Jury clears Weare officer in excessive force suit brought by burglar

Monitor staff
Last modified: 2/24/2016 12:01:16 AM
Federal jurors have rejected claims that a Weare police officer used excessive force during a burglary arrest four years ago in an auto repair shop.

The accuser, Shane St. Onge, said in a lawsuit that former sergeant Ken Cox used his Taser on him several times even though he had followed Cox’s commands to raise and show his hands. He further claimed that both Cox and a fellow responding officer, Kim McSweeney, assaulted him after the Taser exchange and that Cox tried to prevent him from receiving medical treatment.

The officers disputed the accusations and argued that St. Onge was intoxicated at the time, refused to comply with repeated directions and became combative after he was taken into custody. Cox acknowledged that he had deployed the Taser twice, but only because he and St. Onge were alone in a darkened garage and St. Onge was hiding his hands.

Jurors returned their decision late Monday in Concord, following four days of testimony.

Weare attorney Charlie Bauer framed the verdict as a needed win for a town beset in recent years by accusations against its tiny police force. Its officers have been subject to numerous lawsuits and gained notoriety after a failed drug bust three years ago that resulted in the death of a suspected drug dealer. Cox was one of five officers involved in that operation.

“I’m hopeful that the citizens of Weare – and of Hillsborough County and of the state – regain confidence in their police department,” he said.

Judge Steven McAuliffe dismissed other claims Friday, including those against McSweeney. St. Onge’s lawyer, Tony Soltani, said he was reviewing whether that decision and other aspects of the trial raised grounds for an appeal.

“I’m disappointed by the verdict, but the version given by the Weare Police Department didn’t make physical sense,” he said. “It’s just not consistent with the reality with how things work.”

Bauer argued the same about St. Onge.

The break-in occurred at Route 77 Motors in March 2012. Cox and McSweeney arrived together and, according to their account, Cox then entered the building alone, gun drawn, without a flashlight.

St. Onge was crouched in the shadows inside. He had a crowbar with him, but wasn’t holding it at the time. Cox said he holstered his firearm after seeing St. Onge and then removed his Taser, shouting at St. Onge to show his hands. He said he then deployed the weapon twice, for five seconds each, after which McSweeney rushed in and placed St. Onge in handcuffs.

St. Onge said he stood with his hands up, and that Cox deployed the Taser anyway, approximately four times in all, berating him as he did with phrases like, “Do you like that?” and, “Does that feel good?”

But St. Onge showed no serious signs of harm after the encounter, according to emergency responders that night. The tongs of the Taser never pierced his skin, they testified, and the only clear injury was a small abrasion above his left eye – consistent, Bauer argued, with him toppling over from a crouched position.

Bauer scrutinized other parts of St. Onge’s story, including that he had walked 14 hilly miles to the shop that night in about an hour and 45 minutes. It took a car going 30 mph 24 minutes to complete the same trip, he said.

Neither Cox nor McSweeney is currently working for the department. McSweeney resigned in December, and Cox is on administrative leave. He returned to the rank of patrol officer after the 2013 incident, a move that both he and police Chief Sean Kelly said was voluntary.

Kelly, who joined the department in 2014, commended Cox’s conduct Tuesday, saying in a statement that he had acted “honorably, ethically and lawfully.”



(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)


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