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Sewickley man sues police, alleges use of excessive force

| Monday, March 3, 2014, 10:12 a.m.

A Sewickley man who works for the FBI as a subcontractor claims police officers from three municipalities retaliated against him when he used his cellphone to take pictures of them after he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.

Sean McLinden, 58, has a degree in neurology but does computer work for the FBI, said his lawyer, Tim O'Brien.

“This is one of those classic examples of a citizen doing something that is entirely protected under the United States Constitution and suffering retaliation on account of it,” O'Brien said.

McLinden is suing Officer D. Ryan Ging and two other officers identified only by last name, all of Ohio Township; a police sergeant from Bellevue identified only by his last name; and Officer Robert Pies of Robinson.

Solicitors for Robinson and Ohio Township declined comment. The Bellevue solicitor couldn't be reached.

McLinden was returning home after dinner with his wife when he was stopped at a DUI checkpoint, O'Brien said.

A related Commonwealth Court case says he showed signs of intoxication during field sobriety and Breathalyzer tests and refused to take a blood test. O'Brien said he can't find the results of the first two tests and that McLinden was willing to take a blood test at a hospital but not in the on-site trailer.

“He didn't think the conditions were sanitary where they wanted to do it,” he said.

Officers arrested but didn't handcuff McLinden as they placed him in the back of a police SUV, the lawsuit says. When they saw him taking photos of them with his cellphone, they allegedly pulled him out of the vehicle, threw him to the ground and handcuffed him. They then put him back into the SUV, O'Brien said.

Sara Rose, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, said her organization has represented people who recorded police while they were being detained, but can't recall a case where the person was already under arrest.

“I don't think that changes anything,” she said. “I think that what matters is if the person recording is interfering with the police in any way.”

If he was sitting in the SUV and not interfering with the officers, then he had a First Amendment right to record them, she said.

Bruce Ledewitz, a Duquesne University law professor, said there could be a difference because once police arrest someone they have Fourth Amendment control over that person.

“If they said, ‘stop,' and he said, ‘no,' that is resisting arrest,” he said.

On the other hand, “if the reason they're handcuffing him is because he's taking pictures, that's good grounds (for a lawsuit),” he said.

The officers charged McLinden with DUI, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and destruction of property. O'Brien said the property was some door molding in the police SUV that McLinden knocked off while he was struggling to get upright after the officers threw him, handcuffed, back into the vehicle.

McLinden was admitted to a pretrial diversion program, and the charges eventually were dismissed, O'Brien said.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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