Man sues state police over field sobriety test; video used in case
A Florida man is suing state troopers and Lehighton police in federal court after he was charged with driving under the influence without being given field sobriety tests.
Noah P. Reed’s lawsuit includes a state police dashboard camera video of two troopers talking about who should get credit for his arrest to meet their “20 for the month,” evidence of an illegal quota system for arrests of people on DUI charges.
The civil rights suit, filed in U.S. District Court, Scranton, by Joshua E. Karoly of Allentown, names troopers Ronald Mercatili and Gary N. Fedor of the Lehighton barracks; and troopers identified only as X, Y and Z.
Trooper X is described as a supervisor, Trooper Y as a station commander, both at the Lehighton barracks. Trooper Z is described as a commander/division director from the Hazleton barracks.
The suit also names unidentified Lehighton Borough police officers.
Reed is asking for a jury trial, an award in excess of $150,000 for each of the 10 counts in the suit, plus legal fees, costs, damages and other awards.
“We can’t offer comment on pending legislation,” state police Director of Communications Cpl. Adam Reed said when asked for comment.
Lehighton police chief Brian Biechy was unavailable for comment late Wednesday.
According to the suit, Reed, of Jacksonville, was in the driver’s seat of a pickup parked at Trainer’s Inn on Route 209 in Lehighton at 1:25 p.m. on May 17, 2015.
A woman who was in the passenger seat had a warrant for her arrest, unbeknown to Reed.
Fedor pulled up in his cruiser to take her into custody. She ran; Fedor caught her.
Reed was standing in front of the truck, watching. Mercatili and borough police arrived, and one of the borough officers cuffed Reed and put him in the back of his cruiser.
Fedor asked the officer, “Is he good, or is he DUI maybe?”
The officer replied, “Might be DUI, probably if they were using all night.”
The video, recorded by Fedor’s dashcam, captures Mercatili saying to Fedor, “You mind if I take this?”
“DUI?” Fedor asks.
“Yeah,” Mercatili says.
“No,” Fedor replies.
“I need my 20 for the month,” Mercatili says, laughing.
“I need mine too, but I’ll take this,” Fedor says, (referring to the woman’s arrest).
Fedor also tells Mercatili “If there is any heroin, I want to see it.”
The troopers then discuss illegally searching Reed’s truck.
Reed denied using drugs or having any in his truck.
Mercatili moved Reed to the state police car, and searched him, but found nothing.
No tests of any kind were given to Reed. Fedor discontinued the audio recording after he and Mercantile agreed to search Reed’s truck, without his permission. The video continued, however.
Reed was taken to a hospital for a blood test.
On Nov. 19, 2015, Mercatili filed two counts of driving under the influence and one of careless driving against Reed.
Mercatili wrote in his affidavit of probable cause that Reed was given field sobriety tests, and “exhibited numerous signs of intoxication.”
The trooper signed the affidavit, promising the statements in it were “true and correct.”
“As it is clear from the (dashcam), Mercatili flat-out lied when he stated that he performed Standard Field Sobriety Tests on (Reed),” the suit states.
Mercatili also fraudulently filled out a state police intoxication work sheet, going to “great lengths to create a narrative of false probable cause based upon never-performed tests, including checking boxes stating Reed ‘had difficulty with cards,’ and that he raised his arms in the first nine steps of the walk and turn test, but not the second nine of the same test.”
Reed’s defense lawyer, Matthew J. Rapa of Lehighton, obtained a copy of the video, which led to the DUI charges being dropped on June 1, 2017.
Reed pleaded guilty to careless driving, although Mercatili’s reports and documents indicate he did not observe Reed driving.
“I think the video speaks for itself,” Rapa said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “To me, the most concerning part is that in some of the documents prepared after Reed’s arrest, (Mercatili wrote) that he had difficulty performing the field sobriety tests that clearly were not performed.”
The DUI charges were dropped due to the video.
“I don’t think that would have gone over well with a jury,” Rapa said.
The dashcam video “protected Mr. Reed, and dashcams protect the police as well,” Rapa said.