SALISBURY — A judge has found that a Salisbury police officer facing three separate excessive-force lawsuits unlawfully arrested a teenager who was beaten after being stopped for riding his bike without a light and while wearing headphones.
Monday’s decision by a Wicomico County Circuit Court judge acquitted the 15-year-old Salisbury boy on charges of assault and hindering. He also was cleared of charges of resisting arrest, trying to escape and lying to a police officer, according to The Daily Times.
The teen, his mother and his aunt are suing the city and the Salisbury officer who arrested him, Justin Aita, accusing him of false arrest and excessive force. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in September and seeks unspecified damages.
Two other lawsuits filed against Aita, also in September, stem from separate incidents in which students at Salisbury University accuse the officer of excessive force.
Aita’s home number is unlisted. He didn’t return a message left at his office Tuesday, nor did his attorney.
According to the teenager’s lawsuit, the boy, then 14, was riding his bike the night of Aug. 11 when Aita stopped him for not having a headlight and wearing headphones, and then searched him without probable cause or consent.
Though the search didn’t result in anything improper being found, the lawsuit says Aita tried to handcuff and arrest the teen, telling him: “I’m going to lock you up just like your stepdad.”
The lawsuit said the unarmed teen twice ran away from the officer, who twice chased him, tackled him to the ground and beat him. The lawsuit also accuses Aita of assaulting the teen’s aunt, who happened upon the scene of her nephew’s arrest, by grabbing her hair and throwing her to the ground.
After handcuffing the teen, the lawsuit said Aita “continued to beat him and violently dragged him along the pavement of the parking lot, causing numerous scrapes and abrasions.”
In a police narrative cited by the lawsuit, Aita reported fearing for his life and acknowledged hitting the teen while trying to arrest him and to throwing his aunt to the ground. He denied using excessive force in court records, saying he acted properly.
The teen’s attorney wrote that Aita later wrote up a “fictional police narrative to support the arrests,” the lawsuit said.
An attorney for the city and the police chief did not respond to messages seeking comment Tuesday.