BANGOR — A jury deliberated less than an hour before clearing two Augusta police officers of a claim that they used excessive force while arresting a veteran on a criminal trespass charge in August 2012 at the Augusta homeless shelter.

Michael J. Albert Sr., now 60 and living in an apartment in Bangor, says he suffered a torn rotator cuff when one or more officers forced his outstretched left arm behind his back while handcuffing him after he had refused orders to leave the shelter.

Albert filed a civil complaint in U.S. District Court in Maine against the city of Augusta, the Augusta police department, the police chief and a number of officers.

However, only two officers, Sgt. Vicente Morris and Patrol Officer Benjamin Murtiff, remained as defendants when the case reached trial this week.

Both officers testified Wednesday and denied using excessive force on Albert. The jury of six women and two men agreed.

Albert was taken to Kennebec County jail following his arrest on a charge of criminal trespass, which was later dismissed.

Medical providers at the VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus diagnosed Albert with a torn rotator cuff four days after his arrest, and Albert had surgery to repair it in Bangor in July 2014.

He was seeking payment from the police for medical expenses and compensatory and punitive damages.

“The fact that the arrest was justified does not give anyone the right to use excessive force,” Albert’s attorney Stephen Packard said in closing arguments.

Attorney Edward Benjamin, representing the officers, told jurors, “The police are entitled to use a reasonable degree of force to overcome his resistance.”

Benjamin asked them to return a verdict in favor of the officers.

A half dozen people watched the closing arguments from the spectators’ area.

Albert reacted loudly to some of Benjamin’s closing remarks, prompting Magistrate Judge John Nivison to say, “Mr. Albert, any other outburst and you’re going to be asked to leave.”

A minute or so later, Albert walked out of the courtroom, muttering loudly before returning about five minutes later.

At one point during Packard’s closing, one of the six women on the jury appeared to be asleep for at least several minutes, with her head tilted back and resting on the wall behind her and her eyes closed.

Christian Carson, the final defense witness called Thursday morning, testified that he called police to have Albert removed from the shelter because Albert was behaving in an uncharacteristic, confrontational manner with other veterans and “yelling in people’s faces.”

Carson said he asked Albert to leave and he refused. Albert told Carson he “wasn’t man enough” to force Albert to leave.

Carson said that even after three police officers arrived, “We were all trying to calm him down and trying to convince him it was not in his best interest to go to jail.”

He testified that he believed Albert was going to punch him when Albert got up from a picnic table on the shelter grounds and moved toward him.

However, Murtiff stepped between them. Albert was arrested shortly afterward and charged with criminal trespass. The charge was later dismissed by the district attorney’s office because Murtiff was unavailable to serve as a witness.


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