Wrongly jailed as Kensington Strangler, man sues Philly and Pa. for civil rights violations

 In December 2010,  the Philadelphia Police Department released this photo from a surveillance camera of a possible suspect in connection with  violence in Kensington. (Philadelphia Police Department)

In December 2010, the Philadelphia Police Department released this photo from a surveillance camera of a possible suspect in connection with violence in Kensington. (Philadelphia Police Department)

A Point Breeze man initially arrested — but later cleared — as the notorious Kensington Strangler has filed a federal lawsuit against the city and nearly two dozen other defendants, claiming wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and other civil rights violations.

Noel Quintana, 48, spent almost four years in prison after police charged him in December 2010 with three murders that later earned Antonio Rodriguez convictions and three life sentences, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court.

For four months in late 2010 and early 2011, police were desperately hunting the predator who raped and murdered three women — and who detectives believed was responsible for another half-dozen sexual assaults in Kensington.

One of those assaults happened Nov. 28, 2010, on Buckius Street. In that case, a woman told police a man grabbed her, held a box cutter to her neck, dragged her into a vacant lot, demanded she undo her pants and began choking her. The woman screamed, and her attacker fled.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Fifteen minutes later, patrolmen stopped Quintana as he walked on Wheatsheaf Lane, about two blocks away. And while those officers initially let Quintana go, other officers arrested Quintana three days later and charged him with both the Buckius Street assault and the murders, even though he didn’t match the description of the attacker and the Buckius victim couldn’t identify him in a lineup, according to the lawsuit.

After Rodriguez’s arrest on Jan. 17, 2011, authorities kept Quintana in custody and pursued attempted rape charges against him in connection with the Buckius attack, according to the lawsuit.

A jury acquitted Quintana of all charges on Sept. 30, 2014.

Quintana’s lawsuit names the city, the police department, the district attorney’s office, the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole and assorted named police officers and prosecutors as defendants.

“All of the defendants conspired together to wrongfully convict and/or attempt to wrongfully convict the plaintiff, because they had made a false arrest and still maliciously prosecuted a case against him in an effort to cover up their errors,” attorney Rania M. Major wrote in the complaint.

Quintana wasn’t the only man wrongly suspected as the serial strangler.

An innocent Kensington man feared vigilante justice after an angry mob gathered outside his home when someone posted his name and photo on a Facebook page called “Catch the Kensington Strangler.”

Rodriguez, who has a history of mental illness, was convicted in 2012 of killing Elaine Goldberg, 21; Casey Mahoney, 27; and Nicole Piacentini, 35. He told police he met his victims, who were working as prostitutes, on the street, steered them to secluded spaces, and then strangled them during sex.

The city paid more than $1 million in 2015 and 2016 to settle lawsuits people filed against police for false arrests and false imprisonment, according to city records.

Spokespeople for the police department and the District Attorney’s Office said they do not comment on pending litigation.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal