MAPLEWOOD, Mo. – A St. Louis County man says he was trying to help the hungry, but a Maplewood police sergeant reported that man put him in fear of his safety. Now, the fight between the two is heading to court, as the man sues the officer for allegedly using excessive force.
The suit is in response to an altercation between the two. It happened near a couple of dumpsters behind a food service store in the Deer Creek shopping plaza. It was February 23, around 1:15 a.m. Surveillance video from the business captured Timothy Peterka climbing into one of the dumpsters, then less than two minutes later, the lights of a police car pulling up.
"[Peterka] was looking for recently, freshly discarded packaged food to feed needy families," said Cosgrove Law Group Associate Attorney Mary Hodges, who is helping with the case.
According to the police report, Peterka and the woman did tell police that's what they were doing in the dumpsters. Hodges says helping raise awareness about poverty and hunger is one of Peterka's life missions.
The police report also details what the officer says was happening as he questioned Peterka. The report says Peterka was asked his name, to which he said 'Timoth,' and his social security number, to which he says he did not know.
At one point the officer wrote Peterka got agitated so he told him sit on the ground. That's where Peterka would stay for the next six-and-a-half minutes as the situation appears to intensify. The surveillance video shows the officer shaking his finger at a seated Peterka. Eventually, the officer reported he told Peterka to stand up so he could search him.
The video shows Peterka standing, taking a few steps, then stopping. Then the Peterka turns around to face the officer and the officer takes him to the ground, writing in the report that he feared for his safety.
"The police knew what Timothy was doing there. He should not have been detained let alone brutalized," said Hodges.
The Maplewood city attorney Peter Dunne is fighting the suit, saying, "The officer acted reasonably based on the circumstances presented at the time. When someone threatens an officer's safety he has the right to use reasonable means necessary to protect himself."
NewsChannel 5 looked through the Maplewood city ordinances and couldn't find a law against dumpster diving. Peterka ended up being charged with failure to comply and resisting arrest. He had to have 11 stitches for a gash to his face and said he also injured his wrist. He was not armed during the incident.