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Use of K9 unit by police led to leg injuries, scarring: plaintiff

Type:

Verdict-Defendant

State:

Massachusetts

Venue:

Federal

Court:

U.S. District Court for District of Massachusetts

Injury Type(s):

leg; leg-scar and/or disfigurement, leg; other-laceration; other-puncture wound; epidermis-bite mark; neurological-nerve damage/neuropathy; mental/psychological-emotional distress

Case Type:

Animals - Dog Bite; Government - Police; Civil Rights - 42 USC 1983; Government - Excessive Force

Case Name:

Samuel Stovall v. John P. Sturdevant and the City of Brockton, No. 1:14-cv-13246-JCB

Date:

June 14, 2016

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Samuel Stovall (Male, 35 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

John R. Bita III; Milligan Coughlin LLC; Boston, MA, for Samuel Stovall

Defendant(s):

City of Brockton, 

John P. Sturdevant

Defense Attorney(s):

Philip C. Nessralla; City of Brockton Law Department; Brockton, MA, for City of Brockton, John P. Sturdevant ■ Karen A. Fisher; City of Brockton Law Department; Brockton, MA, for City of Brockton, John P. Sturdevant

Defendant Expert(s):

Sgt. Mark O'Reilly; K9 Squads/Police Dogs; Bridgewater, MA called by: Philip C. Nessralla, Karen A. Fisher

Facts:

On the morning of Aug. 7, 2011, plaintiff Samuel Stovall, 35, was operating a vehicle in Brockton. He was stopped by police officers on suspicion that the vehicle had been involved in an armed robbery reported earlier that morning in the nearby Town of Stoughton. The officer that stopped the vehicle approached with his gun drawn, at which time Stovall fled. He led Brockton police on a pursuit until he crashed into a building in downtown Brockton. He then fled on foot into a residential area of the city. Brockton police set up a perimeter and commenced an unsuccessful search for Stovall. When police failed to find Stovall, they employed the use of a K9 unit, handled by Officer John P. Sturdevant. The K9 unit found Stovall in about five minutes. The dog entered a bushy area, grabbing Stovall's right leg in his mouth. Multiple officers came to the scene, restrained Stovall in handcuffs and arrested him. Stovall claimed injuries of his right leg, as well as psychological injuries. Stovall sued Officer John Sturdevant, alleging his civil rights were violated through the use of excessive force in the process of his arrest. Stovall also sued Officer Sturdevant's employer, the city of Brockton Police Department, alleging that the police department was negligent in the training and supervision of its police officers. The claim against the city was later dismissed. The matter proceeded to trial against Officer Sturdevant only. Stovall claimed that, after officers placed him in handcuffs, Officer Sturdevant allowed his K9 unit dog to bite, snap and bark at him while he was on the ground in handcuffs and as he was being escorted to a police vehicle. He claimed that Stovall allowed his K9 unit dog to continue intimidating him and biting him for a period of approximately 10 to 15 minutes after he was placed in handcuffs. The defense contended that police officers are allowed to use objectively reasonable force as defined in Graham v. Connor, based on the severity of the crime reportedly committed by a suspect, the danger posed to officers and the level of resistance used by a suspect. The defense argued that, based upon this standard, the force used to arrest Stovall was not excessive and Stovall's medical reports at Good Samaritan Hospital emergency room showed that Stovall suffered a minor, superficial wound when restrained by the K9 unit. The defense's K9 unit training and use expert testified that the use of a K9 unit in this situation was the least invasive way of making Stovall cooperate with the officers. The expert explained that a K9 unit is trained to open its mouth wide and use its back teeth to restrain and hold a suspect, rather than the front teeth, which can tear an individual's skin. He further testified that the use of a K9 unit was less invasive than the use of chemical mace or a Taser, both of which can be dangerous to a suspect's health, and the use of the K9 unit allowed the police to refrain from drawing their weapons.

Injury:

Stovall was transported to Good Samaritan Hospital in Boston while in police custody. He was treated for what were diagnosed as superficial wounds to his right leg. He was administered a topical ointment and was discharged. Stovall ultimately claimed that the K9 unit's teeth caused puncture wounds, permanent scarring and residual nerve damage. He also claimed his encounter with the K9 unit dog caused nightmares. Stovall sought recovery of damages for past and future pain and suffering. A specific monetary damages award was not suggested to the jury. The defense contended that Stovall exaggerated his injuries. The defense asserted that the injury did not require sutures or surgical intervention and did not cause permanent scarring or nerve damage. The defense further contended that any nerve damage claimed by Stovall was, in fact, the result of a pre-existing intervertebral disc herniation.

Result:

The jury found that Officer John P. Sturdevant did not use excessive force while arresting Samuel Stovall. As a result, a defense verdict was entered.

Trial Information:

Judge:

Jennifer C. Boal

Trial Length:

2  days

Trial Deliberations:

1  hours

Jury Vote:

8-0

Jury Composition:

5 female/ 3 male

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by defense counsel. Plaintiff's counsel did not respond to the reporter's phone calls.