A Pennsylvania family has filed a lawsuit against the Pittsburgh police department, claiming that two dozen SWAT team members raided their home and terrorized their two children in retaliation for a prior incident involving an officer outside a local bar.
Surveillance video captured in December 2010 outside a Pittsburgh bar shows Michael Murray, an off-duty police officer, trying to help a bartender escort an unruly patron out of the establishment. A fight breaks out in the process, with another customer – later identified as William Moreno – jumping into the fray and throwing Murray to the ground.
The policeman was knocked unconscious, his leg broken, and tooth chipped. Moreno, who would later be convicted of aggravated assault in 2012, left the bar to return home to his family.
A new lawsuit filed by Moreno’s wife alleges that on December 7, 2010 - less than 24 hours after the bar fight - a team of at least 23 officers dressed in full SWAT gear detonated flash grenades at the Moreno family’s door and forced their way into the house. Although the officers had a warrant and evidently sought to arrest William Moreno, they are accused of putting his family through 45 minutes of “terrorization” in the process.
The SWAT team allegedly handcuffed Moreno, his wife Georgeia, Georgeia’s stepfather, and Georgeia’s adult son Billy. In court, Georgeia said that Billy was forced to lie on broken glass. She recalled pleading with officers, telling them there were young children upstairs.
“Then they threw us all on the ground and were handcuffing us, kicking us, screaming,” Georgeia Moreno told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “They had rifles pointed at our heads.”
At one point, the officers were too rough with the stepfather’s surgically repaired arm. He said the altercation necessitated another surgery.
“You think you can get one of ours, and we won’t get one of yours?” the officers are accused of saying.
“They just ransacked the house,” said Tim O’Brien, the family’s attorney. “Everything was done wrong. Everything they did was in complete disregard of the Constitution.”
According to the lawsuit, police then violently dragged Georgeia’s 10-year-old son from the bathtub, injuring his ankles. Officers reportedly humiliated the boy by forcing him to stand naked next to his four-year-old sister at gunpoint.
“Officers have continued to harass and threaten the family since the raid, telling them "That’s how we do things here" and that they should move out of Pittsburgh,” the complaint reads.
The family is seeking $50,000 in damages, claiming the SWAT raid was in breach of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. US District Judge Nora Barry Fischer refused to dismiss the case earlier this week, citing inconsistencies in officers’ explanations and saying there is not a time limit by which the family would have needed to sue.
William Moreno, who has a lengthy criminal record, is in the midst of serving an 8 ½ to 20 year prison sentence for his role in the initial bar fight.