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October 22, 2016

Allentown police sued by suspect who had head kicked

Suit alleges excessive force, blind eye from city officials

Lawsuits Police
Allentown Police Kick Allentown CopBlock/YouTube

This screenshot from dash cam video shows Allentown police officer Joseph Iannetta kicking Hector Medina-Pena in the head after he was pulled over for suspected robbery. Medina-Pena has sued Iannetta as well as city officials for the incident.

A man has sued the Allentown Police Department for a blow to the head from an officer who pulled him over for suspected robbery.

Hector Medina-Pena filed the federal lawsuit Thursday, alleging that Officer Joseph Iannetta used excessive force when he delivered a "'WWE' style kick" to his head despite Medina-Pena's peaceful surrender, breaking his jaw.

Allentown Police Chief Keith Morris has called the lawsuit's version of the May 2015 event "biased," and said that Iannetta used appropriate force, alleging that Medina-Pena refused to comply with officers' orders.

The suit also names the city, Mayor Ed Pawlowski, former Police chief Joel Fitzgerald and the other officers involved. Medina-Pena alleges the city failed to protect his constitutional rights by failing to discipline Iannetta.

The lawsuit stems from the robbery of the Platinum Plus strip club on May 30, 2015. According to police, Medina-Pena matched the description of the armed robber who took cash from the club and fled along with three other suspects.

Medina-Pena would later plead guilty to robbery and was sentenced to 4 1/2-10 years in state prison.

When police pulled over the getaway vehicle, Medina-Pena complied with officers' requests for him to step out, get down on his knees and raise his hands over his head in plain view of the officers, according to the complaint.

Medina-Pena again followed officers' orders to get on all fours, but Iannetta then delivered the kick "with his booted foot to the Plaintiffs right side of his head and face," the suit alleges.

"Immediately, Plaintiff crumbled to the ground, immobile, and in extreme pam," the suit claims.

Dash cam video of the arrest was included in discovery as part of Medina-Pena's criminal case for the robbery, according to The Morning Call. It can be viewed below (Disclaimer: Video contains graphic content and explicit language):

Iannetta continued to assault the defenseless and unarmed Medina-Pena, kneeing him in the back of the head and driving his face onto the street, the suit alleges.

Once Medina-Pena was in handcuffs, Iannetta "smiled, smerked (sic) and made comments” to the officers after inflicting the injuries, according to the complaint. The suit alleges Iannetta even fist-bumped one of the other officers.

Officer Patrick Bull, along with two other unnamed officers, are named as defendants in the suit. Medina-Pena accuses Iannetta and Bull of conspiring to deny him his civil rights.

Chief Morris vehemently rebuked Medina-Pena's version of the events.

"Hector Medina-Pena repeatedly refused to comply with Officer Iannetta’s commands throughout the course of the encounter, repeatedly reaching into the area of his waistband where he was wearing a fanny-pack," Morris said in a statement. Iannetta took action to protect himself, using the "minimal amount of force necessary," Morris said.

Medina-Pena's suit also claims the city conducted a "minimal investigation" into the incident and that officials either work to cover up or turn a blind eye to police wrongdoing.

"The actions of Officer Iannetta have been thoroughly reviewed by command staff and the Solicitor's Office and found to be appropriate under the circumstances," said City Solicitor Susan Wild.

Wild said Iannetta had served on the force for more than 14 years and was highly decorated. She added the city looked forward to the evidence "demonstrating that his actions were appropriate."

The lawsuit also cites a 2013 incident involving Iannetta allegedly using excessive force against a suspect, which also resulted in a federal lawsuit. The city recently settled that claim for $350,000, according to WFMZ.

Medina-Pena's suit is seeking damages in excess of $150,000 and a court order barring the defendants from engaging in similar behavior in the future.