Woman files federal lawsuit against 4 McKeesport police officers
A McKeesport woman with a long history of dealing with the city’s police department filed suit Thursday in Pittsburgh’s U.S. District Court against four city officers, alleging they violated her constitutional rights during an Aug. 8, 2013, incident at her home.
In a lawsuit filed by Wexford attorney Erik M. Yurkovich, Sandra Belle Rioux, 63, accuse Assistant Chief Thomas Greene, officers Joseph Stepansky, Joshua Alfer and Brian Morris and other “unknown McKeesport officers” of using excessive force, making a false arrest and conducting a malicious prosecution.
Rioux claims Greene threw her to the ground, causing her head to strike the curb, then taunted her as she convulsed. The lawsuit says Greene then had her arrested and charged with crimes that a district judge dismissed at a preliminary hearing.
“We have not been served with, nor have we seen official documents regarding this potential litigation,” McKeesport city Solicitor J. Jason Elash said. “As always, we have the utmost confidence in our police department and will resolve this matter as expeditiously as possible.”
All four officers are being sued personally. The city itself and the police department are not listed as defendants.
Rioux claims she was hospitalized for “at least two days as a result of bruises and related heart trouble.”
Stepansky is listed as the arresting officer on the case docket posted on the state’s court website.
The lawsuit filed by Yurkovich said the officers didn’t issue Rioux any traffic citations, but still had her truck towed from in front of her house along Collins Street.
Rioux states in the lawsuit that she had to pay $230 to get her truck back and $800 for the services of a criminal lawyer, though later in the complaint Rioux is quoted as saying she “represented herself.”
Court records do not indicate attorneys for Rioux in past appearances in district, county or state courts.
According to state court records, Rioux was charged in the August 2013 incident with aggravated assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
“Oddly, plaintiff was not cited for any traffic violation related to her truck that was seized,” the complaint said.
After she was arraigned by Magisterial District Judge Eugene F. Riazzi Jr., a hearing on the charges was continued or rescheduled seven times. Her initial release on her own recognizance was switched to a nonmonetary bond by Magisterial District Judge Beth S. Mills.
On June 9, Mills dismissed the charges.
Assistant District Attorney Aaron John McKendry was the prosecutor. A spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. declined comment.
Rioux appeared before magisterial district judges on a variety of counts dating back to 2007, including four cases that were appealed to Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.
One of those cases in turn was appealed to state Supreme Court.
One case was moving through the courts at the same time as the case prompting the federal lawsuit. On June 13, 2013, Morris was the arresting officer when Rioux was charged with harassment.
A summary trial on that count first was scheduled for June 27, 2013, then continued five times before Riazzi and Senior Magisterial District Judge Robert L. Barner, who dismissed the charges April 30.
Four earlier cases went to higher courts with mixed results.
On Nov. 14, 2007, Rioux pleaded guilty to two counts of harassment before Magisterial District Judge Edward Burnett in a June 26, 2007, incident in which Alfer was the arresting officer.
But on Nov. 19, 2007, she filed a summary appeal to Allegheny County Common Pleas Court. On March 3, 2008, Judge Robert C. Gallo found her not guilty on both counts.
Rioux could have paid $911.50 in fines and costs but that was adjusted down to a $50 fee.
On March 23, 2009, Rioux pleaded guilty to harassment before Riazzi in a Feb. 8, 2009, case.
But on April 28, 2009, she again appealed to Allegheny County Common Pleas Court. On June 23, 2009, Gallo again upheld the McKeesport verdict but Rioux appealed first to state Superior Court and then state Supreme Court, which rejected her appeal Nov. 18, 2010.
After all of that, according to state court records, Rioux was assessed $223.50 in fines and costs.
While that case was moving through the appeals process, there was another case for Rioux before Riazzi.
On June 9, 2010, Rioux pleaded guilty to harassment in a May 5, 2010, incident and was assessed $444.45 in fines and costs.
On June 22, 2010, she again filed a summary appeal to Allegheny County Common Pleas Court. On June 23, 2009, Gallo upheld the McKeesport verdict.
Alfer again was the arresting officer on Oct. 21, 2011, when Rioux was charged with false reporting, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and harassment.
The case was moved to the nontraffic category where, on March 22, 2012, Rioux pleaded guilty to a harassment charge before Riazzi.
On that same day, Rioux appealed to Common Pleas Court, where Gallo found her not guilty on July 18, 2012.
Staff writers Brian Bowling and Jennifer R. Vertullo contributed to this story. Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or email@example.com.