Officer pursues legal reimbursement from city
by Timothy Cwiek
Feb 20, 2014 | 616 views | 0 0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Michael A. Paige, a Philadelphia police officer who allegedly sexually assaulted another man while on duty, is determined to have his legal expenses paid by the city.

But city officials are equally determined to avoid reimbursing Paige for any legal expenses incurred due to the incident.

In 2007, Paige allegedly forced James Harris to perform oral sex on him — and digitally penetrated Harris’ anus — in a secluded area of Fairmount Park.

But Paige insists he never had sexual contact with Harris.

The officer says Harris was in the park after-hours, partially clothed and he took the young man aside to counsel him.

Later, Harris gave authorities a Styrofoam cup with traces of his saliva mixed with Paige’s semen. Harris said he spit into the cup after Paige forcibly ejaculated into his mouth.

But Paige says that during the counseling session, he told Harris he had prior sexual encounters with women in the park.

Paige posited that Harris returned to the park after the counseling session and found one of his discarded condoms — which Harris then used to create the Styrofoam-cup evidence.

In November 2007, a Philadelphia judge cleared Paige of any criminal wrongdoing, and the officer returned to work the following year.

But Harris sued Paige in federal court, and in 2012, a federal jury awarded him $165,000 in damages.

Harris’ attorneys say Paige owes them about $400,000 in attorney’s fees.

Paige’s attorneys say they’ve accumulated fees totaling about $73,000, according to court papers.

Paige says he’s entitled to reimbursement from the city for his “reasonable” legal bills because he was acting within the scope of his employment during the incident.

Paige also says he wasn’t guilty of willful misconduct — or any other wrongdoing that would disqualify him from reimbursement.

But city attorneys vehemently deny that Paige was acting within the scope of his employment. They also say he was guilty of willful misconduct during the encounter.

Both sides recently asked Common Pleas Judge Jacqueline F. Allen to rule in their favor, without holding a hearing.

Allen, however, has reserved judgment until she holds a hearing, tentatively set for March 14.

In court papers, the city acknowledges that Common Pleas Judge Anthony J. DeFino cleared Paige of any criminal wrongdoing in 2007.

But the city also notes that DeFino expressed an opinion that the two men had consensual sex.

“Sexual relations by definition are not part of the scope of employment of a Philadelphia police officer,” states the city’s legal brief.

But Paige’s attorneys say DeFino’s personal opinions aren’t relevant to the reimbursement dispute.

“Nowhere can it be found that the trial judge said Officer Paige was acting outside the scope of his employment,” according to Paige’s legal brief.

The city also argues that federal jurors evidently believed the two men had sex, since they awarded Harris $165,000 in damages.

But Paige’s attorneys counter that jurors weren’t asked if the two men had sex.

They say the $165,000 judgment resulted from jurors’ mistaken belief that Paige violated Harris’ constitutional rights when placing him inside his patrol car for counseling.

“Paige reasonably believed his placing Harris in the police car was not only permitted by the city but also was an act within the scope of his office and duties,” state Paige’s legal brief. “The city has presented no evidence to the contrary.”

Paige’s attorneys also point to a statement by U.S. District Judge Robert F. Kelly.

“There is no issue but that [Paige] was acting as a police officer on this occasion,” Paige’s attorneys quote Kelly as stating.

But the city counters that just because Paige was in uniform and carrying a gun during the incident doesn’t mean he was acting within the scope of his employment.

“Paige, in uniform and with a gun, coerced James Harris to go with him to secluded locations,” states the city’s brief. “His power as a police officer made this sexual assault possible. That does not mean that these acts were in the scope of his employment.”

Paige’s attorneys also argue that the city hasn’t presented any direct evidence that Paige and Harris had sex.

The city, however, maintains that evidence presented in prior litigation is sufficient proof that sex took place.

A hearing on the dispute is set for 10 a.m. March 14 in Courtroom in Room 480 of City Hall.

Neither side had a comment for this story.

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