·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Civil Rights

Civil Suit Filed Against Former Pittsburgh Police Sgt. For Brutality

— October 3, 2016

A civil rights lawsuit has been filed against the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, former police Sergeant Stephen Matakovich, and the company in charge of security for Heinz Field by 20-year-old Gabriel Despres after the young man was viciously beaten before being charged with felony aggravated assault while attending a championship high school football game at the stadium on November 28, 2015. The case, filed on Thursday, September 28, does not specify the amount of damages the plaintiff is seeking, but alleges Despres’ rights were violated after the officer in question aggressively pushed him to the ground and continued to punch him at least 12 times without provocation. The incident, which was captured on security video footage, shows the confrontation between officers and Despres, and indicates the attack was gratuitously extreme.

The lawsuit alleges Matakovich and the city have a history of relying on “excessive force” and “police lies,” with both practices willfully encouraged and knowingly covered up to protect the city’s and police department’s reputation. Upon release of the video, all charges against Mr. Despres were dropped and Sgt. Matakovich was relieved of his position and charged with criminal action in federal court, which included depriving another of their civil rights and falsifying a police report, among eight further allegations of police misconduct the city supposedly approved of. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. According to the civil suit, the city ostensibly supported the creation and/or embellishment of events in sworn statements made by arresting officers in order to elicit guilty pleas for various offenses. In a previous case involving brute force by Pittsburgh police, Matakovich stated in a sworn deposition that he told the arresting officers to “make sure that you guys sit down and make sure you’re aware of what you’re writing in each report so everyone has their stories together.”

The same transcript revealed Matakovich saw nothing wrong with bringing charges of aggravated assault against suspected criminals, regardless if they never took any actual swings, because, as he stated, “I don’t have to wait to get hit, so if I feel I’m about to be subject to an assault, then I can defend myself.” In the video concerning this latest case, Despres can be seen standing in front of the then-Sergeant after having been questioned by Heinz Field security when Matakovich initiated first contact.

Despres has already admitted to being intoxicated at the time of the incident, though he was coherent enough to follow orders to leave the stadium. He described his stomach dropping when he was attacked by Matakovich, fearing he was about to meet a deadly fate. Prior to the surveillance video being made public, Despres found himself in a he-said-they-said situation. His attorney, Timothy P. O’Brien, expressed anger over the fact his client was not taken for his word, but rather had to rely on video evidence of the events that occurred. Speaking to the press, O’Brien said, “Our constitutional rights should not depend on the fortuitousness of a videotape of a police officer assaulting someone.” Before knowing there was footage of the encounter, Sgt. Matakovich claimed Despres had exhibited a hostile posture that left him no choice but to respond. The video, shown below courtesy of The Free Thought Project via shows Despres’ hands were at his sides in a non-threatening manner:

Attorneys representing the defendants have declined to comment on the case thus far, though O’Brien made it clear he thinks the entire system is corrupt. As previous court transcripts have shown, Matakovich actively sought guilty pleas from suspects he arrested in order to feel a sense of vindication in court and freedom from being charged with any civil wrongdoings. O’Brien said the testimony given under oath by the former Sergeant proves the city’s law enforcement officials, avowed to uphold the law, can “beat somebody up who didn’t do anything wrong, knowing that nothing will happen to them because the whole system is complicit.”


Civil rights lawsuit claims Pittsburgh tolerates police who abuse, lie

Former Police Sgt. Facing State, Federal Charges Now Sued Over Rough Arrest

Join the conversation!