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Arlington couple sue Pittsburgh police over search of their home

| Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, 2:42 p.m.
Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier
An unidentified hunter walks through a snow-dusted field near Mt. Pleasant last week in search of small game. taken Wednesday, November 13, 2013.

Pittsburgh police officers did not have probable cause to search an Arlington residence after arresting the son of the owners for violating a protection-from-abuse order, the couple claim in a lawsuit that moved on Wednesday into federal court.

The officers were searching for guns and ammunition because Officer David Sisak arrested Joseph Milcarek Jr., 45, for violating the protection order by being in a car with the woman who filed for protection and having a shotgun shell on the driver's seat, the lawsuit states.

Allison Lachat, one of the officers' lawyers, said they followed the law.

“The facts will show that they took the proper measures prior to obtaining the search warrant,” she said.

Joseph Milcarek, 71, and Mary Catherine Milcarek, 67, say in the lawsuit that the protection order did not prohibit their son from possessing firearms, so police had no reason to break down the back door to search the house while they were away.

James Paulick, their attorney, said that although the son's driver's license lists his parents' home as his address, neighbors told police that he didn't live there before they broke into the house.

“Even if (the warrant) was valid, which we don't believe it was at all, the execution of the search was unreasonable,” Paulick said. “They broke several items in the house. When they broke in the back door, they actually ripped it out by the hinges.”

When police finished their search, they left the door leaning against its frame, he said.

“It wasn't secured,” Paulick said.

The Milcareks sued Sisak and several unnamed officers for compensatory and punitive damages.

The lawsuit initially was filed in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, but lawyers for the officers had it moved to federal court since it contends the officers violated the couple's constitutional rights.

Paulick said the couple filed a claim with the city for damage reimbursement, but after exchanging several letters with city lawyers, “the process and negotiations broke down to the point where we had to file a lawsuit.”

City Solicitor Dan Regan said the city notified the Milcareks that it was denying the claim because it believes the search warrant was valid and the officers acted reasonably.

“I don't believe there's any merit to the allegations,” he said. “Officer Sisak, from everything we know, acted as a well-trained police officer.”

Brian Bowling is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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