Transit rider files civil rights action against SEPTA

June 16, 2010

By Anthony Campisi

For PlanPhilly

A SEPTA rider has filed a federal civil rights suit against the authority, alleging SEPTA police improperly arrested him after an incident while he was waiting for a train last year.

Paul Tucker was waiting for a train at the Somerset station on the Market-Frankford El on May 9, 2009, when two SEPTA police officers told him to put out a cigarette he was smoking.

Tucker, 41, of Philadelphia, alleges that police then asked for his identification and whether he was carrying any drugs on him.

He told the officers that he was carrying several different prescription drugs and that he had consolidated the pills into one bottle.

According to the complaint, the officers examined the bottle and then arrested him for unlawful possession of controlled substances — despite Tucker’s suggestion that the officers call his pharmacy and confirm that he had a prescription for the drugs.

Tucker is suing SEPTA and the two officers for allegedly violating the Civil Rights Act of 1983 and his Fourth and 14th Amendment rights.

He is also suing Philadelphia Police for holding him in custody for about 30 hours and a Philadelphia police detective who helped bring charges against him.

The possession charge was later dropped, though Tucker was found guilty of smoking.

Tucker also alleges that police didn’t return his drugs to him after he was released. Because he couldn’t afford to purchase replacements, Tucker says he was forced to skimp on his medications for a month, exacerbating his anxiety and other psychological conditions.

In an interview, his lawyer, Jonathan Feinberg, said that Tucker’s arrest constituted a “very serious error” on the part of the officers because “there was no cause to believe he had committed a crime.”

Feinberg added that police should have made a more thorough investigation before arresting Tucker, especially given the evidence that Tucker had a prescription.

Tucker had not registered a complaint with either SEPTA or the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit before filing his suit, according to his lawyer.

Neither SEPTA nor Philadelphia police responded to requests for comment.

Contact the reporter at acampisi@planphilly.com

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