PORTLAND — Lawyers in a civil trial in federal court presented vastly different accounts Tuesday of a confrontation between two police officers and a Kittery man at his girlfriend’s house three years ago.

Ogunquit police officer Matthew Buttrick and former Wells police officer Jacob Titcomb are accused of using excessive force against Michael Fortin on May 26, 2007, and permanently injuring his left knee.

Fortin sued the officers in U.S. District Court last year. He claims he did nothing to provoke Buttrick and Titcomb after they arrived at Jill Verhow’s home in Wells to investigate a report of a fight between the couple.

Fortin says the officers restrained him and kicked him in the knee, rupturing three of the four ligaments and making it impossible for him to return to work as a carpenter.

The officers say Fortin forced the confrontation, first by pushing Titcomb and then by ramming his chest into Buttrick’s chest. They say Fortin was drunk and they did not kick him, but simply wrestled him to the ground when he confronted them.

A jury is expected to hear the evidence over three days, with closing arguments possibly coming Thursday.

Fortin seeks financial compensation for three knee operations and other care for his injuries, totaling more than $100,000. He also seeks punitive damages for pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.

“This is a case about excessive force,” Michael Turndorf, one of two attorneys representing Fortin, said during his opening statement Tuesday. “As an officer, you have the privilege to use a lot of power in certain situations, power that you can abuse.”

Turndorf said the medical evidence will show that a kick to the knee most likely caused the ligaments in Fortin’s knee to “break like a rope.” The injury ranks among the most serious 1 percent of all knee injuries, Turndorf said.

He said the evidence doesn’t support the claim by police that they put Fortin in an arm bar hold and then everyone fell, causing the injury.

“You have to ask yourselves whether their version of events makes sense, or whether Mr. Fortin’s version of events makes sense,” Turndorf told the jurors.

Doug Louison, the lawyer representing Titcomb, told the jury that it was Fortin’s drunken belligerence and his aggression toward the officers that caused the injury.

“I promise you that when you hear the evidence and you judge the character of the people,” Louison said, “your conclusion is going to be there was no constitutional violation, there was no excessive force.

“Officer Titcomb acted appropriately, he acted professionally, and most importantly for this trial, he acted constitutionally,” Louison said.

Ed Benjamin, who represents Buttrick along with Rosie Williams, an associate from his firm, Thompson & Bowie, also blamed Fortin.

“They were taking him into custody, he was resisting,” Benjamin said during his opening statement. “They were using a reasonable amount of force.”

 

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at: [email protected]