Village deals with police department lawsuits
TUPPER LAKE – The village is dealing with several lawsuits against its police department, one of which was settled in January.
In two cases, people who had dealings with the police accuse police of being too rough, and in the other, a man says the police didn’t do enough to protect him.
In January, a judge dismissed Stephen Vaillancourt’s federal case again the village, the police department and former village police officers Chris Skiff and Justin Perryman in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of New York.
In the lawsuit, Vaillancourt accused Skiff of assaulting and unconstitutionally restraining him in the early morning hours of May 13, 2011. At the time, Vaillancourt was 23.
According to the lawsuit, Vaillancourt and some friends left Old Northern Pub and one of the friends found that he had lost his car keys, setting off the car’s alarm when he tried to get into it.
Since the police department is near Old Northern, Skiff and Perryman heard the alarm and came to investigate. Skiff reportedly offered to give them a ride when they said they were locked out of the car. The suit alleged that on the way to the car, Skiff used a gay slur to refer to Vaillancourt, and the two got into an argument about it that continued as Skiff started driving.
According to court documents, Skiff drove the men part of the way to their destination, then tried to get Vaillancourt to get out of the car. Instead, however, he let the other passengers out and brought Vaillancourt back to the police station, saying it was so Vaillancourt could calm down. When Vaillancourt refused to get out of the car, Skiff allegedly screamed at him and physically assaulted him, elbowing him in the face and jaw, biting his chest, kneeing him in the back and ribs, and choking him.
The suit alleges that Skiff brought Vaillancourt into the police department and talked with him there, choking him and yelling at him at points throughout, at one point making him “nearly pass out due to the lack of oxygen,” the complaint reads.
At no time during the incident was Vaillancourt read Miranda rights or advised that he was being arrested or charged with anything, the suit states.
It also accuses Perryman of failing to intervene, as well as handcuffing Vaillancourt despite him not being arrested and having no Miranda rights read to him.
The suit alleges that Skiff should not have been employed by the village police department by then because he had failed to follow protocol in the past, including physical assaults of other people, alleged drug use and insubordination.
Both Skiff and Perryman were suspended from duty a week later, after Vaillancourt filed a complaint.
Skiff resigned in September to settle a criminal investigation into the incident, and Perryman transfered to another police squad.
Skiff’s attorney, Robert Arleo, filed a letter with the court last December asking that two assertions about a criminal investigation be struck from the complaint. It states that the criminal investigation is closed and that Skiff was never indicted on criminal charges in the case.
The village’s attorney, Gregg Johnson, represented Perryman but not Skiff in the civil case.
In the village’s answer to the complaint, it acknowledges that Skiff restrained Vaillancourt when he stood up during a “wide ranging ‘discussion'” in the Tupper Lake Police Department booking room.
The village also admits that Skiff violated certain orders, rules and regulations of the police department, but it does not admit that Skiff broke any laws.
The answer says Vaillancourt was intoxicated and that all damage suffered by Vaillancourt was caused in whole or part by his own conduct. It states that Vaillancourt made a sworn statement on July 27, 2011, that on the date of the incident he was “out of control” and “delusional,” and that TLPD officers did not “abuse (him) in any way, hurt (him), nor do anything wrong to” him.
In a December letter, Johnson said his office negotiated “a final and complete resolution of all claims asserted in this action with Plaintiff’s counsel.”
The Enterprise has not been able to find out the terms of the settlement. A woman from the law office representing Vaillancourt said in an email that there is a gag order with respect to the settlement, so they could not divulge any information about it.
Messages for Skiff left with his family members were not returned.
The amount of the settlement couldn’t be determined by press time.
Village Mayor Paul Maroun told the Enterprise last week that the village is insured against such a lawsuit, but it normally has to pay the first $10,000 on any suit.
Maroun said the case wasn’t settled to keep anything quiet.
“It’s not about hiding anything, it’s just I think a settlement’s been reached that’s fair to all parties involved, including the taxpayers, without having to go to a litigation,” Maroun said.
Village Clerk Mary Casagrain had the Enterprise file a Freedom of Information request for the settlement details, which has not yet been responded to.
A case brought by Jason Jauron against the village is still working its way through court.
Jauron, a Fort Drum soldier in his early 30s, was attacked by about 30 people in a brawl Memorial Day weekend 2011 outside Old Northern Pub, and he ended up stabbing two local women: Bethany Carmichael and Sarah Poirier. Later that year, a grand jury ruled that Jauron was justified in his use of deadly force.
In the lawsuit, Jauron asserts that he sustained serious and severe injuries because of the negligence of the police officers who showed up to the scene of the brawl: Wesley Hoyt and Jason Amell. Jauron’s lawyer, Stephen Vanier, writes in court papers that the officers failed to provide a safe environment for Jauron, failed to protect him once he was taken into custody, made him vulnerable to attack, followed unsafe and improper police procedures, and failed to take any reasonable precaution to safeguard Jauron’s life.
The suit lists the injuries Jauron sustained in the brawl: a broken eye socket, a broken nose, bruising and pain in his arm, rib, groin, head, leg and back. He needed emergency room treatment, X-rays, MRI and CT scans, and consulted with an optical surgeon.
“The plaintiff, Jason Jauron, underwent and will necessarily continue to undergo a long and painful course of treatment endeavoring to cure and relieve himself of the aforementioned injuries and maladies,” the suit reads. “Said plaintiff was obliged to spend large sums of money for medical and other assistance and will necessarily continue to do so.”
It also states that Jauron suffered shock, mental upset and mental embarrassment, plus difficulty sleeping, due to the incident.
The suit was originally brought against the town of Tupper Lake as well, but that portion of the suit was dismissed in early December. The stipulation allowed for that change because Hoyt and Amell were not employees of the town.
At the beginning of January, the suit was revised to include a number of people involved in the brawl as defendants. Also named in the suit now are Carmichael, Glen W. Haran, Lindsey M. Wells, Lindsay E. Thomas, Michelle M. Jessie, Shawn M. Savard, Douglas J. Snyder, William L. LeBlanc, Curtis J. Eggsware Jr., Robert W. Charland and the Old Northern Pub. All of those people, except for Haran, were charged in July 2011 with crimes related to the incident.
The case was recently re-assigned to Tupper Laker John Ellis, who was elected in November to the seat of judge on the state Supreme Court.
Patricia McLear is suing the village because she says she was injured when a police officer used unreasonable and unnecessary force when she was arrested on Jan. 22, 2011. She also alleges that the officer failed to help her down the stairs in the police station while her hands were cuffed behind her, so she fell down the stairs.
McLear is suing for damages and her legal costs. The village was issued a summons on the case, which was filed in the clerk’s office Jan. 18.
Mayor Maroun noted that the current police department location is rife for lawsuits, since it’s not accessible to people with handicaps and has narrow stairs as an entryway. If someone comes to the police department and slips, the first $10,000 is the village’s responsibility to pay.
“That’s wide open, in my mind, to lawsuits,” Maroun said.
With both the McLear case and the Jauron case, Maroun said the village will “try to settle them as best we can.
“If we think we’re right, we’re going to take them to court, if we have to, if they don’t agree with our offers.”