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Man sues police, claims cellphone seized after he recorded questioning of disabled friend

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Friday, July 20, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

A Fayette County man has filed a federal lawsuit against the Point Marion Police Department, alleging that it retaliated against him after learning that he recorded an officer questioning a man.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh on behalf of Gregory Rizer, 51, of 1315 Penn St., Apt. 4, Point Marion. Rizer claims that his constitutional rights were violated during the arrest.

Rizer initially was charged with violating the state's Wiretap Act over the incident on Jan. 3. The complaint was withdrawn by prosecutors in February. Police were forced to return Rizer's cellular telephone that had been confiscated by Officer Kevin Lukart.

Mayor Carl Ables, Chief Jay Stutler and Lukart are named as co-defendants in the lawsuit. Repeated attempts to reach Lukart, Ables and Stutler for comment were unsuccessful on Thursday.

Glen Downey, an attorney at Healey & Hornack in Pittsburgh who works with the ALCU, said police officers “performing their official duties do not possess the requisite reasonable expectation of privacy necessary to be covered by the statute.”

The state Supreme Court has ruled that the state's Wiretap Act — which forbids audio recording without consent of all parties involved — doesn't apply if the person being recorded does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

On Jan. 3, Rizer was at the home of a friend, Shannon Hughes, when Lukart arrived to question Hughes about the whereabouts of her cousin, according to the lawsuit.

Rizer felt that Lukart's questioning was overly aggressive, according to the suit, and Rizer was concerned for Hughes, who is a quadriplegic. Rizer took out his cell phone and began recording the questioning, but when Lukart realized he was being recorded, the officer seized the telephone, the suit states.

Lukart then arrested Rizer, placed him in handcuffs and took him to the police station.

Two days later, Rizer complained to Ables about Lukart's conduct. Rizer subsequently was arrested at his home on charges of violating the state's Wiretap Act.

On Feb. 22, the county district attorney's office dropped the complaint. Rizer, who had no previous criminal record, alleges that after retrieving his cell phone from police, he discovered the memory card containing the police interrogation was missing.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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