BANGOR, Maine — A federal judge on Tuesday denied a request to issue a gag order against those suing Bangor police officers and the city over the death of a man subdued with a stun gun during an arrest in 2012.
Michael McCue of Jackson filed a wrongful death lawsuit in March over the death of his son Phillip A. McCue. The younger McCue died at a local hospital five days after he was shocked with a Taser by police on Sept. 12, 2012. The incident occurred while officers were investigating a noise complaint at 18 First St. and McCue ran from them, according to the police investigation report.
Bangor police have said McCue was out of control. McCue’s autopsy report stated he died as a result of complications from overdosing on the street drug bath salts.
“Given the amount of media attention that this case has received to date, the Bangor defendants are concerned about their ability to have a fair and impartial jury hear and decide this case,” Police Department attorneys Frederick Badger Jr. and Joshua Randlett of Bangor said in their gag order request.
Randlett told U.S. District Judge George Singal that there have been “at least 28” different articles written about the death of McCue, and that the dead man’s father discussed the lawsuit and provided an edited and “enhanced” video of the police cruiser camera footage to the Bangor Daily News that was posted with the news organization’s story about the civil lawsuit.
The defendants are about to provide their discoveries to Michael McCue, who is represented by attorney David Van Dyke of Lewiston. The defendants will be deposed, and the Police Department’s attorneys want to prevent McCue “and his agents from discussing information learned from discovery with the news media, or from releasing documents obtained through the discovery to the media.”
Before Singal made his decision, he questioned whether the code of conduct for lawyers covered the issue and decided it did, but Randlett pressed him about information released by Michael McCue and his wife.
Is there any “substantial risk that he’s going to take pieces of the depositions and release them to the press?” Singal asked Van Dyke about his client.
“That would be excessive and would be inappropriate,” Van Dyke answered.
Singal then said he can be “very ill tempered” with anyone trying to circumvent the legal system.
“I do believe the court has very finely tuned mechanisms to make sure the case is balanced,” Van Dyke said.
Michael McCue filed the eight-count civil lawsuit against the city of Bangor, the Police Department and six police officers — Kim Donnell, Ryan Jones, Wade Betters (who is now a sergeant), Josh Kuhn, David Farrar and Chris Blanchard — along with Bangor police supervisors, Bangor Fire Department ambulance medics and Taser International Inc., which manufactures the electric shock device.
Taser International Inc. of Scottsdale, Arizona, the Police Department as a whole, ambulance medics and officer Jones were dismissed from the lawsuit earlier this year, leaving the city and five members of the police force still facing legal action.
McCue initially asked for a total of $6.65 million from the defendants, according to a demand package sent in December to the Police Department’s attorneys. U.S. Magistrate John Nivison issued an order Tuesday requiring an updated “good-faith settlement demand” be presented to the court by Jan. 2, 2015.
The lawsuit claims police officers had no reason to stop his son, they used excessive and deadly force in restraining him and there was deliberate indifference after his son had a heart attack on the sidewalk while being handcuffed.
Bangor police and the Maine attorney general’s office conducted investigations into the death because McCue, who had a history of mental illness and drug use, died in police custody at Eastern Maine Medical Center. Bangor police determined officers acted appropriately in the case and Maine’s attorney general deemed that there was no basis for an investigation.
The lawsuit trial date has not been set.
Michael McCue said when he filed the lawsuit that he was doing so as a representative for his grandson Jackson McCue, Phillip McCue’s only child.
“I have heard with some degree of confidence from both sides of this case that nobody is going to step over the line,” Singal said. “I am going to deny the [gag order] motion.”
BDN writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.