Edward Benjamin and Kasia Park Obtain Federal Court Verdict in Police Liability Case

Attorneys Edward Benjamin and Kasia Park, members of the firm’s Trial Services Group, successfully defended Sgt. Vicente Morris and Officer Benjamin Murtiff of the Augusta Police Department in an excessive force case in federal court in Bangor. After two and a half days of trial, the jury deliberated for less than an hour before returning a unanimous verdict in favor of Sgt. Morris and Officer Murtiff, finding that they had not used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The plaintiff had initially sued Sgt. Morris, Officer Murtiff, and two unnamed “John Doe” police officers for false arrest, excessive force, and conspiracy in violation of his federal constitutional rights. The plaintiff also sued the Chief of Police and the City of Augusta on a municipal liability theory and sought punitive damages on all claims. The plaintiff subsequently voluntarily dismissed his claims against the unnamed officers, the Chief of Police, and the City of Augusta. Attorneys Benjamin and Park obtained a favorable summary judgment ruling on the false arrest and conspiracy claims. The only remaining claims, the excessive force claims against Sgt. Morris and Officer Murtiff, proceeded to trial.

At trial, the evidence showed that Sgt. Morris and Officer Murtiff responded to a complaint made by an employee of a homeless shelter for veterans that an unruly, belligerent individual was threatening staff and other residents and refusing to leave the shelter. Upon arrival, Sgt. Morris and Officer Murtiff were advised that the employee had repeatedly told the plaintiff to leave the shelter, but he had refused to so do and was becoming increasingly aggressive and disorderly. The employee led the officers to a grassy area where the plaintiff was sitting at a picnic table and the employee again told the plaintiff to leave in the presence of the officers. When the plaintiff refused, the officers ordered him to leave, warning him that he would be arrested for criminal trespass if he did not. The plaintiff refused to comply with the officers’ orders and then stood up suddenly and lunged toward the employee in a menacing manner with the apparent intent to assault him. Officer Murtiff stepped between the two men to protect the employee from being assaulted. Sgt. Morris informed the plaintiff that he was under arrest for criminal trespass and attempted to handcuff him. The plaintiff resisted being taken into custody and Officer Murtiff and Sgt. Morris took the plaintiff to the ground in this grassy area so they could safely secure him. The plaintiff testified that an officer took him by the wrist and walked him about twenty feet from the grassy area where he was sitting to a paved parking area and then suddenly threw him down on the asphalt surface. The plaintiff alleged that a police officer then knelt on his head and ground his face into the asphalt. The plaintiff also testified that an officer lifted his outstretched arm up off the ground, tearing his rotator cuff, during the struggle to handcuff him. But the overwhelming evidence, including the testimony of the officers and the corroborating testimony of the shelter employee, proved that any force used by the officers was only the minimal amount of force necessary to overcome the plaintiff’s resistance to being taken into custody. The quick verdict in favor of the officers confirmed that they acted lawfully and did not use excessive force against the plaintiff.

Media Coverage

May 26, 2016, CentralMaine.com, “Jury Clears Two Augusta Police Officers of Claim of Using Excessive Force”. To read the article please click here.