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Excessive police force alleged; Spencer man files suit in 2011 shooting.

Byline: Brad Petrishen

SPENCER -- A Spencer man shot by police responding to a 2011 domestic dispute has filed a lawsuit alleging that the officer who shot him used excessive force and that other officers helped him escape prosecution.

"They shot him because he's a big black guy and they were afraid of him,'' Hector E. Pineiro, the lawyer for John W. Humphrey Jr., said of a complaint filed in U.S. District Court Sept. 5.

The approximately 6-foot-1-inch, 250-pound Mr. Humphrey was unarmed when Spencer Officer Todd LaPorte shot him at 20 Elm St. the night of Sept. 22, 2011. Officer LaPorte told investigators that the man stepped toward him in a dark bedroom, a notion the man and his lawyer dispute.

State police investigated the shooting and determined there was no basis for criminal charges against Officer LaPorte. Mr. Humphrey alleges the investigation was "perfunctory and cop friendly,'' and charges that Officer LaPorte and other officers lied in their reports and interviews with investigators.

Police at the time said they headed to the Elm Street home just after midnight after receiving a call from the mother of Mr. Humphrey's then-girlfriend, Katie Lajeunesse. The woman's mother told police she'd been talking to her daughter on the phone and heard the couple arguing before the phone went dead.

What happened when police got to the home is a matter of dispute between the couple and the police.

Ms. Lajeunesse told reporters in 2011 that multiple officers -- some with guns drawn, others with Tasers drawn -- began looking for Mr. Humphrey, who had a warrant for his arrest for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

According to the lawsuit, Ms. Lajeunesse told police her boyfriend was in the bedroom and that he was unarmed. The lawsuit claims Officer LaPorte then kicked in the bedroom door and shot him at close range despite Mr. Humphrey shouting "I surrender'' and "I'm unarmed.''

The lawsuit further states that Sgt. Paul Magierowski then entered the room and asked Officer LaPorte why he shot Mr. Humphrey instead of Tasing him. It says both Mr. Humphrey and Ms. Lajeunesse later heard a state police trooper exclaim, "I can't believe he shot him, all he had to do was Tase him.''

The accounting of the shooting from police is very different. According to the lawsuit, Officer LaPorte told investigators that when he entered the dark room, his flashlight alighted on the frame of a man coming toward him.

"In a split second, I observed the large subject quickly step toward me, which startled me and I felt threatened in the fact that I believe his intentions were to attack me,'' Officer LaPorte told investigators. He said he fired the gun to protect himself.

"At no time did the subject tell me he was in the room and at no time did he surrender himself,'' Officer LaPorte told investigators.

In the lawsuit, Mr. Pineiro alleges that Officer LaPorte's statements were lies, and that Sgt. Magierowski falsely reported hearing "commotion'' in the bedroom prior to the shooting. It notes that Mr. Humphrey was not charged with resisting arrest or assault and battery on a police officer.

At his initial arraignment the morning after his arrest, Mr. Humphrey was held without bail after prosecutors told a judge he had an "extensive'' criminal history. In addition to the warrant charge, he was charged with assault and battery on his girlfriend -- a charge his lawyer said was dropped in 2012.

Mr. Pineiro said he believes the domestic violence charge against Mr. Humphrey was a sham and he is alleging malicious prosecution by police. He said they tried to cover up an inexcusable mistake that could have cost Mr. Humphrey his life.

"He used deadly force to get a guy out of a room who was completely unarmed,'' Mr. Pineiro said. "There's no way of dancing out of that one.''

Mr. Pineiro criticized police Chief David B. Darrin for his handling of the shooting, alleging that the chief didn't conduct his own investigation into what happened and that the lax oversight reflected a pattern of sloppy training surrounding excessive force in the department.

As evidence, he cited a 2004 case in which a man reached a settlement with the town after alleging two officers assaulted him while placing him into a jail cell.

Chief Darrin said Friday that the 2004 case involved none of the officers from the present case and was settled for less than $10,000. He said he properly ceded investigation of the shooting to state police, and added that, contrary to Mr. Pineiro's claim, he did independently determine that Officer LaPorte followed protocol.

Chief Darrin, addressing an allegation by Mr. Pineiro, ceded that he never interviewed Mr. Humphrey. He declined to get into the specifics of his investigation but said he was satisfied Officer LaPorte acted appropriately.

Chief Darrin said the lawsuit -- which names himself, Officer LaPorte, Sgt. Magierowski, Sgt. George Edwards and the town -- didn't come as a surprise.

"When an unarmed guy is shot, obviously you expect to be sued at some point,'' he said.

Douglas I. Louison, who is representing the town and its police officers, called the allegations "outrageously, baldly false.''

"The shooting was the direct result of the plaintiff's own conduct,'' Mr. Louison said. "The officers involved are all well-trained and experienced officers with no blemishes whatsoever on their records.''

The lawsuit does not ask for a specific amount of money. It says Mr. Humphrey's medical expenses have exceeded $30,000 and demands compensatory and punitive damages.

It asserts that Officer LaPorte used excessive force, assaulted Mr. Humphrey, inflicted emotional distress and violated his civil rights. It accuses the department of doing nothing to discourage such behavior and of allowing charges to be filed against Mr. Humphrey without probable cause.

Mr. Humphrey's wound was not life-threatening and he was discharged from the hospital the morning of the shooting. According to the lawsuit, as a result of the shooting he has "an unsightly residual scar and numbness in the abdomen.''

Contact Brad Petrishen at Follow him on Twitter @BPetrishenTG
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:Petrishen, Brad
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Nov 23, 2014
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