BANGOR, Maine — A federal jury found Friday that two Bangor police officers did not use excessive force when they arrested an Aroostook County man more than two years ago in the parking lot outside a dance club.
The jury of five men and three women deliberated for about an hour after hearing two days of testimony in U.S. District Court.
Samuel G. Cyr, 28, of Moro Plantation sued Officer Joseph Baillargeon and now Deputy Chief Brad Johnston in February 2013.
Cyr was arrested after an alleged altercation with his then-girlfriend after Barnaby’s, the defunct bar and dance club at the Ramada Inn, 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 sought 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 asked for unspecified punitive damages.
Baillargeon and Johnston, who both took the stand during the trial and denied using excessive force during the arrest, appeared relieved when the verdict was announced. Both men declined to comment as they left the courtroom.
Their attorney, Stephen Schulthess of Manchester, New Hampshire, said his clients were “very pleased with the jury’s decision.”
“Officers were presented with a situation involving an aggressive individual,” Bangor Police Chief Mark Hathaway said in a statement issued after the verdict was read. “This individual, [Cyr], was reportedly pushing people and starting fights.
“They used only the level of physical force necessary to control his behavior and take him into custody,” the chief said. “We are pleased the jury agreed that the officers actions were appropriate, necessary and not excessive.”
Cyr left the courthouse without commenting on the verdict.
“He’s obviously disappointed in the verdict,” Cyr’s attorney said. “He came to court believing that his constitutional rights were violated and was hoping for a different outcome.”
Tzovarras said that it’s unlikely the verdict would be appealed to the 1st U.S. District Court in Boston.
Jurors first had to decide unanimously if it was more likely than not the officers used excessive force or not. They had to consider each officer’s liability separately before moving on to the question of damages. Because the jury found the police did not use excessive force, jurors did not have to consider how much to award for damages.
Baillargeon approached Cyr on Dec. 3, 2011, in the hotel parking lot on Odlin Road 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.
The Aroostook County man claimed that Baillargeon took hold of his wrist from behind but did not identify himself as a police officer, he told jurors Thursday. When Cyr pulled back on his arm, Baillargeon pushed Cyr into the side of a van, on which he struck his head, and then, his legs were swept out from under him, and he landed on his face on the pavement. Johnston came to assist his fellow officer, and the three men wound up on the ground.
Cyr suffered a cut on the head and superficial scrapes and bruises during his arrest, according to photos taken by his uncle less than 24 hours after the incident. Cyr sought medical treatment three days after the incident complaining of anxiety-like symptoms and insomnia, he testified. Cyr claimed he continues to suffer from those ailments.
In his closing statement, Schulthess told the jury that Baillargeon was in a parking lot with between 100 and 200 people, most of whom, including Cyr, had been drinking. When the officer approached Cyr to ask him about the alleged choking incident, Cyr put his fists up and refused to submit to arrest, Schulthess said.
“The evidence will show that what [Baillargeon] did was not in violation of police policy, procedures or the Constitution,” Schulthess told jurors.
Johnston believed that the force he used was reasonable “because he observed Cyr resisting arrest and/or struggling with Officer Baillargeon,” the deputy chief testified Thursday.
In his complaint, Cyr also alleged that he was subjected to false arrest and malicious prosecution. U.S. Magistrate John Nivison in February granted the officers’ summary judgment motion and dismissed the false arrest and malicious prosecution claims.