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Crooked Scranton Police Officer Lawrence Spathelf in problems

A Scranton man who beat drug charges after it was discovered a police officer provided the anonymous tip that led to his arrest filed a federal lawsuit seeking damages for false arrest and malicious prosecution. Albert McCullough of Alder Street alleges Scranton police Officer Lawrence Spathelf orchestrated an illegal search of McCullough’s home after realizing he did not have sufficient evidence to seek a warrant, then attempted to hide that information from McCullough’s defense attorney.
The case, which was detailed in a Times-Tribune investigation published in September 2016, is based on McCullough’s April 23, 2014, arrest on drug and weapons charges.
Pennsylvania state parole agent Jason Westgate, acting on an anonymous phone tip, searched McCullough’s home and found 801 bags of heroin, cash and a semi-automatic weapon, according to court records.
The Times-Tribune’s investigation also revealed another person, Dakeem Booker, was charged based on an anonymous tip phoned into a parole agent by Lackawanna County Detective Harold Zech.
By law, police must have probable cause to search a residence. Parole agents have looser standards. Police officers cannot use parole agents to evade the stricter probable cause standard they face, however. That practice, known as a “stalking horse,” is illegal.
The Lackawanna County district attorney’s office dropped all charges against McCullough in October 2015, after prosecutors learned Spathelf was the tipster who phoned Westgate. Booker, who was charged in June 2014, opted to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and was sentenced to 26 to 60 months in prison. He is now attempting to overturn his case, arguing his attorney was ineffective.
The civil lawsuit, filed Wednesday by Archbald attorney Joseph Toczydlowski, alleges Spathelf and Westgate manipulated facts and evidence to support an illegal arrest, then concealed that information.
The suit says McCullough did not learn Spathelf was the tipster until he was forced to reveal himself at an Oct. 16, 2015, hearing before Lackawanna County Judge Vito Geroulo. The charges were dropped three days later.
“Defendants’ unlawful conduct ... was willful, wanton, malicious and taken with a reckless or callous disregard for plaintiff’s clearly established constitutional rights,” the suit says.
Contacted Wednesday, Scranton Police Chief Carl Graziano said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment. Maria Finn, spokeswoman for the state parole department, said she could not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. It also asks that the matter be referred to state or federal authorities for investigation.

Another group is going to ask the FBI to investigate Scranton Police Department for corruption and forcing confesions.

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