Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

Massachusetts State Troopers Paul Doyle and Joshua Fries allegedly make a bad arrest

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Case: SORENTI v. DOYLE, Civil Action No. 11-10753-JLT (D. Massachusetts, April 4, 2013)

What happened:

Sorenti resides in Bourne, Massachusetts with his children, Frank and Barbara. Sorenti also owns and operates a garage named Little Red Tow Truck.
On June 30, 2008, Doyle was off duty and driving down Old Plymouth Road in Bourne. He noticed a fourteen year old boy, later determined to be Frank, move his hand up and down near his hip, which Doyle interpreted to be an obscene gesture.

Doyle turned his car around, pulled up beside Frank, and accused Frank of making an obscene gesture. Frank did not understand what Doyle was referring to and denied making any such gesture. Frank identified himself and his father, and pointed towards his nearby home. Doyle advised Frank that he would return to speak to Frank’s father. Frank testified that Doyle yelled and used expletives during this encounter. Later that day, Frank told his father, Sorenti, about his encounter with Doyle.

The next day, on July 1, 2008, Doyle met with Fries in a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot in Bourne. Both were on duty and in uniform. Doyle told Fries about his encounter with Frank the previous day and about his plan to go to Little Red Tow Truck to confront Sorenti regarding Frank’s gesture. Fries went on patrol and Doyle left to confront Sorenti.

When Doyle arrived at Little Red Tow Truck, Sorenti’s children, Frank and Barbara, were present in the garage. Doyle waited until Sorenti finished speaking with a customer, then approached Sorenti and accused Frank of making an obscene gesture the previous day. Doyle demonstrated the gesture as well. Sorenti denied that Frank made an obscene gesture. Sorenti and Frank both testified that Sorenti remained calm while Doyle yelled and used expletives during this conversation. Doyle testified that it was Sorenti who was yelling.

The parties dispute the events that followed. According to Sorenti and Frank, Doyle approached Sorenti quickly, pointed his finger at Sorenti’s face, and said, “You’re fucking going down.” Sorenti told Doyle to leave and that he was going to call 9-1-1. Doyle then grabbed Sorenti’s hand and told Sorenti he was going to jail. Doyle released Sorenti’s hand and Sorenti walked over to the phone to call 9-1-1 and the Bourne police. Doyle testified to a different version of these events and stated that Sorenti was screaming and acting erratically.

While Sorenti was on the phone, Doyle went outside the garage and called Fries. Doyle asked Fries to come to the scene but did not describe what had happened. Fries arrived within approximately five minutes of Doyle’s call. Fries does not recall having a conversation with Doyle when he arrived at the garage.

When Fries walked into the garage, Sorenti thought that Fries was responding to his call to the Bourne police and said, “Good, I’m glad you’re here.” Fries responded, “There are no deals being made now, Buddy.” Doyle told Sorenti that he was under arrest for disorderly conduct. Sorenti responded, “This is my place; I tell you what’s disorderly; you can’t tell me,” and attempted to walk away.

According to Sorenti, Doyle and Fries shoved Sorenti against a car and attempted to force and twist his hands together behind his back in order to apply handcuffs. Doyle grabbed Sorenti’s left arm and Fries grabbed his right. Sorenti testified that he did not resist but that he was physically unable to put his hands behind his back due to his build. Doyle and Fries, in contrast, testified that Sorenti was actively resisting arrest. Sorenti and Frank both testified that Sorenti told the troopers that he was in pain and that he was unable to put his hands together behind his back. Even after these statements, the troopers continued to use force, including a baton, to pry Sorenti’s hands together. The troopers popped Sorenti’s shoulder out of its socket three times during this encounter. Eventually, the troopers resorted to the use of two handcuffs. Doyle then drove Sorenti to the police station.

Fries later interviewed Robert Trimble, who was outside the garage during the encounter. Fries attached his notes from the interview to Doyle’s police report. Fries wrote that “Trimble did state that Sorenti has a short temper.” Trimble submitted an affidavit in which he denied making this statement.

Decision: No qi for the police. Trial is needed to decide which side is telling the truth.

Comment: Exceptionally clear and articulate statement of facts (quoted above), IMHO.

Written by Burgers Allday

April 12, 2013 at 5:47 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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