Galen Detweiler yanked and injured the plaintiff's arm during a traffic stop on the evening of Aug. 10, alleges York resident Jason Watts in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Watts' injury will require surgery, the lawsuit states.

Detweiler was one of the officers named by the Plain View Project, which compiled a database of Facebook posts that the project's researchers believed could hurt the public's trust of police.

In Detweiler's flagged post, he wrote, "Bucket list: Punch a guys so hard he poops himself... (check)."

More:York City investigating after cops' Facebook posts compiled by Plain View Project

More:Woman punched in face by York City cop now closer to trial

Details: On Aug. 10, Deweiler pulled over Watts, who was riding a motorcycle. Detweiler accused Watts of "flying past him," but Watts did not recall ever passing the officer, the lawsuit states.

Watts claims he immediately handed over his driver's license, but Detweiler was standing so close to his motorcycle that he was unable to dismount to recover his other vehicle documents that were locked under his passenger seat.

Detweiler became angry, immediately grabbing Watt's arm and pulling him off his motorcycle, according to court documents. The officer then yanked Watts' arm in an upward motion, pulling both of his arms behind his back, Watts contends.

“That’s it. You’re getting arrested. You’re losing your bike," Detweiler allegedly said, according to the lawsuit. 

When asked why Detweiler was being so rough, he responded, "Depending on how you are with us is how we are with you," the lawsuit alleges.

Detweiler then wrote him a citation for reckless driving. Before releasing Watts, the officer bent him at a nearly 90-degree angle and jerked his right arm in a circular motion, causing "severe pain," Watts claims in the lawsuit.

Watt's actions that day, including the excessive force, violated the Fourth and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the lawsuit argues.

The city has been named in the lawsuit because it "has failed in its responsibility to train, re-train and/or supervise Detweiler in the use of proper force and the constitutional prohibition against the use of excessive and unreasonable force," according to court documents.

Watts is seeking unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich on Friday afternoon said that he had not yet received details of the lawsuit.  

Police spokesman Derek Hartman said the lawsuit is under review and confirmed Detweiler is still on active duty. He declined to comment further.

First lawsuit alleging excessive force: The Wednesday lawsuit isn't the first filed against Detweiler and his employer.

Melissa Penn, 23, sued York City and  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 alleged that Detweiler used excessive force in arresting her and that York City was negligent for hiring him.

According to that 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 in October tossed Penn's claim against the city. Penn failed to 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.

Detweiler remains a named defendant in Penn's federal civil rights lawsuit. The trial is scheduled for February.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.