Coraopolis cop accused of photographing sexual assault victim to stand trial
A lawsuit alleging a Coraopolis police officer used his personal cell phone to photograph “intimate areas” of a suspected sexual assault victim will head to trial after a court of appeals reversed a 2017 decision dismissing the case.
The lawsuit alleged that Officer Shawn Barger violated the woman’s Fourteenth Amendment right to bodily integrity when he took photographs of her for what he alleged was part of his investigation.
U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak last year dismissed the case, but the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision on Wednesday and sent it back to District Court.
Washington attorney Noah Geary, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the woman, hopes that case will go to trial in the fall. The Tribune-Review does not typically name victims of alleged sexual assault.
“We’re very pleased to be able to go trial against this officer,” Geary said.
The woman was arrested early on June 27, 2013, while she was “blacked out” from drinking, according to the lawsuit. Upon her release from jail, the woman worried she might have been sexually assaulted while she was blacked out, as she had on no pants at the time of her arrest.
She was arrested by Coraopolis police, but Barger was not involved in her arrest, the lawsuit stated.
Barger came to interview the woman at the hospital and collect the rape kit, which involved a physician photographing injuries to her arms, shoulders, knees and legs.
The following day, the woman came to the Coraopolis police station and met with Barger, according to the lawsuit.
In a move allegedly against department policy, Barger met with the woman alone in a back room in the department and asked to photograph her injuries, the lawsuit contended. He allegedly told the woman - and later, investigators - that he had an app on his personal cell phone to take the photos.
He claimed the department’s camera was broken.
Barger photographed her right buttock, her inner thighs and the top of her chest, the lawsuit stated. She claimed he also examined her vagina despite her repeated denials of any injuries. He pulled down her shirt and her shorts during the encounter.
When Allegheny County police began investigating her allegations against Barger in July 2013, Barger initially denied he’d ever met with the woman that day at the police station or took photos with his personal cell phone, according to the lawsuit. In a follow-up interview, however, Barger admitted he’d taken the photos.
The lawsuit alleged that Barger told county police Detective Michael Kuma he’d lied out of fear that his girlfriend would be jealous.
Barger first said he’d deleted the photos from his phone, according to the lawsuit. Later he said that he did not delete them because they were never saved - the application “froze” each time he took a photo, he told Kuma.
Barger agreed to 10 days of unpaid suspension, Geary said.
“That was the total amount of discipline by the borough,” he said. “That he wasn’t fired for what he did to (her) stunned me.”
The woman’s clothing never was entered into evidence in the sexual assault investigation, according to the lawsuit. It remains unaccounted for. Barger abandoned the investigation, according to the complaint, and did not hand it off to another officer or department.
The woman, who was 20 at the time, was found guilty of underage drinking and summary disorderly conduct in a non-jury trial.
While Hornak did not dispute the facts of the case in his decision, he instead ruled that Barger did not know he was violating the woman’s rights when he took the photos.
Barger has been named in two previous lawsuit, including one in which Coraopolis police paid $8,000 to settle a lawsuit by a man who claimed police brutality against Barger and another officer.
He was also named in a lawsuit as a McKees Rocks officer in which a family alleged he improperly handled and trained a K-9 that attacked a 9-year-old boy while chasing a suspect.