WILLIAMSPORT — A federal judge has affirmed a jury verdict that found a Williamsport police detective unlawfully entered a couple’s home and seized more than 600 Little League trading pins.
U.S. Middle District Judge Matthew W. Brann on Thursday wrote he had concluded then-Capt. Raymond O. Kontz III “bullied a mild-mannered couple” into turning over their trading pins.
The judge went on to say the type of behavior exhibited by Kontz is exactly what the Fourth Amendment is designed to protect. Kontz is now an agent by his own choosing.
Brann affirmed the May jury verdict that found Kontz seized the trading pins from Randy and Janete Shrey in 2008 without legal justification.
Jurors awarded the Shreys $45,000 in punitive damages and $14,553 in compensatory damages, which the judge found justified. Still to be decided is the amount the Shreys will receive in legal fees.
During the trial, the Shreys came across as honest, frightened citizens and Kontz as someone trying to protect himself, rather than testifying as to the facts and only the facts, Brann wrote.
In his opinion, the judge noted Kontz failed to document the seizure of the pins or provide the Shreys with a receipt and behaved in a manner that does not commend himself to approbation by his employer, fellow officers or the community at large.
The seized pins were replicas of a police badge with the Little League logo in the middle. Randy Shrey designed them and a firm licensed by Little League made them.
The lawsuit stemmed from Kontz and agent Stephen Sorage going to the Shrey home on July 14, 2008. The Shreys testified they were threatened with arrest if they did not relinquish the pins.
Kontz testified he violated city police procedure by putting the pins in a box in a locked file cabinet instead of logging them into evidence. He subsequently was suspended for three days.
It is Brann’s assessment jurors understood how disingenuous it was for Kontz to have suggested it was a crime for the Shreys to produce the pins, but it was not a crime for him making similar pins with the Williamsport police logo.
The judge rejected Kontz’s contention he was entitled to immunity and found the officer was unlawfully in the Shrey home because he lacked probable cause a crime had been committed.
He also did not have a valid reason to seize the pins without a search warrant, Brann wrote.
“While this court will never grasp the motivation behind Kontz’s confiscating the Shrey pins without legal justification, it is fair to say that substantial federal judicial and city of Williamsport time and resources have now been expended over trifling sports memorabilia,” the judge opined.
The Shreys said they no longer design or trade Little League pins because of the impact the incident had on them.