A pediatrician from York has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against a York police officer and the town stemming from a traffic stop that turned violent and left him with what he says are severe and lasting injuries.

Dr. Stephen Brennan’s lawsuit says a York officer, Jonathan Rogers, violated Brennan’s constitutional rights by unleashing his police dog on Brennan during a late-night traffic stop that turned confrontational in September 2019.

This photo of injuries to Dr. Stephen Brennan’s face was provided by his lawyer after the traffic stop in 2019 that led to an excessive-force lawsuit filed Friday. Other photos showed bite wounds on his arm and legs from the officer’s police dog.

Brennan was pulled over after he passed police cars parked next to the road and flashed his high beams as a warning to an oncoming motorist, who turned out to be another officer. The stop led to the doctor’s arrest on a single charge that was later dismissed, according to the suit.

In a statement to a New Hampshire reporter last year, a York police sergeant defended the officer’s use of force and suggested that Brennan was acting aggressively and erratically, and physically fought the officer when he tried to make the arrest.

Brennan’s attorney, Alex Spadinger, said he received a copy of a recording of the traffic stop that was turned over as discovery material during the criminal case, but declined to comment further, and hung up on a reporter. The recording is not a part of the public record.

An attorney representing the town in the lawsuit, Edward Benjamin, provided an account of the stop that diverged from the lawsuit’s version. It said it was Brennan who acted aggressively and did not follow multiple commands from Rogers after confronting the officer even before he could stop his cruiser.

Both versions agree that Brennan’s arrest occurred after midnight Sept. 20, 2019, along Route 1, after Brennan saw two police cars watching traffic and flashed his high beams in warning to an oncoming car, according to the lawsuit.

The oncoming motorist was Rogers, who made a U-turn, followed Brennan and pulled him over.

Both accounts agree that Brennan then got out of his car and approached Rogers’ cruiser. Benjamin said the cruiser had not yet come to a full stop when Brennan got out of his car, and Brennan was yelling. Brennan says he approached in a non-threatening manner “to explain why he activated his high beams,” according to the lawsuit.

“In response, Officer Rogers immediately drew his service weapon and demanded that Dr. Brennan put his hands up,” the suit says.

Benjamin said the video of the encounter shows Rogers drawing his weapon after Brennan failed to comply with commands to stop and then began yelling, “what’s wrong with you?” before he suddenly turned away and started walking back to his vehicle.

But Brennan’s lawsuit says he complied with the commands, raised his hands and approached Rogers so Brennan could speak with him. When Rogers ordered Brennan to stop, Brennan complied, it says.

“Surprised at Patrolman Rogers’ response, Dr. Brennan stated, ‘give me a break,’ and then asked patrolman Rogers, ‘who are you?’ ” the suit says, as Brennan is familiar with other York police officers. The suit says that when the officer did not respond, Brennan began walking back to his vehicle until Rogers again ordered Brennan to stop and told him to turn around and get on the ground. Brennan asked if Rogers was going to shoot him, and then began to comply with the request, the suit says.

“As Dr. Brennan was in the process of getting down on his right knee to comply with patrolman Rogers’ instructions, patrolman Rogers activated a remote release mechanism on his police car door releasing the K9 (police dog)  from the vehicle,” it says.

But, according to Benjamin, Brennan refused to obey commands to stop and get on the ground.

“Brennan then turned in an angry and aggressive manner with his hands at waist level and told Officer Rogers to shoot him,” Benjamin wrote in the email. By that point, Rogers had holstered his weapon as he followed Brennan back to his car, Benjamin said. Brennan then again approached Rogers aggressively with clenched fists, ignoring commands to stop and threats by Rogers to release the police dog if he did not comply, according to Benjamin.

“When told to get on the ground, or the dog would be released, Brennan shouted, ‘no,’ ” Benjamin wrote. Rogers then released the dog, and Brennan began to kneel as the dog approached him, according to Benjamin.

About 40 second elapsed between when Brennan exited his vehicle and when the dog was released, the lawsuit alleges.

The suit and Benjamin’s account agree that the dog bit Brennan’s left arm. Brennan contends he was on the ground at the time, while Benjamin said Brennan continued to struggle after the dog bit him.

As the dog attacked him, Rogers attempted to “wrestle Brennan onto his stomach,” struck Brennan in the face and kneed Brennan in the lower back, according to the lawsuit. Benjamin said Rogers tried to turn Brennan over, “requiring (Rogers) to use an open hand strike to Brennan’s face and a knee strike to his buttocks before he could finally gain control of Brennan.”

The suit alleges Rogers then put both knees on Brennan’s back as he attempted to handcuff him, and during this time, the dog was still biting Brennan’s left leg, shaking its head back and forth. The suit alleges that after Brennan was in handcuffs, Rogers ordered the dog off Brennan.

“After gaining control of the K9, patrolman Rogers allowed the dog to lunge forward and bite Dr. Brennan again, this time in the upper left thigh, while Dr. Brennan was fully secured in handcuffs face down on the ground,” the suit says.

Benjamin did not address the alleged second bite after the arrest as described in the lawsuit, but said witnesses to the stop said Brennan was “threatening,” “irrational,” “clearly distraught.” Benjamin said Brennan, through his attorneys, refused to be interviewed by investigators who were following up on Brennan’s complaint of false arrest and excessive force.

Benjamin said Rogers acted in accordance with police and state law, and denies it was an unlawful arrest or that excessive force was used.

Brennan was charged with misdemeanor refusing to submit to arrest or detention, but the charge was later dismissed, according to the lawsuit. Calls to the York County District Attorney’s Office were not returned, and the circumstances of the dismissal were not immediately known.

Brennan suffered serious cuts and puncture wounds and had two black eyes after the officer hit Brennan during the arrest and pressed his knees into Brennan’s back, according to the lawsuit and photos of Brennan’s injuries provided by his attorney. He also suffered a chest wall injury, scrapes to his left arm, and traumatic hyphema of his left eye, a condition that can be caused by blunt trauma, and that resulted in increased pressure within his eyeball, the lawsuit alleges.

The suit also alleges that as a result of the struggle between Rogers and Brennan, who is a Type-1 diabetic, an automatic insulin pump attached to his abdomen was broken, causing Brennan to go into diabetic ketoacidosis, which required further hospitalization in intensive care.

Benjamin said officers asked Brennan if his pump was still working and if he was OK. Brennan indicated he was OK and apologized for his behavior, Benjamin wrote.

“The town denies the allegation that it has inadequate policies in place, and that it failed to train or supervise its police officers, including officer Rogers,” Benjamin wrote. “I expect this lawsuit to be vigorously defended.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under:

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.