July 25-- Two Philadelphia police officers whose questionable conduct has left them saddled with hefty legal bills have come together and filed suit to get the city to cover their expenses.
The officers -- Thomas Schaffling, 28, and Michael Paige, 45 -- believe that the city is obligated to pick up their legal tabs, according to attorney Brian Puricelli, who represents both.
Schaffling was sued by two men whom he shot at while drunk outside a Tacony bar in March 2010. The city settled that suit for $50,000, according to a source. Paige lost a civil lawsuit against a man who claimed the officer had forced him to perform oral sex on him in his police cruiser in Fairmount Park in 2007. He was ordered to pay $165,000 in damages.
Paige was found not guilty during a criminal trial, and the District Attorney's Office declined to charge Schaffling.
"The lawsuit is very simple: Are they or are they not entitled to indemnification?" Puricelli said of the latest suit, filed in Common Pleas Court on Thursday. "If they are, the city should pay."
Though the suit asks that each officer be awarded no less than $50,000 to cover all legal fees, court costs and judgments, Puricelli estimated that the actual amount he is seeking is about $300,000.
Kevin Hubbard, a divisional deputy in the city Solicitor's Office, said the city stands by its decision to deny representation for Schaffling and Paige.
"The city declined to represent both of those officers in the underlying cases because we believe they were not acting in the course and scope of their employment and in the best interest of the city of Philadelphia," he said.
In the case of Paige, he put a finer point on the city's viewpoint. "It's pretty much common sense. Do you think a police officer should be engaged in forced or consensual oral sex [on duty]?" Hubbard asked.
State law frees municipalities from having to defend officers for criminal or willful misconduct.
Roosevelt Poplar, vice president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police, said there have been numerous cases over the years of the city refusing to indemnify, or defend, officers who have been sued. "The city, basically, is obligated to indemnify police officers until there is a ruling that the conduct of the officer was unlawful," he said. "This is a major concern and issue for us."
Schaffling owes Puricelli more than $12,000 in fees and costs, the attorney said.
While the D.A.'s Office has declined to charge Schaffling, the 3 a.m. incident is still under investigation by the Police Department, police spokesman Lt. Ray Evers said.
In December Schaffling lost a different lawsuit, filed in 2010 by Jewel Williams when the city sheriff was still a state legislator. Schaffling conducted an improper arrest and a federal jury awarded Williams $50,000 for injuries incurred when Schaffling handcuffed him.
Paige is in a much deeper financial hole. He owes Puricelli more than $70,000, according to the suit. Also, a federal jury last month ordered the officer to pay $165,000 in compensatory and punitive damages to James Harris, 34, the man who accused Paige of forcing him to perform oral sex.
Paige, who wants the city to pay the jury judgment and his legal bills, was fired, acquitted in criminal court and then got his job back in arbitration. Schaffling also is still a police officer.
Contact Mensah M. Dean at 215-568-8278 or [email protected] or @mensahdean on Twitter.
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