Bellwood man shot by officer to sue city

JOHNSTOWN – A Bellwood man has filed a federal lawsuit stating he was acting peacefully and was neither intoxicated nor disruptive when he was shot by a city police officer this year, resulting in serious injuries to his right shoulder area and arm.

James D. Weyant, 46, who lived on the 600 block of Fourth Avenue, Altoona, at the time, said during the early morning of April 8 that he decided to go visit a friend who lived nearby.

He was wearing Guitar Hero shorts, a T-shirt, a hoodie sweat shirt and footwear as he walked to the friend’s house. When the friend wasn’t home, he began walking back to his apartment using Fourth Avenue Alley.

Weyant said his designer shorts were aged and the elastic that held them in place was worn and resulted in a bad fit.

He had to use a hand to hold up his shorts, but when that interfered with lighting a cigarette, he took off the shorts and carried them in his left hand.

Despite taking off his shorts, he said he was properly covered.

At that point Police Officer Mark Sprouse drove into the alley. Weyant said he changed directions to avoid the car, not initially recognizing it as a police cruiser.

The cruiser came to a stop next to him, and Sprouse got out of the cruiser with his gun drawn.

Weyant alleged that the officer gave no commands and that no words were exchanged. The officer then fired his gun, the bullet hitting Weyant in the right armpit and shoulder area.

The officer, it is charged in the lawsuit, threw Weyant against a fence and handcuffed him, then would not let him sit down even though he began to “bleed profusely.”

Altoona attorney Douglas V. Stoehr said Weyant, who works as a laborer, continues to do his job but said he is in a great deal of pain. Also, continuing medical care will be needed.

Stoehr in the civil lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Johnstown said Weyant was shot “without provocation or justification.”

He said the officer and the City of Altoona are in violation of the 1983 Civil Rights Act and that Weyant was injured because of negligence. The shooting victim also is claiming violations of state law and is asking for compensatory and punitive damages.

The officer has been cleared of possible criminal offenses and violations of the city police department’s policies and procedures.

He was initially placed on desk duty but is back on patrol, Altoona Police Chief Janice Freehling said on Thursday.

Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio said in June that Sprouse was investigating the “suspicious actions of a civilian in a dark alley” when the officer was confronted by a man holding black underwear that appeared at the time to be a weapon.

The review of the case by the district attorney was followed by a similar review by Altoona Police Department Shooting Review Board, Freehling said. The board included representatives of the police department and the Fraternal Order of Police and found Sprouse had followed departmental polices and procedures.

Stoehr said Thursday that a civil case requires a lesser standard of proof than a criminal case, which demands proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

He said police that night violated the Fourth and 14th amendments to the Constitution in the way Weyant was treated.

Stoehr said in the lawsuit that there is an environment within the department that condones rogue activity by officers.

He contended the officer had a “duty of care not to use excessive force and unjustifiably shot Mr. Weyant, while Mr. Weyant was simply walking up an alley and posed no threat of harm to Officer Sprouse or anyone else.”

Stoehr has yet to serve the city with the lawsuit, but Freehling said the city had been informed that a lawsuit was in the works.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.