Defense Verdict in Federal Civil Rights Case

January 6, 2012

On Tuesday, December 12, 2011, partner James A. Mahar obtained a defense verdict on behalf of his client, a police officer, in a Federal Civil Rights case. The plaintiff claimed that the officer used excessive force when he arrested the plaintiff in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The plaintiff also claimed that the officer conducted an unreasonable search of his residence during the execution of a search warrant.

The defendant police officer received information that the plaintiff was in possession of several pounds of marijuana and obtained a search warrant for his home. A search of the plaintiff’s residence did not turn up the large amount of marijuana, but evidence was found that indicated a large amount of marijuana was present including: several gallon size zip-lock bags containing marijuana residue; coolers containing residue; scales and other packaging material and over $10,000 dollars in cash. The cash was eventually forfeited to the State of Connecticut. The police also found a small amount of “personal use” marijuana.

The plaintiff claimed that the defendant officer became angry when he did not find the marijuana and put plaintiff in a choke hold while he was in handcuffs. The plaintiff also claimed that the defendant officer raised his arms up behind his back while walking him out to the patrol car, causing an injury to his shoulder. In addition to using excessive force, the plaintiff also claimed that the officers deliberately and unnecessarily destroyed some of his property during the search.

At trial, the defendant and several of the other officers involved testified that the plaintiff became upset when he found out he was going to jail and stood up in an aggressive manner in close proximity to the defendant. The officer grabbed hold of the plaintiff and spun him around to control him. The defendant denied putting the plaintiff in a choke hold and denied doing anything to injure his shoulder.

Attorney Mahar argued that plaintiff’s injury claims were not supported by his own medical records, particularly the emergency room records from the following day, which showed no injury.

The plaintiff’s attorney suggested to the jury that they award the plaintiff the amount of his medical bills and $100,000 for pain and suffering and a similar amount as punitive damages against the officer.

The jury deliberated for less than two hours before returning a verdict in favor of the defendant. The case was tried before Judge Alvin Thompson in Federal District Court in Hartford.