Judge allows lawsuit alleging Taser 'torture' by York County Jail guards to go to trial
YORK COUNTY, Maine — A judge has ruled a Wells man can take two corrections officers to trial as a result of his complaint alleging excessive use of a Taser against him at the York County Jail.
However, his bid to take York County Sheriff William King and York County itself to court in the matter was dismissed.
The plaintiff in the case, Brian Dunnigan, of Wells, is alleging a supervisor repeatedly jolted him with a Taser while two corrections officers held him down in his cell on the night he was arrested by Ogunquit police and brought to York County Jail in Alfred in 2018. He is seeking punitive damages.
On March 13, U.S. District Court Judge George Singal denied a motion for a summary judgment by one of the defendants, corrections officer Donovan Cram, but granted one made by King and York County. As a result, Dunnigan’s case against Cram may proceed, but the one against King and the county is dropped.
In addition to King and the county, Dunnigan originally filed his complaint against three officers: Eric Daigneault, the supervisor who used the Taser, Cram, and Matthew Rocchio.
Daigneault did not seek a summary judgment. In his answer to the complaint, Daigneault admitted to using the Taser on Dunnigan “because it was needed,” but he denied all allegations he violated Dunnigan’s rights.
Initially, Rocchio joined Cram in seeking a summary judgment, until the allegation made against him in the complaint was dropped.
Previous story:Lawsuit filed after man allegedly tasered in York County Jail
Dunnigan is pursuing his case against Cram because he alleges Cram did not do enough to intervene for his safety as Daigneault used the Taser on him.
In his denial of Cram’s motion, Singal said sufficient evidence existed for a jury to conclude Daigneault’s use of the Taser occurred to an extent that violated Dunnigan’s rights.
“Accordingly, a jury reaching that conclusion could also conclude that a reasonable officer in Cram’s position should have known that Daigneault’s conduct violated the Plaintiff’s constitutional rights and, therefore, that Cram had a duty to intervene,” Singal wrote.
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Dunnigan pursued his case against King and York County because he considered both parties as acting with deliberate indifference, in terms of training officers. In his decision, Singal said York County had policies in place that governed the use of force and of Tasers at the time of Dunnigan’s arrest.
“Only those officers who successfully completed York County’s approved training course were authorized to carry and use a Taser,” Singal noted.
Singal added that the jail’s materials for recertification training instructed Taser users to “avoid multiple, repeated, prolonged, extended, or continuous” exposures to Tasers, “unless necessary and justified under the circumstances.”
Singal said Daigneault would have been advised against repeatedly using a Taser on an inmate when he pursued his recertification training in 2016, two years before his encounter with Dunnigan.
Attorney Thomas Hallett, who is representing Dunnigan, did not return messages left for him on two separate days following the judge’s decision.
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Dunnigan's lawsuit claims he was 'tortured' by Taser
Filed in October 2019, the complaint provides a narrative of what Dunnigan alleges happened following his arrest for disorderly conduct after a dispute at a restaurant and bar in Ogunquit on Feb. 16, 2018.
According to the complaint, Ogunquit police brought Dunnigan to York County Jail, where he was booked and placed in a cell. Dunnigan claims he informed jail personnel he needed medical attention related to his diabetes and recent surgery on his shoulder.
From his cell, Dunnigan continued to demand medical attention, “at times more aggressively,” according to the complaint.
Equipped with a Taser, Daigneault entered Dunnigan’s cell and proceeded to “torture” Dunnigan, zapping his chest for almost a minute while the other corrections officers pinned him down, according to the complaint.
At the time, Dunnigan’s lawyer, Benjamin Donahue, was asked if the complaint uses the word “torture” based on a technical and legal definition, or if it was a word chosen personally to describe what his client alleges happened to him.
“When someone inflicts pain for the sake of inflicting pain, that’s torture,” Donahue said.
Dunnigan was released from the jail the next day and misdemeanor charges against him were dismissed. The complaint alleges, however, that “the injuries sustained that evening will haunt Brian for the rest of his life.”
Dunnigan suffered broken ribs, scars on his chest, and trauma as a result of the incident, the complaint states. The complaint includes a photograph depicting multiple burn marks on Dunnigan’s chest.
The complaint alleges that the supervisor carried out “seven dry-stun deployments, lasting, on one occasion, as long as 13 seconds.” According to the suit, each time the supervisor pulled the trigger, he screamed at Dunnigan, “Are you going to do what we say now?”
The suit alleges that the supervisor and other correctional staff failed to administer any medical care to Dunnigan.
The suit makes the charge of excessive force against Daigneault because “he deployed his Taser to intentionally punish Brian. He did not enter Brian’s cell for any legitimate or lawful purpose ... his only objective was punitive.”
The suit states that Dunnigan had already been restrained by two other officers at the time Daigneault deployed his Taser.
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Lawsuit over Taser at York County ME jail headed to trial