UPDATE: This article has been amended to remove a statement that Nathan Michaux, the Washington County prosecutor involved in the plaintiff's criminal case, said he never made in connectin with those proceedings.
A former police officer filed a lawsuit over his alleged beating by police officers two years ago at KeyBank Pavilion and what his attorney called the “false and malicious” prosecution that ensued.
The federal lawsuit filed on Wednesday for David McCue, 48, of Somerset Township, stems from his alleged beating by three off-duty police officers on Aug. 6, 2017.
McCue’s attorney, David Berardinelli of Pittsburgh, is suing the township, its police department, police Chief Stan Henry and Officer Michael Dhanse, plus Live Nation Entertainment, which owns and operates the popular outdoor concert venue.
Dhanse charged McCue eight days following the incident. The case was voluntarily withdrawn by the government almost two years later.
By then, McCue had lost his job as a police officer for West Mifflin, Allegheny County – where he’d worked for 22 years – because of the criminal case, and spent tens of thousands of dollars on legal bills. He also lost a side career as a consultant and part-time actor on police shows and movies, according to court papers.
The lawsuit names two women – Tina Black and Jocelyn Ruse of Allegheny and Washington counties, respectively – and three other police officers, identified only as “John Does” 1, 2 and 3, as defendants.
In a 40-page civil complaint, Berardinelli wrote that McCue was at the pavilion for a Brantley Gilbert concert that evening when Black threw a full beer can at him, and Ruse allegedly punched him in the face. Contrary to the account Hanover police later gave, Berardinelli wrote that his client held up his hands to protect himself and called for police to help.
Instead, the John Does, who were off duty, allegedly tackled McCue, “punching his arms and ribs” while mashing his face so hard into the gravel that “pieces of rock needed to be plucked out,” and handcuffed him.
The lawsuit says the three police officers who attacked McCue were members of the venue’s “summer police force.” Berardinelli called that seasonal outfit – many of whom are from other departments but moonlight at the pavilion as nominal members of Hanover’s department – “abusive, improperly trained and supervised.”
He cited a string of similar lawsuits – at least 10 since 2001 – over police conduct at the pavilion.
“Despite this history, Live Nation and Hanover Township took no action, precautions or adequate measures to prevent such abuses from occurring in the future and acted with deliberate indifference,” Berardinelli wrote.
He posited the township has a financial motive for preserving that status quo.
With “fines, court costs and other penalties, Hanover Township makes significant income from false arrests and false and malicious prosecutions initiated by the ‘summer police force,’” he wrote. “The use of the ‘summer police force’ as a source of revenue generation is a custom, policy and/or practice that demonstrates deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of patrons, such as Mr. McCue, who attend concerts and KBP.”
The lawsuit contains counts of malicious prosecution; assault and battery; constitutional violations; civil conspiracy; and excessive force, among others. It seeks millions of dollars he allegedly lost in past and future earnings; $50,000 in legal bills McCue spent defending himself from criminal charges; and other damages.
Hanover solicitor Dennis Makel declined to comment on the allegations in the case, which he said would likely be referred to the township’s insurer.
“I really couldn’t respond to that because I haven’t seen it,” Makel said. “Plus it’s litigation; normally when we have litigation we’re not supposed to comment.”
He did say none of the previous lawsuits had been brought since he became solicitor in 2011.
A message left at the Hanover police department and an email to a Live Nation spokesperson weren’t returned.
During the John Does’ alleged attack on McCue, Dhanse allegedly was present but failed to intervene. Afterward, he drove McCue on a golf cart to a police substation on the grounds so McCue could give a statement he’d asked to make. He was eventually allowed to attend the concert that night.
Berardinelli wrote that five witnesses – at least one of whom didn’t even know McCue – gave Hanover police a true account favorable to McCue’s version of events, but Dhanse allegedly ignored them.
The lawsuit also says an exculpatory video – which showed McCue being allowed to roam around the substation without supervision or restraint right after he’d supposedly attacked two women and resisted arrest, based on Dhanse’s account in the criminal case – was improperly withheld from the defense for a full year.
The charges were dismissed 21 months later.