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Trooper seeks to end suit over South Side assault

Jason Cato
| Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009, 12:00 p.m.

A lawyer for a state trooper found liable in the shooting death of a 12-year-old boy today asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit in which the officer is accused of assaulting a man outside a South Side bar.

State law provides Trooper Samuel Nassan immunity from a battery claim filed by Christopher Strothers, 27, who claims Nassan threw him to the ground and broke his ankle in July outside Rumshaker's Bar on East Carson Street after Pittsburgh police broke up an argument involving Strothers' friends.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Robert A. Willig, who is representing Nassan, argued his client acted within his duties as a law enforcement officer and is protected from being sued, according to a motion to dismiss filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Downtown.

"Dispersing crowds is definitely one of the many types of acts law enforcement officers are employed to perform," Willig wrote. "Law enforcement officers are also permitted to use force, even deadly force, if the situation requires and the standard for reviewing whether the force used was excessive is a reasonableness standard."

Willig also argued that Strothers' 14th amendment equal protection claim "is nothing more than a bald assertion" that is not legally supported by the lawsuit.

Last week, Strothers amended the lawsuit that was filed in November.

The lawsuit claims Nassan arrived at the scene after the fight had been broken up and started handcuffing people. The trooper is accused of throwing Strothers to the ground during a scuffle. Nassan then drove a short distance away from the bar with Strothers handcuffed, let him go and wrote him citations for disorderly conduct and public drunkenness, according to the complaint. The lawsuits claims Strothers had not been drinking.

A federal jury in March found Nassan and Trooper Juan Curry liable for fatally shooting Michael Ellerbe, 12, as the boy ran from a stolen vehicle on Christmas Eve 2002 in Uniontown. The boy's father, Michael Hickenbottom, filed a federal lawsuit that the state will pay $12.5 million to settle.

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