The Philadelphia Personal Injury Law Blog

Officer Michael Paige: Civil Trial Over Alleged Fellatio Delayed

Officer Michael Paige bought some time on his civil trial. The federal judge in the case granted a delay until June 25 for the civil-rights trial because the officer, a reservist, is away on military leave. Paige, who is still an active Philadelphia police officer, faces civil liability for the alleged sexual assault of James Harris in his police cruiser in Fairmount Park.

Harris' claims that Paige violated his civil rights by forcing the North Philadelphia man to repeatedly perform oral sex on him in 2007 fell upon deaf ears in the criminal court. The decisive issue in that case was consent. The Judge felt that the acts were consensual.

The Police Department had earlier found the opposite, and had fired Paige, but he was later reinstated after a battle with the Fraternal Order of Police.

In our previous post, we discussed the background of the case, up to the Police department’s dismissal, and promised analysis of the various claim. The remaining claims against Paige include violating Harris’ constitutional rights, false imprisonment, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The first claim, violating Harris’ constitutional rights , is where someone, under the color of law, violates rights, privileges, or immunities guaranteed under federal law or the Constitution. In order to prevail, the claimant must prove that the conduct occurred under the color of law, which has been broadly construed to include the exercise of power created by the authority of someone’s official capacity.

For Harris, proving that Paige, who was an on-duty cop at the time, used his authority and position to violate his rights may not be a problem in this context. He allegedly used his police power to detain him, force him to meet him back in the location a short time later, and then to get him to ride along with him to the secluded park, where he allegedly assaulted Harris.

What will be interesting, is what rights under Federal or constitutional law he asserts. Section 1983 claims are popular for race and sex discrimination, and other related matters. Sexual assault, while a crime, may not tie into any federal or constitutional rights.

His second claim, false imprisonment, is the confinement of someone against his or her will by another individual in such a manner as to violate the confined individual’s right to be free from restraint of movement.

Courts have long held that security guards, who keep people in custody by falsely implying that they will be arrested if they leave, can be held liable for false imprisonment. Paige’s actions, by keeping Harris in a police cruiser after detaining him, could also probably qualify, if there was some implied threat of legal action if he did not comply.

The third and fourth claims, assault and battery, are actually two separate claims. Battery is harmful or offensive touching. No explanation is really needed there, unless the jury finds that the fellatio was consensual.

Assault is an action or threat that puts someone on fear of harmful or offensive touching. For that, if Paige threatened Harris with violence or a gun, assault could be a possibility. It could be a possibility in regards to the moments leading up to the “offensive touching,” but those details will probably emerge at trial.

Finally, the last claim, intentional infliction of emotional distress, is where extreme or outrageous conduct intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress. This shouldn’t be too hard to tack on, if the jury believes that the fellatio was nonconsensual. Sexual assault is outrageous conduct, which could definitely cause severe emotional distress.

The trial is scheduled for June 25, once Officer Michael Paige returns from his military duties. No doubt for James Harris, the chance for a day in court can’t come soon enough.

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