Barring a last-minute settlement, jury selection is expected to start Monday in the civil-rights case of a man who claims a Lancaster city police officer used excessive force in deploying a Taser on him as he sat, unarmed, on a curb in June 2018.
Sean D. Williams, 29, is seeking more than $75,000 in his federal lawsuit against the officer, Philip Bernot.
After a video of the June 28, 2018, incident went viral, city leadership began evaluating its community and police relations.
A revamped use of force policy is now in place, and a group has been working on improving police-community relations.
On Wednesday, Magistrate Judge Henry S. Perkin in Allentown dismissed Williams' claim of excessive force against the city and Bernot in his capacity as a police officer.
That means the case now is only against Bernot as an individual. The city, however, is covering Bernot’s legal costs under its labor contract with police.
Last fall, the parties agreed to drop claims that police failed to provide adequate medical care and that Williams, who is African-American, had been racially profiled.
Defense motions granted
Perkin also granted three defense motions Wednesday. He ruled in Bernot's favor by prohibiting evidence about the city's current use of force policy.
Although Bernot was following the policy in place at the time, Craig Stedman, who was then the county’s district attorney, criticized both his actions and the policy.
In an August 2018 memo, Stedman said “the use of Taser ... appears drastic when compared to Mr. Williams’ demeanor and body language.”
And of the police's use of force policy, Stedman wrote it was "deficient in many aspects."
Nonetheless, Stedman found Bernot's actions didn't warrant criminal charges. Nor was Bernot disciplined by the city, because he had been following policy at the time.
The 2018 incident
Williams, of Lancaster, was sitting on the sidewalk on South Prince Street, just south of King Street, when Bernot shocked him with the Taser. Williams has said he was confused by conflicting commands being given by two officers at the scene.
Bernot's actions would violate the current use of force policy, Chief Jarrad Berkihiser said in October 2018. Berkihiser made the comment at a City Hall meeting when he discussed the city's revamped policy, which took effect two months earlier.
Perkin agreed with Bernot's attorneys that the current use of force policy isn't relevant.
And in another ruling, the judge prohibited Williams from making statements about the diagnosis, prognosis or cause of his injuries.
Still to be ruled on as of Friday afternoon, according to online filings, was a defense request to allow evidence of Williams' criminal behavior.
And Williams' attorneys want the jury to hear the video of the incident instead of an edited version that deletes the audio.
It's unfair, they wrote, that the defense is allowed to present a Taser expert while preventing Williams' reaction.
"A jury should be able to see and hear (Williams) writhing in agony just as it happened," they wrote.
Following jury selection in Philadelphia, the trial moves to U.S. District Court in Allentown.