Two counts of excessive force in a lawsuit against Farmington police Officer Ryan Rosie will proceed to trial now that a U.S. District Court judge has ruled on court motions in the case of Justin Crowley-Smilek, whom Rosie shot and killed in 2011 outside the town police station.

The court decision on requests for summary judgment was handed down Sept. 30 by U.S. Magistrate Judge John Rich following dueling lawsuits filed a year and a half ago.

Under the decision, Rich has cleared the town of Farmington and its police chief, Jack Peck, while also rejecting a request by Crowley-Smilek’s family for early rulings against the defendants, including Rosie. The decision dismisses other counts against Rosie but leaves intact two civil counts of use of excessive force.

The family alleges the use of excessive force, a violation of Maine civil rights and wrongful death statutes in the death of Crowley-Smilek, who was shot and killed by Rosie the morning of Nov. 19, 2011. Crowley-Smilek, 28, a U.S. Army veteran, had mental and physical health problems stemming from his military service.

Police, in justifying the use of deadly force, have said Crowley-Smilek had a knife and acted in a threatening way toward Rosie by chasing the officer, ignoring his commands and repeatedly telling him, “You better kill me.”

Defendants in the case, aside from Rosie, included Peck and the town of Farmington. The plaintiffs are Michael W. Smilek and Ruth Crowley, Crowley-Smilek’s parents.


“Obviously, we are pleased with the decision,” Town Manager Richard Davis said Monday, speaking on the town’s behalf. “I had really little doubt that it would come to another result.”

Peck, who said he had just received a copy of the summary judgment Monday, declined to comment on specific matters of the case.

“I’ve got a whole lot to say about it, but I’m going to keep my mouth shut,” Peck said, adding that he “talked enough in the past. … This has been hanging over my head, our head, for a long time.”

Because facts of what happened during the shooting are in dispute, Rich found that he could not rule on the two excessive-force counts against Rosie and instead left those to be settled at trial.

Douglas Louison, who represented Farmington and Peck up to this point and will continue to represent Rosie, said he was not surprised that the two counts of excessive force were not dismissed by summary judgment, but said that the dismissal of other counts against Rosie will make for an easier trial.

“It means that we will have a much narrower and straightforward case to try at time of trial,” Louison said. “And while certainly we would liked to gotten it dismissed pretrial, I’m not surprised, because it’s very odd to have summary judgment enter use-of-force-type cases.”


Hunter Tzovarras, the attorney representing the Crowley-Smilek family, did not return a call immediately Monday seeking comment.

Louison said that at the heart of the remaining two counts is the disagreement between Crowley-Smilek’s family and the town and police about whether the officer used excessive force.

The police and the town argued that Rosie’s use of force should be protected by the doctrine of “qualified immunity,” which shields police officers from suits if an officer “reasonably, but mistakenly, believed that a suspect was likely to fight back,” in which case “the officer would be justified in using more force than in fact was needed.”

Crowley-Smilek took out a 13-inch-long knife from his jacket pocket and chased Rosie around a police cruiser before the officer stepped aside and shot the man. Rosie had radioed for backup when Crowley-Smliek started chasing him.

Rich’s decision notes that as long as the police cruiser was between Rosie and Crowley-Smilek, then the officer probably could not invoke the qualified immunity standard.

“However, the undisputed fact in this case is that, after Rosie stepped away from the protection of the cruiser, Crowley-Smilek began sprinting toward him,” Rich wrote. He wrote that at that point, “a reasonable officer in Rosie’s position would have believed that Crowley-Smilek was armed with a knife and that he intended to cause serious physical harm to Rosie.”


But Rich notes that Rosie’s reasons for stepping away from the cruiser and taking up a firing position “are not recounted in the record and appear to me to be significant” when considering qualified immunity. Rich wonders about how long the chase around the cruiser lasted, when exactly the call for backup came and when Rosie stepped away to fire, but those relevant details aren’t part of the factual record.

The judge wrote that therefore he couldn’t determine whether Rosie’s action “contributed to the danger he faced that qualified immunity is unavailable,” based on the available facts in the case so far. The issue will be revisited at trial, Rich wrote.

In Rich’s decision, certain case facts are cited as undisputed, including that Rosie didn’t perform well in certain aspects of police training school at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. Rosie received several “not acceptable” marks, including performing under stress, and had “several areas of concern, including difficulties with voice command.

Peck and others met in August 2011 to decide whether to end Rosie’s training period and hire him as a full-time officer, which they did. But there was “no discussion of Rosie’s field performance under stressful conditions” and Rosie “did not receive any training in dealing with emotionally disturbed or suicidal persons.”

Louison said the next step is preparing for trial, and that he expects a court conference will be held within the next two weeks to talk about “where the road goes from here.”

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

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