Civil trial over Bangor officers’ alleged use of excessive force begins in federal court

Posted Aug. 13, 2014, at 5:32 a.m.
Last modified Aug. 13, 2014, at 6:14 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A civil jury trial pitting an Aroostook County man against two Bangor police officers he accuses of using excessive force when arresting him on Dec. 3, 2011, began Wednesday in U.S. District Court.

Samuel G. Cyr, 28, of Moro Plantation sued Officer Joseph Baillargeon and Deputy Chief Brad Johnston in February 2013 alleging use of excessive force, false arrest and malicious prosecution.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John Nivison in February granted the officers’ summary judgment motion and dismissed the false arrest and malicious prosecution claims. The jury of five men and three women have been asked to consider whether Baillargeon and Johnston used excessive force during the arrest.

Cyr is scheduled to take the stand Thursday. The case is expected to go to the jury on Friday.

He was arrested after an alleged altercation with his then-girlfriend after Barnaby’s, the defunct bar and dance club at the Ramada Inn on Odlin Road, closed for the night. He was charged with domestic violence assault, assault and failure to submit to arrest. The Penobscot County jury found him not guilty on all charges in April 2012.

In the civil suit, filed by his attorney, Hunter Tzovarras of Bangor, Cyr is seeking about $9,000 in legal fees for his criminal defense, nearly $600 in medical bills and unspecified damages for pain and suffering and emotional distress. He also is asking for unspecified punitive damages.

Baillargeon approached Cyr on Dec. 3, 2011, in the hotel parking lot after two men told the officer they had seen a man choking a woman, according to court documents. The officer approached Cyr from behind because he matched the appearance of the man described by witnesses.

Cyr claimed that Baillargeon took hold of his wrist from behind but did not identify himself as a police officer, court documents said. When Cyr pulled back on his arm, Baillargeon pushed Cyr into the side of a van, on which he struck his head, then, his legs were swept out from under him, and he landed on his face on the pavement. Johnston came to his fellow officer’s aid, and the three men wound up on the ground.

Johnston believed that the force he used was reasonable “because he observed Cyr resisting arrest and/or struggling with Officer Baillargeon,” Steere wrote.

Cyr suffered a cut on the head and superficial scrapes and bruises during his arrest, according to court documents. He sought medical treatment three days after the incident complaining of anxiety-like symptoms and insomnia. Cyr claimed he continues to suffer from those ailments.

Tzovarras told jurors in his opening statement Wednesday that they would not hear testimony from bar patrons that Cyr resisted arrest.

“No witness came forward that night who saw Sam resisting arrest,” Tzovarras said. “No one came forward the day after or months after this happened to say that Sam resisted arrest.”

The officers’ attorney, Stephen Schulthess of Manchester, New Hampshire, said in his opening statement that between 100 and 200 people, most of whom had been drinking, were milling around the parking lot after the bar closed, and the officers were concerned about crowd control.

“It was a tinderbox that time of the night,” he said.

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