Judge: Asheville cop's lawsuit against police chief, DA can move forward




  • In US
  • 2022-09-30 09:15:07Z
  • By Asheville Citizen-Times

ASHEVILLE - A former city police officer who claims he was wrongly fired and his career unjustly damaged after punching a man can proceed with his case against his ex-boss and the district attorney, a judge has said.

Buncombe County Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Grant ruled against motions by District Attorney Todd Williams and Asheville Police Chief David Zack to dismiss the lawsuit by Anthony Sorangelo.

Grant, in her Sept. 19 order, said Sorangelo's complaint "contains sufficient allegations to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, and, therefore, is sufficient to survive the defendants' motions to dismiss."

The next move in the case is expected within 20 days as Williams' attorney, Kathryn Shields, said she intends to file a response to Sorangelo's original complaint. Shields, a special North Carolina deputy attorney general, declined to go into further details.

Buncombe County Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Grant
Buncombe County Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Grant  

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Zack's attorney, Daniel Peterson, did not respond to messages seeking comment. While Grant's order was filed Sept. 19, attorneys on both sides said they were not aware of the order until Sept. 29.

The case originated from a Feb. 11, 2020, incident where Sorangelo was kicked in the groin by a man who was intoxicated and lying handcuffed in a patrol car. Sorangelo punched the man in the face, apparently knocking him out. He was charged with misdemeanor assault. The encounter was captured on body camera footage published by the Citizen Times.

Williams sent a letter to Zack, telling the chief he would not be able to use the officer as a witness to prosecute misdemeanor cases. The DA said that was because defense attorneys would likely use the charge to question his credibility. Zack subsequently fired Sorangelo.

On Feb. 12, 2021, Buncombe District Court Judge Calvin Hill dismissed the charge. Williams then wrote a second letter saying he no longer had material showing Sorangelo should be barred from testifying. But while Sorangelo was cleared of a committing crime, Zack declined to rehire him, saying his actions constituted excessive force. The chief cited three violations of police department policy: using force that was not objectively reasonable and necessary under the circumstances, not evaluating the subject for injuries after using force and not calling an ambulance after signs of an injury.

Sorangelo found work with the Madison County Sheriff's Office and then the Greenville County Sheriff's Office in South Carolina. But he sued, saying Williams' initial "Giglio" letter, which was in his personnel file, hurt his career.

In 1972 the Supreme Court ruled in Giglio v. U.S. that prosecutors must tell defendants about any background that might call into question a witness' credibility. Sorangelo said he applied to the FBI and when they did a background check they found the first letter but not the second letter. He was not hired.

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Anthony Sorangelo, right, and other police officers from Asheville and Biltmore Forest arrest a man on the side of U.
Anthony Sorangelo, right, and other police officers from Asheville and Biltmore Forest arrest a man on the side of U.  

Sorangelo, who is now 30, sued in January. Defendants said the case should be dismissed, arguing at a Sept. 6 hearing that Sorangelo's rights were not violated since he had no right to a particular job. But Jeff Warren, the ex-officer's lawyer, said the North Carolina Constitution gave greater protections than the U.S. Constitution, including shielding the "fruits" of peoples' labor.

In her Sept. 19 order, Grant said in order to dismiss the case, one of three conditions had to be satisfied: that no law supports the plaintiff's claim, that the complaint does not have facts to support a good claim or that the complaint actually has a fact that is self-defeating for plaintiffs. The judge said she found none.

Warren, who was hired by the Police Benevolent Association to defend Sorangelo, called the decision in his client's favor "a clean sweep."

"The court's ruling ... demonstrates that the N.C. Constitution has meaning and purpose, and that the merits of this case need to be heard," he said.

Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He's written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Got a tip? Contact Burgess at jburgess@citizentimes.com, 828-713-1095 or on Twitter @AVLreporter. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Judge will not dismiss Asheville cop's case against chief, DA

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