A Uniontown man sued four Pennsylvania state troopers in federal court Thursday, alleging they arrested him on false charges in 2016 to cover up a police shooting in which he was the target. Although Daylon McLee, 29, was not injured in the shooting and was acquitted of the crime, the suit says he was wrongly held in jail for nearly a year.
McLee said in a complaint filed Thursday that he was unarmed and fleeing a bar fight involving guns when trooper Adam Sikorski fired on him at least two times and missed. The complaint cites surveillance video footage of parking lots outside the bar as evidence that “Sikorski fired his service weapon … without justification or provocation.”
The police report filed at the time told a different story: It said troopers responded to a call at the notoriously rowdy, and violent, Dunbar Township American Legion post when another patron, not McLee, fired a handgun into the air. Then, according to the report, McLee, who is black, “turned and pointed [a] handgun at Trooper Sikorski,” who is white, after the officer “yelled verbal commands for [McLee] to drop the weapon.”
A copy of that police report was provided to reporters by McLee's attorney, Alec Wright.
But Thursday’s complaint said Sikorski fabricated details about the shooting to hide his wrongdoing. The suit accuses troopers Dale Brown, James Pierce, and Kip Yarosh of helping to prepare a false affidavit of probable cause used to arrest McLee.
“They know that they’re in a situation where they have to protect this trooper ... and that they have to use some of that false narrative to create their own … in an effort to cover or conceal what really happened that night,” Wright said.
But, Wright said video footage, from a bar security camera and police dashboard recording, refute the officers’ version of events.
“We now know, watching the video, that Daylon McLee … never had a gun, never possessed a gun, never carried a gun,” Wright said.
Wright shared the camera footage with 90.5 WESA. While the footage is grainy, and the man Wright identifies as McLee is far in the distance when police open fire, he is not visibly armed when they arrive. His attorney says the video shows McLee actually disarmed a third patron who wielded a gun before police arrive.
Pennsylvania State Police spokesman Ryan Tarkowski said his agency could not comment on pending or ongoing litigation.
A Fayette County jury ultimately acquitted McLee on the seven counts with which he was charged, including the illegal possession of a firearm, reckless endangerment, and aggravated assault. But, by the time the trial ended, McLee had spent nearly a year in jail.
It could be more difficult for McLee to prevail in his civil suit, where he accused the officers of “initiating a criminal proceeding against him … without probable cause.” While the jury in his criminal case found that prosecutors did not prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the police in the civil suit don’t have to meet as a high an evidentiary standard to show they had probable cause to arrest him.
Wright noted it is too late for his client to sue trooper Sikorski for excessive use of force. Under Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations, McLee’s window to bring that claim closed two years after the March 2016 shooting.
“We’re beyond that time period,” Wright said. “But what we are left with, fortunately, is this malicious prosecution claim,” which he said became “ripe for purposes of the statute of limitations” when McLee was acquitted in March 2017.
Wright said McLee waited to bring his suit out of fear of retaliation by police. But, the attorney said, his client changed his mind following the shooting of unarmed black teen Antwon Rose in June.
It was important to McLee to set an example for his two children, Wright said. According to Wright, McLee decided, “I need to teach my son what it’s like out there at times.”