Man arrested for wearing 'POLICE' t-shirt at Christmas party sues Belleville, officer

Kelly Holleran Dec. 26, 2008, 6:50am

The city Belleville and a Belleville police officer are being sued by a man who claims he was wrongfully arrested and charged with falsely impersonating a police officer after wearing a T-shirt with the word "POLICE" written across the front and back.

Adam C. Weinstein, of Missouri, claims he was attending a pre-Christmas party on Dec. 23, 2006, at about 11:34 p.m. at Crehan's Bar in Belleville, according to the complaint filed Dec. 22 in St. Clair County Circuit Court.

When Weinstein initially arrived at the party, he was wearing a green sweater with the black shirt bearing the word "POLICE" underneath the sweater. After getting hot at the bar, Weinstein removed his sweater, to reveal the "POLICE" shirt, the suit states.

Shortly afterwards, Weinstein claims he was told that some police officers wanted to talk to him outside.

Once he arrived outside, Weinstein was told to show officers his police identification, the suit states.

But Weinstein was a licensed Emergency Medical Technician and a licensed security officer, not a police officer, so he had no credentials, he claims.

Belleville police officer Jeff Vernatti placed Weinstein under arrest and placed handcuffs around his wrists, but "tightened them too tightly on Plaintiff," according to the complaint.

After Weinstein asked if it was illegal to wear a T-shirt with the word "POLICE" on it, Vernatti told him to "shut the f*** up, you're real f***ing stupid, you are a dumb-a** with no common sense, do you know how f***ing stupid you are?" the suit states.

Vernatti then twisted Weinstein's wrists and quickly walked him across the parking lot, Weinstein claims.

Vernatti shoved Weinstein against the police cruiser with such force that his belt buckle left an impression on his abdomen, then pushed Weinstein into the back seat of the car, according to the complaint.

When Weinstein asked Vernatti to loosen his handcuffs, Vernatti instead tightened them and added a second pair onto his wrists, the suit states.

After writing a non-traffic complaint, Vernatti let Weinstein go, first telling him how lucky he was not to be charged with a felony and to be placed in jail, Weinstein claims.

But before letting Weinstein leave, Vernatti ordered him to take off his shirt in the cold weather, according to the complaint.

All the while, other Belleville officers stood by and did nothing, the suit states.

Eventually, Belleville's prosecuting attorney dropped the case, the suit states.

Because of Vernatti's actions, Weinstein suffered extreme emotional distress, fright, nervousness, indignity, humiliation, insult, loss of relationship and comfort and was forced to incur medical costs, he claims.

Vernatti falsely arrested; falsely detained; illegally, violently and improperly handcuffed and wrongly charged Weinstein with impersonating officers, Weinstein claims.

He also used excessive force, publicly embarrassed, harassed, verbally abused, physically abused, cause grievous and severe injuries to Weinstein, violated Weinstein's protected civil rights and abused or misused their powers, according to the complaint.

Vernatti's actions toward Weinstein were "extreme and outrageous," the suit states.

The city of Belleville failed to train its police officers in matters that do not constitute an offense, failed to train its officers in matters that do not require individuals to be detained, failed to implement policies and procedures to prevent against untrained officers from detaining and charging innocent individuals and failed to train and supervise competent police officers, the suit states.

Weinstein claims his injuries were caused by someone who had final policymaking authority and that the city had a widespread practice of deliberate indifference to the prior improper conduct of Vernatti, that the city's indifference is exemplified by its knowledge of previous allegations made by citizens of Vernatti's behavior, that the city failed to investigate allegations and that the city failed to discipline Vernatti.

Belleville also failed to train other officers to stop Vernatti when he violated rights, should have known that Vernatti had been accused of excessive force on at least one prior occasion and failed to prevent Vernatti's conduct on Dec. 23, 2006, according to the complaint.

In the five-count suit, Weinstein is seeking actual damages in excess of $250,000, punitive damages in excess of $200,000, plus attorney's fees, costs and other relief the court deems just.

Howard A. Shalowitz of St. Louis will be representing him.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number: 08-L-654.

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