A jury verdict in federal court in Bangor this week clearing a Winslow police officer of using excessive force in 2012 is important in the “post-Ferguson world” of community and police relations, the officer’s lawyer said Tuesday.

The jury on Monday cleared Winslow police Officer Haley Fleming of an excessive force charge in connection with a Jan. 2, 2012, incident at a private home.

William and Sandra Sadulsky, of Quimby Lane, had alleged in a civil suit that William Sadulsky’s constitutional rights were violated when officers used a Taser stun gun against him without provocation after responding to a noise complaint at his home. The complaint was filed in 2014 against the town of Winslow and Winslow police Officers Haley Fleming, Joshua Veilleux and Michael Michaud.

A judge in September dismissed the complaint against the town, Michaud and Veilleux, but an excessive force claim against Fleming was allowed to proceed to trial, which began March 9 and concluded Monday.

A jury of five women and three men returned with a unanimous decision that Fleming was within his rights as a police officer to intervene with reasonable force after Sadulsky grabbed Michaud and put him in a headlock, Fleming’s lawyer Edward Benjamin said Tuesday.

Benjamin said the jury’s decision in favor of the police officer is important in the “post-Ferguson world” of general tension between police and the communities they serve. He was referring to the killing of a black teenager, Michael Brown, whose shooting death in 2014 by a white police officer sparked protests and riots in Ferguson, Missouri. A grand jury later declined to indict Wilson on criminal charges, leading to more protests and further prominence for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Although race wasn’t a factor in the Winslow case — Sadulsky and Fleming are both white — Benjamin said this was the first police excessive force trial to go to trial in Maine in at least a year, and he thinks police officers still want to know that they’ll get a fair shake.

“I think that a lot of people have speculated what’s going on in the country and does it mean that police have lost the benefit of the doubt and the benefit of the public’s trust in these hotly contested matters and when they’re responding to some rapidly evolving situation,” Benjamin said. “I was glad to see it took them very little time to look at the facts in this case and decide it didn’t amount to evidence of any excessive force being used against this person.”

Benjamin said the jury took two hours to consider the verdict after a four-day trial. In federal court, a jury returns with a verdict based on the preponderance of evidence in a civil suit, not based on evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, as seen in criminal cases.

The decision has to be unanimous in both instances, Benjamin said.

“They found there was no excessive force used by Fleming against William Sadulsky,” Benjamin said.

He said the verdict ends all legal proceedings on any of the other theories of constitutional excessive force under the Fourth Amendment and the state’s version of the amendment, along with Sandra Sadulsky’s stress claim of having witnessed the use of excessive force against her husband, Benjamin said by phone Tuesday.

Bangor attorney Joseph Baldacci, who represented Sadulsky, said Tuesday he disagreed with the jury’s decision and is considering an appeal.

“In state court Mr. Sadulsky had been acquitted of an assault charge involving Haley Fleming,” Baldacci said Tuesday. “It was our contention in this case that Mr. Fleming Tasing Bill four times in his home over a noise complaint issue — at 50,000 volts apiece and rapid succession — was excessive force.

The assault case referred to by Baldacci went to Kennebec County Superior Court in September 2012 and resulted in a split decision against Sadulsky, who was found not guilty of an assault on Haley Fleming but guilty of assaulting Michaud, then a reserve officer, on Jan. 2, 2012, in Sadulsky’s home, the same night that prompted the federal excessive force suit.

Benjamin said once the state court found Sadulsky had committed an assault on Michaud, that would give Fleming the right to arrest Sadulsky and the right to use a reasonable degree of force to overcome his resistance to being arrested, which brought the civil suit to federal court.

The couple was asking to be awarded $40,208 in damages to pay for medical bills and damage to their home as a result of the altercation and additional compensation to be determined by the jury.

In the federal civil suit, William Sadulsky said Fleming and Michaud responded to a noise complaint at his home on the evening of Jan. 2, 2012, and when he opened the door to let them in, Fleming charged into the house and pursued Sadulsky to his living room, where he repeatedly stunned him.

Sadulsky claims his rotator cuff was injured when Fleming roughly pulled him up from where he was positioned, handcuffed on the floor. That injury is among a number of severe injuries William Sadulsky and his wife, Sandra Sadulsky, endured as a result of the incident, the plaintiffs argued.

In a trial brief filed with the court, Baldacci said Fleming dealt with the situation in an “unnecessarily confrontational way” and showed “reckless or callous indifference” to Sadulsky’s rights when he forcefully pulled him to his feet.

In his own trial brief, Benjamin said Fleming faced a large, agitated man who quickly became assaultive, which gave him the right to use “a reasonable degree of physical force” to take Sadulsky into custody.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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