Civil Trial For Man Wrongly Suspected In Sniper Attack Begins
SCRANTON — Wrongly suspected of the Sept. 12, 2014 sniper attack that killed one state trooper and wounded another, Jeffrey Hudak was handcuffed and transported to the Dunmore state police barracks where two troopers questioned him for hours.
Whether he was coerced into the interview or went voluntarily is the key issue in dispute in the trial that began today for Hudak’s federal lawsuit against state police.
In her opening statement, Danielle Mulcahey, one of Hudak’s attorney’s, said Hudak had no choice but to comply with troopers’ demands after they ordered him from his mother’s home at gunpoint the morning of Sept. 13, 2014,then handcuffed him and placed him in a patrol car.
Jessica Davis, attorney for state police, likened Hudak’s story to a Hollywood movie: There’s some truth to his claims, but other aspects were “embellished” to make the story more exciting and interesting, she told jurors in her opening statement.
Hudak, of Clarks Summit, filed suit against state police and six state troopers in 2016 seeking damages for unlawful seizure, wrongful arrest and false imprisonment. The suit alleges troopers were so desperate to find who killed Cpl. Bryon K. Dickson II and wounded Trooper Alex T. Douglass in the ambush outside the Blooming Grove State police barracks that they let emotions cloud their judgment.
Hudak was initially a suspect after police learned his estranged wife was dating Douglass at the time of the shooting. The real killer, Eric Matthew Frein, was not identified as a suspect until several days later, after his abandoned vehicle was found with incriminating evidence inside. Frein was convicted in Pike County Court in April 2017 of first-degree murder and other offenses and sentenced to death.
In the civil case, U.S. District Judge Robert D. Mariani ruled before trial that police did not have probable cause to take Hudak into custody. The decision does not necessarily mean he can recover damages, however, because a dispute remains over whether his detention equates to an arrest. The jury of six women and two men must decide that issue.
Mulcahey asked the panel to use their common sense in deciding whether Hudak, under the circumstances, could have reasonably believed he did not have to answer questions and that he was free to leave.
Mulcahey said evidence will show Hudak was “terrified” after being confronted at his mother’s home by armed troopers in tactical gear. Two troopers spoke briefly with him at the door, then ordered him to come out with his hands up and handcuffed him. They refused to tell him or his mother why they were taking him into custody.
“You can imagine what was going on in his head,” she said. “He has no idea what is going on.”
Davis said the troopers will testify they treated Hudak with respect and that he agreed to be questioned. He was transported in the patrol car because he was offered a ride and accepted, she said.
“Mr. Hudak would have you believe my clients were hot headed and would do anything to find who opened fire at the Blooming Grove barracks,” Davis told jurors. “Once you hear both sides it will be abundantly clear my clients acted appropriately.”
The trial is scheduled to continue until Friday.
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