BOSTON — Two concertgoers detained before a Bruce Springsteen show this summer sued the Foxborough police chief Monday, claiming they were held under an illegal policy in which police simply round up people they think are drunk.
The suit by Paul Weldner and Dr. Timothy Dutton, both from Maine, was filed against Chief Edward O’Leary in federal court.
The pair was on a bus trip organized by Dutton to take about 50 Springsteen fans from the Portland, Maine, area to the Aug. 18 show at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
Both men were drinking, but neither was “incapacitated” — the state’s legal standard for putting people into protective custody, the lawsuit said.
“We are confident that … [police] were basically casting the net too wide,” said David Milton, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “The statute’s called protective custody. It’s not meant to be preventive detention.”
Milton said he believes more than 1,000 people were also wrongly detained under O’Leary’s policy, including at recent country music festivals at Gillette Stadium. He’s seeking class-action status.
O’Leary said Monday that he hadn’t read the lawsuit and couldn’t comment.
According to the suit, Weldner and Dutton had some drinks while they listened to music and watched Springsteen videos on the ride down, and both could feel the alcohol’s effects. But police had no justification to detain either one, the suit said.
Weldner, 25, said officers handcuffed him, claiming he was “too drunk,” after he stumbled briefly while moving from the sidewalk to the street as he walked in a crowd to the stadium.
Weldner said police repeatedly refused to give him a sobriety test and held him for more than six hours at the stadium, then at the police station, the suit said.
The lawsuit said Dutton was in the ticket line when he protested that police were taking his girlfriend into custody. They told him to get back in line, and when he didn’t, they detained him for six hours, releasing him after the show at about 1 a.m., according to the suit.
Milton said a breath test indicated his client had a blood alcohol level of .07, below the legal level of .10 to be presumed drunk. And under state law, even if a person is drunk in public, that’s not illegal and hasn’t been for decades, Milton said.
To be held in protective custody, a person must be “incapacitated,” meaning they’re either unconscious, in need of medical attention, being disorderly or likely to suffer or cause physical harm or damage property, the suit said. Milton said his clients were none of these things.
Weldner and Dutton are suing to strike down the policy and for unspecified damages, citing “emotional distress and humiliation.”