PORTLAND – Two months ago, a jury in federal court awarded $125,000 to a former Kittery man as compensation for injuries he suffered in a scuffle with two police officers.

This week, the federal judge who oversaw the civil trial reduced the award to Michael Fortin to $20,000.

Judge John Rich ruled that Maine law limits the damages that can be imposed on police officers who are found to be negligent on duty. The Maine Tort Claims Act caps such damages at $10,000 per officer.

So, despite the jury’s intent for Fortin to receive a much larger amount, he will be entitled to only about 15 percent of the jury verdict.

The lawyers for Ogunquit police Officer Matthew Buttrick and former Wells police officer Jacob Titcomb successfully argued their point in motions filed in U.S. District Court. Rich agreed with their interpretation of Maine law.

“We didn’t win, but the damages have been reduced to the point where the disappointment isn’t as great,” said Ed Benjamin, the lawyer who represents Buttrick. “He was very disappointed that there was any kind of finding of even negligence on his part.

“The finding that these officers didn’t do anything intentionally to hurt this guy is important,” Benjamin said. “The cap on damages reinforces that the law is going to treat intentional wrong-doers, those who act maliciously, differently than officers who are involved in a scuffle and make a mistake.”

Michael Turndorf and Michael Feldman, the attorneys who represent Fortin, said they were disappointed with the ruling and will meet with their client to discuss a possible appeal.

“He certainly expected more,” Feldman said. “That’s an unfortunate part of the litigation world jurors don’t get to know what the statutory limits are.

“There is a disconnect between what the jury wanted to see happen and what they were allowed to hear under the law,” Feldman said.

Fortin lived in Kittery and was dating Jill King of Wells when the confrontation with police happened on May 26, 2007. The officers arrived at King’s home to investigate reports of a possible domestic assault against her by Fortin.

Fortin claimed in his lawsuit that Buttrick and Titcomb entered the apartment, restrained him by both arms and kicked him in the left knee, rupturing three of the four ligaments and making it impossible for him to return to work as a carpenter.

Fortin’s doctor described the injury as being in the worst 1 percent of all possible knee injuries. The officers denied ever kicking Fortin. They said he was drunk and they wrestled him to the ground after he got aggressive and bumped his chest into Buttrick.

The attorneys for the officers said the lawsuit filed by Fortin last year was all about a down-on-his-luck man looking for a payday.

At the trial, jurors had to consider two separate but related claims.

The first was a federal civil rights claim in which Fortin alleged that the officers acted recklessly and used excessive force against him, and he should be entitled to compensatory and punitive damages. There are no caps on damages in such a claim.

Fortin also alleged that the officers were negligent under Maine law, and he sought compensation on that claim.

The jury decided that the officers did not use excessive force as spelled out by federal law, but they were negligent under state law and Fortin was entitled to $300,785 in damages. The jury reduced that amount to $125,000 because they determined that Fortin’s own conduct contributed to his injuries.

Although the reduction in the award is disappointing, Turndorf said, it does not change the underlying verdict in favor of Fortin.

“What Michael has recovered here is his dignity,” Turndorf said. “This is not something that the officers should put on their lapels as a win.”

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

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