Sheriff’s confrontation with lawyer in court was unprovoked, lawsuit says

An aged Philadelphia attorney is suing five deputy sheriffs after a verbal exchange with one of them spiraled into a wild caught-on-camera melee that left Clifford Haines, 72, with a broken and dislocated shoulder.

It started when Haines criticized a sheriff’s behavior, said Pat Pierce, the attorney handling Haines’ lawsuit.

“He was verbally abused by the sheriff and had the temerity to say, ‘You really shouldn’t talk to members of the public like that, it’s not appropriate,’” Pierce said. “For saying that, he was subjected to what you saw on the videotape.”

A PR firm representing the Philly Sheriff’s Office said they had no comment on Haines’ pending litigation filed on Dec. 18 against five unnamed deputy sheriffs and one sergeant. “All lawsuits go through the city of Philadelphia law department for review and due process. We have not been notified about this lawsuit and have no comment on the matter,” a spokeswoman said via email. The office previously claimed Haines started the incident by attacking a sheriff, which is disproven by surveillance video of the Aug. 22 incident, but had no comment on the incident itself or whether the sheriffs involved were disciplined. 

According to Pierce, as Haines exited the CJC to turn his phone off (which was sealed in a secure pouch), a deputy sheriff refused to let him exit through one side of the court entrance. Sheriffs sometimes allow people to both exit or enter through either side of the CJC’s main lobby, and sometimes convert one side into entrance- or exit-only.

As Haines returned, he told the sheriff, “You have a duty to the public to behave appropriately,” Pierce said.

Surveillance video of the incident posted online by Pierce’s firm shows the unidentified sheriff respond by pushing Haines back by the chest. When Haines swiped the sheriff’s fingers away, four more sheriffs jumped in and grabbed the attorney from all sides, dragging him down the metal detector conveyor belt before slamming him to the floor and pinning him.

Haines suffered a shoulder fracture and dislocation and was detained for the following 18 hours, Pierce said.

That time included an hour in the CJC basement “screaming in agony” with his hands cuffed behind his back, being transported to Hahnemann Hospital where his fracture was treated, and then to a police station, where he was released around 5 a.m. the next day after the DA declined to file charges against him.

Haines wore a sling for a month, continues physical rehabilitation and still faces impairments using his right arm, he said.

Pierce said the case touches on an issue many court-users have experienced.

“I’ve heard from all quarters that people going into the CJC feel like they’re being abused,” Pierce said. “It’s a sense of entitlement because they’re carrying a badge. Their job is to protect and serve the public, not abuse them.”

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