The Philadelphia Personal Injury Law Blog

Harris v. Paige: Cop Allegedly Sexually Assaulted Philly Man

On Monday, the civil suit against Officer Michael Paige begins, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Officer Paige has been accused and acquitted, in a court of law, of forcing James Harris to perform oral sex three times on a cold May morning in 2008.

The story of the alleged incident, pulled from the civil case filings, contains graphic details for those of you who might be squeamish. James Harris and an unidentified male were in a vehicle at 2:00 am. They had been smoking marijuana while waiting out a snowstorm and were allegedly kissing in their vehicle.

Officer Paige was patrolling and stopped at the vehicle. He checked the driver's paperwork, and when he discovered that the driver did not have a license, ordered him to drop his friend off at home and return to the park. Harris did so, and was told to sit in the passenger seat of the police cruiser.

According to Harris, Officer Paige pulled his cruiser into a locked and secluded area of Fairmont Park. He then pulled down his pants and ordered Harris to perform fellatio multiple times.

The following day, Harris reported the incident. An Internal Affairs investigation substantiated the claims and terminated Paige's employment. The District Attorney pressed charges. All evidence, including sperm and saliva left in a cup in Harris' car, seemed to back Harris' story.

Meanwhile, Officer Paige claimed that he was set up by a young man that he was graciously mentoring. He accused Harris of fishing a used condom off of the ground from one of Paige's heterosexual frolics in the forest and pouring it into the cup, along with spit.

The judge backed Officer Paige, to a limited extent. She had no doubt that a sexual liaison actually occurred. She simply questioned whether it had been involuntary. Officer Paige was free, acquitted of all criminal charges. A short time later, with the help of the Fraternal Order of Police, he was reinstated to the Philadelphia Police Force, with back pay. He is still on the force today.

In the meantime, Harris also pursued a civil suit. After a series of motions and legal wrangling, the City of Philadelphia was let off the hook, as they were found to have not enabled the officer's behavior. In order for a municipality to be found liable for an employee's actions, their policies have to have proximately caused the dangerous situation

The civil case filings also laid bare Officer Paige's disciplinary record, which included suspensions for sleeping on duty, continuing a chase out of his district, allegations of police brutality leading to death, and multiple recommendations for termination by his superior officer.

Unfortunately for Harris, the court found that this did not amount to sufficient warning for the Police Department that Officer Paige would sexually assault someone in secluded park. Paige's actions were not foreseeable, and therefore there was no proximate cause. The claims against the city, therefore, were dismissed under a motion for summary judgment.

The claims against Officer Paige, however, survived summary judgment and will be tried on Monday. The claims that remain include violating Harris' Constitutional rights, false imprisonment, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress .

More details, as well as an analysis of the legal claims, to follow.

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