BANGOR — A homeless veteran who alleges Augusta police used excessive force when they arrested him Aug. 4, 2012, at the Bread of Life Veterans Shelter in Augusta told his story to eight jurors Tuesday afternoon on the opening day of a civil trial in U.S. District Court.

Michael J. Albert Sr., now 60 and living in Bangor, testified he was not resisting when officers took him to the ground and handcuffed him behind his back after he allegedly refused several requests to leave. He said he suffered a torn left rotator cuff when they grabbed his outstretched left arm and “pulled it beyond the normal ability to extend it,” and he was in daily, throbbing pain until after it was repaired during surgery in July 2014.

The trial is expected to run for several days.

In previous rulings in the case, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Nivison, who is also presiding at the trial, found in favor of the Augusta police on several counts, but the claim of excessive force remains against two defendants, Sgt. Vicente Morris and Officer Benjamin Murtiff.

Nivison had granted summary judgment for both officers on claims of false arrest and conspiracy counts.

The initial lawsuit named several other defendants, including unnamed officers as well as Augusta police Chief Robert C. Gregoire and the city of Augusta.

They were later dismissed.

Albert, in a blue plaid shirt and khaki pants, spent more than three hours on the witness stand Tuesday questioned first by his attorney, Stephen Packard and then by attorney Edward Benjamin, representing Morris and Murtiff. Morris and Murtiff, both in dark suits and ties, watched the testimony.

In Packard’s opening statement, he told jurors that the two sides disagree over whether Albert got up from the picnic table announcing he was going to leave.

“You have to decide whether or not when (police) subdued him, arrested him and took him to the county jail, whether that force was excessive,” Packard said.

In Benjamin’s opening statement, he said he anticipated that Christian Carson, who was the staff person at the shelter that day, will testify that Albert went around trying to pick fights with everyone and the other vets wanted him out.

“Carson told Albert to go up to his room and sleep it off,” Benjamin told jurors. “He’s trying to reason with a guy who’s intoxicated and doesn’t want to leave.”

Benjamin said jurors would not see any evidence that the police used excessive force in violation of Albert’s civil rights.

Albert said Tuesday he still can’t recall which officers did what, but that one officer grabbed his right arm another knelt on his head and two grabbed his left arm to tuck it behind his back.

“I never knew the names, and I don’t remember the faces,” Albert testified under Benjamin’s questioning. “I just know it was four police officers.”

Albert said he would have put his hands behind his back if the officers had told him they were going to arrest him.

He said he was seeking compensation for the pain and suffering he endured.

“More important, I want to make sure it doesn’t happen again to another disabled person,” Albert testified. “To me that’s as important as the pain and suffering.”

He said he wants to return to work he had done previously as an independent trucker.

In his opening statement, Packard said Albert was sitting at the picnic table planning a barbecue for his daughter and for fellow veterans at the shelter before the incident.

Albert testified he felt threated by a fellow veteran who was pacing as he talked on a phone and who walked toward him with clenched fists.

“I had already been assaulted once and didn’t want to get hit again,” Albert testified, so Albert he told the man, “If you come any closer with clenched fist, I’m going to put my foot up your ass.”

A staff member told Albert to leave, and Albert objected.

“I said, ‘I’m just sitting here minding my own business,'” he testified. “I’m not leaving. Give me a reason to leave and I’ll leave.”

The shelter staff member called police, apparently saying that Albert was intoxicated.

Albert denied that as well.

“I don’t drink,” he told jurors.

He said he got up from the picnic table to leave and that’s when the officers grabbed him, walked him off the grassy area to a paved area and took him down.

Records in the Capital Judicial Center show that Albert posted $200 cash bail and that conditions prohibited him from being near Carson and from returning to the homeless shelter.

The criminal trespass charge against Albert was dismissed Oct. 9, 2012, by the district attorney’s office on the basis that Murtiff was unavailable as a witness because he was in training.

He said he sought treatment at the VA Maine Healthcare Systems — Togus, but left minutes before scheduled surgery after he was told some equipment had failed and he felt uncomfortable with proceeding at that point. The surgery was later performed elsewhere.

Jurors were shown a booking photo taken at the Kennebec County jail shortly after Albert’s arrest, and Albert circled an area on his right cheek in that photo that he said showed an open wound caused by his head being pushed on the tar.

The judge told jurors the trial will continue at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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