RRD Partner Jamie Mahar Obtains Defense Verdict In Federal Civil Rights Case.

September 8, 2014

James A. Mahar, a partner with the firm, recently won a defense verdict in a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging excessive use of force against a canine officer employed by the West Haven Police Department.  The plaintiff, a 22 year old male, broke into a vacant school in the early morning hours of November 14, 2010 with a friend to steal copper pipe.  During the course of the burglary, the pair set off an alarm.  When officers responded, the pair hid in closets located in one of the classrooms.  One of the first officers on the scene reported observing the suspects running through the building carrying bolt cutters.  A perimeter was set up and a canine officer was summoned to the school to conduct a search for the suspects. 

Officer Matthew Haynes and his canine partner, “Tex,” conducted a search of the building, along with three other officers.  They located the plaintiff and his friend hiding in closets and ordered them to come out or the dog would be released into the closets.  The plaintiff’s friend surrendered and was placed into custody.  A folding knife was subsequently found in the closet.  After the plaintiff ignored several additional commands to come out, Officer Haynes deployed Tex into the closet to subdue the plaintiff.  Tex bit the plaintiff on the right leg, near his knee, and plaintiff was then removed from the closet and arrested.  

The plaintiff claimed that after he was handcuffed, Officer Haynes allowed Tex to continue to bite him.  He also claimed that the officers kicked him in the head, chest and arms after he was handcuffed, which he claims violated his 4th Amendment right to be free from the excessive use of force.  At trial, the plaintiff also claimed that the use of Tex to subdue him was excessive because he could not escape.  

RRD argued that plaintiff posed a safety risk to the responding officers because it was unknown whether he was armed with some type of weapon and, accordingly, the use of the canine to subdue the plaintiff was a reasonable use of force.  Additionally, RRD argued that there was no evidence that the plaintiff was kicked or bitten after he was handcuffed.  Photos of the bite marks were consistent with one engagement and did not support plaintiff’s allegation that he was bitten from behind.  Additionally, there was no mention in the hospital records that plaintiff had been kicked and there was no mention of any bruising. 

Plaintiff pled guilty to burglary as a result of the incident.  He also had a prior felony conviction for larceny.  Additionally, plaintiff admitted to smoking marijuana and drinking heavily prior to breaking into the school.  According to the hospital records, the plaintiff had a 0.17 blood alcohol level at the time of his arrest.

The jury deliberated for less than an hour before reaching a verdict in favor of the police officer, absolving him of all liability.

The case was tried in Federal District Court for the District of Connecticut before Judge Stephan Underhill.