State College police sued over treatment of student on night Joe Paterno was fired

For the CDTSeptember 21, 2013 

— State College and two of its police officers have been accused of mistreating a Penn State student during the riot that followed the firing of football coach Joe Paterno in 2011.

Matthew Maser, of Newtown Square, on Friday filed a federal lawsuit in which he alleges that without probable cause officers Martin Hanes and Michael Pieniazek threw him against a mailbox, grabbed his wallet out of a pocket and seized his student identification.

He was subsequently charged with failure to disperse and disorderly conduct, but the charges were dismissed Sept. 20, 2012, and his record was expunged in December.

The complaint filed in U.S. Middle District Court states Maser was playing laser tag with his Pi Kappa Phi fraternity brothers when shortly after midnight on Nov. 10, 2011, he heard of the protest on College Avenue over the firing of Paterno.

He said he walked downtown and stood on a ledge in front of Urban Outfitters when police ordered the crowd to disperse. He claimed he compiled and began walking east on College Avenue.

That is when, according to the court document, the two officers threw him against a mailbox, took his wallet out of a pocket, seized his student identification and told him he would be charged with a felony and thrown out of school. The charges later filed were a misdemeanor and a summary offense.

Maser accuses Pieniazek of making false statements about him by claiming he did not disperse as ordered, he was standing on planters in front of the Happy Valley Freeze shop, he was on his cellphone and was confrontational.

The suit also charges Pieniazek with being prejudiced against the Pi Kappa Phi. In support of that allegation, Maser cites the officer in 2010 telling a reporter it was a “problem” fraternity.

Maser, who said he was wearing a shirt identifying him as a member of Pi Kappa Phi when detained, claims Pieniazek confronted him on Oct. 15, 2011, when he issued the fraternity a citation.

The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages to compensate Maser for being unlawfully detained, maliciously prosecuted, the victim of excessive force and retaliation.

The borough is accused of not properly training its police officers. Police Chief Tom King said Saturday that he could not comment as the borough had not been served with the lawsuit.

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