Woman claims Churchill officer violated her rights during September walk
A woman caring for her godmother in Wilkinsburg claims she was labeled as a suspicious person, handcuffed and detained by police because she refused to provide identification while walking in Churchill, according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday.
Rebecca Suits said Churchill police Officer Steven Shaulis stopped her during her walk, asked her for identification and then detained her and threatened her with criminal charges of disorderly conduct after she did not provide her ID.
Shaulis allegedly told Suits he’d received a call about squatters in the area and was investigating, Suits said during the press conference Monday at the office of Pittsburgh attorney Todd Hollis.
“And I said to him, ‘Do I look like a squatter?’ He goes, ‘I need your information.’ I said, ‘I’m just out taking a walk’,” Suits said.
Hollis and Mart Harris are representing Suits, her husband David Burkett and Suits’ godmother, Lougwin Spencer of Wilkinsburg, in the lawsuit. Suits and Burkett officially live in Boise, Idaho, but they’ve been taking care of Suits’ mother in Brunswick, Ga., recently. Suits had been in Wilkinsburg for a couple of weeks visiting Spencer, who was recovering from surgery.
Churchill Borough and Shaulis are named as defendants in the suit.
“We are aware of the lawsuit. We’re still reviewing it,” Churchill solicitor Gavin A. Robb said.
Robb confirmed that Shaulis is a police officer with the Churchill department.
Shaulis didn’t return messages seeking comment.
Suits said she had been walking for about an hour on the evening of Sept. 23 and was using a video chat on her phone to talk with her husband when she was stopped by Shaulis. A woman called 911 to report Suits as a suspicious person who was walking around taking pictures, according to the lawsuit.
Suits said Shaulis greeted her cordially but later put her in handcuffs after she refused to provide him with her identification. She said she was handcuffed in Spencer’s home — which is not in Churchill, Hollis noted — and taken to the Churchill police station and then ultimately given medical treatment because she’s claustrophobic and her blood pressure was elevated, Suits said.
Afterward, Shaulis told her she would be cited for disorderly conduct, according to the lawsuit. During the press conference, Suits said Shaulis had told her she could face other charges, including resisting arrest and impeding an investigation.
No charges have been filed, according to online court records.
The lawsuit claims Suits’ rights were violated during the incident as she was unlawfully detained, excessive force was used and Shaulis acted with negligence and recklessness, according to the 11-count lawsuit.
This isn’t Hollis’ first legal dealings with Shaulis. The officer was sued in 2017 after Hollis released two videos showing Shaulis involved in physical altercations with Woodland Hills High School students. Shaulis was the school resource officer.
Shaulis was removed from the school and the lawsuit against the officer and the district was settled for $500,000.
Shaulis needs to be removed from his position with the Churchill police department and banned from working in law enforcement again, Hollis said.
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, [email protected] or via Twitter .