RTA Pays $45,000 to Woman Who Sued for Unlawful Arrest, Assault

Update: RTA has reached a $45,000 settlement with Jessica Ferrato, a Lakewood woman who sued the organization and a transit officer after a March 2015 incident during which the now-former RTA officer Jonathan Pacholke assaulted and arrested her.

An internal investigation after Ferrato posted her account to Facebook and was interviewed by local media concluded that Pacholke violated multiple RTA policies. RTA issued a public apology for his behavior and placed him on a year-long probation for  "viola[ting] departmental procedures" and "fail[ure] to control the situation that led to an escalation of the incident and a use of force, which may have been avoided."


Update (2/16/16): Jessica Ferrato has filed suit against RTA and the transit officer Jonathan Pacholke for the March incident described in our original stories below.

The gist: RTA, in an internal investigation, found the officer violated multiple policies in his interaction with Ferrato when she produced a valid pass. The officer allegedly told Ferrato he would taze her, issued her a citation, and placed her under arrest. Pacholke was placed on probation. RTA issued a statement saying, "[Pacholke] failed to control the situation that lead (sic) to an escalation of the incident, which may have been avoided."

Ferrato, represented by the Chandra law firm, alleges unlawful seizure, excessive force, false arrest and battery claims.

From the law firm's release on the suit:

The full suit can be viewed below.

2016-02-16 Complaint


(Update: 4/8/2015): RTA has placed patrol officer Jonathan Pacholke on probation following the investigation into an alleged disorderly conduct case involving Lakewood resident Jessica Ferrato. Pacholke was placed on probation for a year. 

Pacholke breached RTA policy on multiple fronts, according to RTA Police Chief John Joyce, including in his "fare enforcement duties" and in his use of force. "[Pacholke] failed to control the situation that lead (sic) to an escalation of the incident, which may have been avoided."

The officer will not be permitted to work solo for 60 days.

Read the earlier story below.

Originally published March 31, 2015

Late Sunday night, Lakewood resident Jessica Ferrato posted a Facebook update about an encounter with an RTA transit police officer from earlier that night. She was coming home from CIFF and getting off the Red Line at the West 117th Street/Madison Avenue station. There, according to her, a transit officer demanded to see her "bus pass" and initiated an aggressive interaction.

An excerpt (we've added paragraph breaks for clarity):

I had already pulled the pass out of my pocket and said, "here you go" and showed him my pass as I walked past. He said, "Ma'am, you have to show me your pass. I asked to see your pass." I had already walked past him at this point and was outside in the parking lot, and I turned around, pass in hand, showing it to him, and said, "here's my pass." At this point he ran in front of me, blocked my path and closed in on me and said, "I told you you have to stop. You have to do what I say." At this point I literally had the RTA pass two inches away from his face, and I was saying, "It's right here! I've showed it to you! Here is my pass, it's valid, it's an all day pass, I bought it here this morning." He was very much closed in on me, throwing his chest into my face and telling me that I had to do whatever he said, to which I replied that he was exceeding his authority and that he needed to let me go, that I'd already showed him my pass and at this point he was violating my rights by detaining me. I tried to walk past him towards my car. He started ordering me to turn around and telling me that he was going to taze me, and that I should turn around and give him my hands.

I looked to the phone in my hand, meaning to turn on the video app to record this instance of me very much being assaulted by this police officer, and he knocked it onto the ground. It was still connected to the charger in my other hand, and as I started to pull it up by the cord, he knocked me to the ground, shoved my face in the dirt, and told me that he was going to pepper spray me. At this point his voice was very high-pitched, and he called for backup as he continued to push my face into the dirt from on top of me.

He struggled to pull my arms behind my back as I struggled to gather and hold onto my possessions, some of which had scattered - my phone, charger, purse, and RTA pass. His knee was on top of my back as he cuffed one of my wrists, and then he cut my purse's handle in order to remove it from my grasp. Several other officers arrived and I told them that my rights were being violated. I told them that the officer was making a mistake and that he was being an idiot (I was definitely using profanity at some point, but I was otherwise remaining calm and not resisting). They asked me if I'd even graduated high school. I informed them that I'd earned a master's degree, and they asked me if it was in criminal justice, as I seemed to know so much about rights. At this point I thought I could feel the presence of more than one officer on top of me as they were securing handcuffs behind my back. Somehow I started to feel the cool crisp Lakewood air on my bare bottom, as they had somehow pulled my pants and underwear down exposing my bare naked butt to the wide open night. This had me completely terrified and I kicked back and up with my legs to get them off of me. I hit one of them in the shins, and then heard one of them say, "NOW you're guilty of assault!"  

Ferrato was later arrested and cited for disorderly conduct. Her account of the situation is lengthy and very detailed; RTA has yet to publicly confirm via video whether the events happened as described.

Scene requested the police report and video feeds from the train station this morning. RTA returned with a formal statement on the matter: 

Yesterday, we became aware of the incident and immediately launched a thorough investigation.

Today, we received a formal complaint from Ms. Ferrato, and we will be interviewing her as part of the process.

From what we know now, it appears this incident could have been handled far more appropriately.

We apologize for the way this incident transpired, and this is clearly an unfortunate situation.

Importantly, we will be taking the appropriate action internally, and once the investigation is complete, we will be able to provide further details.

Regarding requests for video and police reports, a complete police report is not yet available. Surveillance video is still being obtained by Transit Police for their use in their investigation. We will let you know when we will be able to release it

UPDATE: On April 2, RTA released the following police report:

RTA Police Report: Jessica Ferrato

About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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