BANGOR — A jury deliberated less than an hour Thursday before returning a verdict clearing two Augusta police officers of a claim that they used excessive force on a veteran at the Augusta homeless shelter when they arrested him on a criminal trespass charge in August 2012.

Michael J. Albert Sr., now 60 and living in an apartment in Bangor, says he suffered a torn rotator cuff injury when one or more officers forced his outstretched left arm behind his back while handcuffing him after he had refused orders to leave the shelter.

Albert filed a civil complaint in October 2014 in U.S. District Court in Maine against the city of Augusta, the Augusta police, the police chief and a number of officers. Albert said that the use of excessive force violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

However, only two officers, Sgt. Vicente Morris and Patrol Officer Benjamin Murtiff, remained as defendants when the case reached the trial stage this week.

Both officers testified Wednesday and denied using excessive force on Albert. The jury of six women and two men agreed.

Outside the federal courthouse in Bangor after the verdict was returned, Albert said he intended to file an appeal.

“There is nothing in the police report from that night about me resisting,” he said.

He said he had been reluctant to leave the shelter that night because that would affect his placement on a list for permanent housing.

Albert was taken to the Kennebec County jail following his arrest on a charge of criminal trespass, which was later dismissed.

Jurors were shown Albert’s intake photo from the jail plus a photo taken later of his arm and elbow, which showed scabs and what was termed “road rash.” Albert testified police dragged his arm across the pavement and knelt on his head while he was on the ground. The officers denied that as well.

Medical providers at the VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus diagnosed Albert with a torn rotator cuff four days after his arrest, and Albert had surgery to repair it in July 2014 in Bangor.

He was seeking payment from the police for medical expenses and compensatory and punitive damages.

“The fact that the arrest was justified does not give anyone the right to use excessive force,” Albert’s attorney Stephen Packard said in closing arguments. After the verdict, Packard said, “Of course, we’re disappointed.”

Attorney Edward Benjamin, of the Portland firm of Drummond Woodsum, who represented the officers through the Maine Municipal Association Property and Casualty Pool, urged jurors to return a verdict in favor of the officers. “The police are entitled to use a reasonable degree of force to overcome his resistance,” he said.

Afterward, Benjamin said, “Clearly there was no excessive force used against Mr. Albert.”

Benjamin pointed to the speed of the jury’s decision.

“The jurors understood not only were the officers more credible witnesses than the plaintiff, there was the extra corroboration of (shelter employee) Mr. (Christian) Carson having to a eject a veteran from a homeless shelter,” Benjamin said.

Carson, the final defense witness called Thursday morning, testified about events the night of the arrest. Carson was a graduate student seeking a master’s degree in social work and working weekends at the JTG Veterans Shelter operated by Bread of Life Ministries.

“I asked Mike several times just to go up and sleep it off,” Carson said. “It was pretty obvious he had been consuming some substance that altered his mental status.”

Carson said he called police to have Albert removed from the shelter because Albert was behaving in an uncharacteristic, confrontational manner with other veterans and “yelling in people’s faces.”

Carson said even after the three police officers arrived, “we were all trying to calm him down and trying to convince him it was not in his best interest to go to jail.”

Carson testified that he thought Albert was going to punch him when he got up from a picnic table on the shelter grounds and moved toward him.

However, Murtiff stepped between them. Albert was arrested shortly afterward and charged with criminal trespass. The charge was later dismissed by the district attorney’s office because Murtiff was in training and unavailable to serve as a witness.

A witness statement written by Carson the night of Albert’s arrest was displayed on a screen in the courtroom.

The hand-printed statement said in part, “Mike Albert was outside at the picnic table yelling and swearing, confronting other residents. He was belligerent and combative. I asked him several times to calm down. He refused. I asked him to go inside and relax or leave the property. He told me I was not man enough to have him leave, and if I did he would kick my ass.”

Albert testified he indicated he had agreed to leave when the police ordered him to and was getting up and moving slowly away from Carson when police grabbed his arm and took him to the ground to handcuff him.

Albert reacted loudly to some of Benjamin’s closing remarks, prompting Magistrate Judge John Nivison to say, “Mr. Albert, any other outburst and you’re going to be asked to leave.”

A minute or so later, Albert walked out of the courtroom muttering loudly before returning about five minutes later.

At one point during Packard’s closing, one of the six women on the jury appeared to be asleep for at least several minutes, with her head tilted back and resting on the wall behind her and her eyes closed.

A half dozen people watched the closing arguments from the spectators’ area.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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