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Boston to pay $1.4m to settle lawsuit against officer

Man says he had brain injuries after arrest

Officer David C. Williams was fired recently for using excess force. He has appealed the firing.

The City of Boston has agreed to pay $1.4 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit by a Middlesex County corrections officer who contends a Boston police officer tackled him and placed him in a choke hold during a 2009 arrest in the North End, leaving him brain-damaged and unable to return to work.

The payment to Michael P. O’Brien, the fifth-largest settlement of a civil rights lawsuit against the city since 2000, comes nearly three years to the day after the March 16, 2009, scuffle that sparked O’Brien’s suit.

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The settlement also marked the second time that the conduct of the arresting officer, David C. Williams, has led to a costly lawsuit against the city. Williams was recently fired for using excessive force on O’Brien.

O’Brien, 31, accused Williams of knocking him to the ground while he was videotaping another police officer with a cellphone. O’Brien, who said he lives with debilitating dizziness and headaches, said the settlement will not end his trauma.

“I don’t feel it will ever be over,’’ O’Brien said on Tuesday. “I’ll have to live with this the rest of my life.’’

Howard Friedman, who is O’Brien’s attorney, said he hoped one outcome of the lawsuit would be quicker investigations of civilian complaints against officers. He said O’Brien filed his lawsuit in part because his complaint was not promptly investigated.

“They told him they would investigate, and no investigation was done,’’ Friedman said. “Hopefully they’ll go out and look sooner.’’

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A spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Dot Joyce, declined to comment on the case.

Williams’s attorney in the civil rights case described Williams as “relieved that this part of the matter is behind him.’’

“He has always contended he did nothing wrong, and this case is resolved with no admission of liability on his part,’’ said the attorney, Douglas I. Louison. “His focus now is on the appeal of his termination from the Police Department.’’

According to the lawsuit, O’Brien, a Methuen resident, was a passenger in a car with two friends on the night of the arrest. As their car backed the wrong way down Hanover Street, it clipped a double-parked BMW. The drivers engaged in a loud spat, and Williams and his partner responded to the scene.

Williams argued that as he wrote a ticket for O’Brien’s friend, O’Brien “became very unruly’’ and pushed his partner, Officer Diep Hung Nguyen, who was also named in the suit. That push, Williams said, prompted him to take down O’Brien.

Efforts by the city to challenge O’Brien’s federal lawsuit were undercut after the department dismissed Williams on Jan. 18, following a three-day disciplinary hearing.

Williams, who is 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds, was fired for using an “unreasonable amount of force’’ to arrest O’Brien, who is 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds. The department also found Williams was “not truthful’’ when interviewed several times about the arrest, a fireable offense.

Williams had previously been fired for his role in the 1995 beating of a plainclothes officer, Michael Cox, after police mistook him for a homicide suspect. An arbitrator determined that Williams was wrongfully dismissed and reinstated him with nearly $500,000 in back pay in 2005.

Cox, now a deputy police superintendent, sued the city for civil rights violations and won $877,000. He sued Williams after he was reinstated and reached an out-of-court settlement with him.

Friedman said the city’s investigation of Williams made his case in the civil suit stronger because the city in the end fired the officer for using unnecessary force.

But he said the investigation also showed Williams should have been more closely supervised. “He’s an officer who had problems and a whole series of complaints,’’ Friedman said. “You have to treat him differently and assign him where he is under a watchful eye and not with civilians.’’

During hearings last year, Lieutenant Detective Brian McEachern of the Boston Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division said police are trained to start with the least force necessary. “When a suspect is taken to the ground immediately, that’s a violation,’’ he testified. He said O’Brien’s injuries were consistent with someone who had been strangled, also reflecting “unnecessary force.’’

McEachern noted that Williams first told Internal Affairs he could not recall how the two ended up on the ground. Later, Williams admitted knocking down O’Brien “like a tackling dummy.’’

The department’s lawyer, Nicole Taub, serving as prosecutor, also noted that Nguyen told internal affairs he “observed a choke hold’’ by Williams during O’Brien’s arrest. Such a hold is illegal.

The settlement also resolves the case against Nguyen and two other officers.

Edward Mason can be reached at edward.mason04@gmail.com. Tom Mashberg can be reached at mashberg@rcn.com.

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