Video captures troopers discussing quota for drunken driving arrests, lawsuit claims
November 27, 2017
Peter Hall Of The Morning Call
The video taken by a dashboard camera shows two Pennsylvania State Police troopers discussing which one of them should get credit for arresting a man on suspicion of driving under the influence because they both need their “20 for the month,” is evidence of a “quota system” for DUI arrests, a federal civil rights lawsuit claims.
Without performing roadside sobriety tests to establish probable cause in a May 2015 arrest in the parking lot of a bar near Lehighton, troopers speculated whether the suspect sitting in the back of a cruiser was “DUI,” the suit alleges.
One trooper asked another, “You mind if I take this?” adding, “I need my 20 for the month,” the video shows.
“I need mine too, but I’ll let you have him,” the other trooper replied, according to the video.
The lawsuit filed this month also alleges that the arresting trooper and other officers falsely reported drunken-driving violations in the past and that state police supervisors were deliberately indifferent to the practice and condoned and encouraged it by setting quotas for filing such cases.
The trooper who made the 2015 arrest later falsified court documents, stating he performed field sobriety tests that the motorist failed, when no tests were given, the lawsuit alleges. The video shows the driver, Noah Reed of Jacksonville, Fla., being placed in one police car in handcuffs and later transferred to another without being given the tests described in the court documents.
“The law doesn’t allow quota systems for a very good reason,” said attorney Joshua Karoly of Allentown, who is representing Reed. “It puts a personal motive into law enforcement and that’s not good for anyone.”
Ticket quotas for Pennsylvania law enforcement officers have been banned by state law since 1981.
State police spokesmen did not respond to several requests for comment on the lawsuit, or questions on whether state police use a quota system, whether the incident has been investigated and about state police policies on field sobriety tests.
When Matthew J. Rapa, Reed’s criminal defense attorney in the DUI case, learned of the video, he filed a motion to suppress the blood-test results that revealed methamphetamine in Reed’s system. In June, a Carbon County judge dismissed the charges of driving under the influence of controlled substances brought against Reed.
Carbon County District Attorney Jean Engler said the May 17, 2015, impaired-driving charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement involving three impaired-driving cases and a terroristic threats charge. The prosecutor who handled the cases chose the strongest two to pursue, Engler said.
The law doesn’t allow quota systems for a very good reason. It puts a personal motive into law enforcement and that’s not good for anyone. — Attorney Joshua Karoly of Allentown
In his federal lawsuit, Reed claims his arrest amounted to a false arrest and illegal search and accuses Trooper Ronald Mercatili of false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and violating his constitutional rights.
The facts that Reed, 34, had some amount of an illegal drug in his system, and has since pleaded guilty to two unrelated offenses of driving under the influence of a controlled substance are irrelevant, Karoly said.
The allegations in the lawsuit center on the video recorded by a dash cam in a state police cruiser driven by Trooper Gary Fedor and how the images and words it captured contradict the court documents Mercatili filed against Reed.
The video, provided to The Morning Call by Rapa and turned over by prosecutors as evidence in the criminal case, begins as Fedor responds to assist local police who received a tip that a woman wanted on an arrest warrant was riding in Reed’s vehicle. Fedor locates Reed’s truck in the parking lot of a bar on Route 209 in Franklin Township and parks behind it.
In the video, the female passenger opens the door and runs around the front of the truck, disappearing from the camera’s view. Fedor chases her and his microphone captures the sounds of the trooper apprehending the woman. Reed, meanwhile, gets out of the truck, appearing to speak briefly with a Lehighton police officer who arrives in the parking lot, the video shows.
While Fedor is heard out of the camera’s view informing the woman that she’s being arrested on multiple outstanding warrants, other officers are seen handcuffing Reed and seating him in the back of a Lehighton police car. As Fedor places the woman in his state police cruiser, he explains Reed is being detained while the officers “figure out why he’s involved.”
Fedor is then seen standing in front of his cruiser and heard discussing with another police officer whether Reed is “DUI.” The other officer tells Fedor, “He might be DUI. Probably if they were using all night.”
A few minutes later, another officer, identified in the lawsuit as Mercatili, is heard off camera asking Fedor, “You mind if I take this?”
“DUI?” Fedor asks.
“Yeah,” Mercatili replies.
Mercatili then tells Fedor, “I need my 20 for the month.”
“I need mine too, but I’ll take this,” Fedor says, referring to the woman’s arrest.
“Huh?” Mercatili asks.
“I need mine too, but I’ll let you have him,” Fedor says, referring to Reed.
The troopers walk to the Lehighton police car and speak with Reed, asking him if he has been using heroin. Reed states that he hasn’t used heroin in seven years and hasn’t used any illegal drugs in a week.
After removing Reed from the police car, Mercatili searches him and then tells another unidentified officer, “I’ll put him in my car, ‘cause I’m going to deal with him.” Mercatili leads Reed away and the two are out of the camera’s view for two minutes before Mercatili returns.
In that time, “There was no way he could have performed those field sobriety tests according to their training,” Rapa said.
In the remainder of the 42-minute video, Fedor is heard questioning the woman he arrested about whether she has any illegal drugs or paraphernalia and the officers are seen thoroughly searching Reed’s truck and its contents, which, the suit alleges, was illegal because the officers lacked probable cause. About 20 minutes before the end of the video, the audio recording ends and the rest of the footage is silent.
The lawsuit alleges Mercatili knew the documents were false when he filed them. The affidavit of probable cause outlining the evidence in support of Reed’s arrest states that Mercatili saw a vehicle matching the description of Reed’s truck drive past on Route 209 and followed it into the parking lot of the bar, activated his emergency lights and approached the driver, who identified himself with a Pennsylvania identification card as Reed.
Mercatili wrote that he observed Reed’s eyes were bloodshot and glassy and his speech slurred. He wrote that when he asked Reed if he was under the influence of narcotics, Reed replied he had been clean for seven years and most recently used meth “a couple of days ago.”
The affidavit states Reed performed a series of field sobriety tests during which, “Reed exhibited numerous signs of intoxication,” the affidavit says.
“As is clear from the , Mercatili flat out lied when he stated that he performed the standard field sobriety tests on the plaintiff,” the lawsuit alleges.
The suit alleges Mercatili also falsified a state police “intoxication worksheet,” checking off boxes stating that Reed’s actions were slow or sluggish, that he swayed, was unsure of his footing, that he staggered or stumbled and that he had difficulty presenting his identification cards.
“As is crystal clear from the , no walk and turn test was ever conducted, and Mercatili himself reached into plaintiff’s pocket to retrieve his ID while plaintiff’s hands were handcuffed behind his back,” the says.