Man says in lawsuit that Arnold police beat him up, violated civil rights
A Verona man contends in a federal lawsuit that two Arnold officers beat him up after responding to a burglary call that he had nothing to do with in 2018.
Matthew Heyl, 28, and his attorneys filed the lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh against the officers, the city of Arnold and its police chief.
Heyl’s attorneys claim that Arnold police procedures resulted in a “history of excessive force and unlawful arrests.” Heyl contends the officers violated his civil rights as he was minding his own business and working to clean and fix-up an apartment along 18th Street in Arnold.
At about 9 p.m. Feb. 27, 2018, he said he stepped outside to smoke a cigarette.
That’s when Heyl contends two Arnold officers approached him and asked about a suspected African American man armed with a handgun, according to the lawsuit. The officers were answering a 911 call in which a witness said an armed black man was trying to get into a nearby apartment, the lawsuit says.
Even though Heyl didn’t look like the suspect, the two officers pulled his arms behind his back and asked him where the gun was located, according to the lawsuit.
One of the officers “hurled Mr. Heyl over his shoulder and then threw him to the ground,” according to the suit.
Then, another officer “put Mr. Heyl into a chokehold,” the lawsuit says.
Heyl was next roughly handcuffed and searched for a gun, the lawsuit says. He remained in custody until one of the officers checked records to see if Heyl was the suspect.
Named in the lawsuit in addition to the city are former police Chief Shannon Santucci Davis, Patrolman Robert Haus and former Patrolman Wesley Biricocchi.
Santucci Davis wasn’t chief at the time of the allegations. She said Tuesday she didn’t know why she is named as a defendant.
Eric Doutt was chief on that night in 2018 and remains police chief for Arnold. Doutt said Tuesday he didn’t recall the incident.
Heyl went to an emergency room Feb. 28, 2018, because “his whole body was sore,” according to the lawsuit.
A doctor diagnosed him with strained back and shoulder muscles and knee contusions, according the suit.
There is no record of criminal charges filed against Heyl.
One of Heyl’s lawyers, Sara J. Watkins, said Heyl is white and the suspect was black.
“Simply put, it was not objectively reasonable for defendants Haus and Biricocchi to detain Mr. Heyl for any crime relating to his presence outside of the apartment building,” Heyl’s attorneys wrote in the lawsuit. “Defendants knew Mr. Heyl did not match the description of the attempted burglar.”
Haus is still an Arnold officer, and Biricocchi is working in the state Attorney General’s Office.
Arnold Mayor Karen Peconi, who is Biricocchi’s mother, wasn’t available for comment.
Arnold Solicitor David Regoli said he hasn’t seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment.
He said Arnold will be represented by an attorney for the city’s insurance company, not him.
Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck at 724-226-4711, [email protected] or via Twitter .