A Scituate man’s long-running suit against three police officers will move ahead, after the town rejected an offer that would have settled the case for a nominal amount of money.
Selectmen voted in executive session in February against settling the suit, now in its fourth year, for a reported $20,000, opting instead to request it be dismissed in court.
Town Administrator Patricia A. Vinchesi said the Boston attorneys representing the town filed a motion in April to have the complaint dismissed. She confirmed that selectmen rejected a proposed settlement agreement in February, but declined to go into further detail, citing the pending litigation.
“We feel very, very strongly that we will prevail,” she said.
In his complaint, now in US District Court in Boston, resident Richard O’Brien accuses Scituate officers James Bulman, Michael O’Hara, and now-retired Mark Hamacher of violating his civil rights and falsely arresting him in March 2009 while he was in a domestic dispute involving his former wife and her boyfriend at the time.
According to court documents, O’Brien “engaged in a ‘leafleting campaign’ ” in March 2009, posting and handing out at least 50 fliers around town making personal allegations about his ex-wife’s boyfriend; citing a court order that the boyfriend was not to be in contact with O’Brien’s children; and asking the public to contact O’Brien by e-mail if they spotted his ex-wife’s boyfriend with his children around town. In the fliers, which had photos of the boyfriend, O’Brien was critical of Scituate police for what he said was a lack of assistance.
On March 14, 2009, the boyfriend reported the fliers to Bulman at the police station, according to court records. Bulman’s attempts to contact O’Brien were unsuccessful, so he informed officers coming in for the evening shift about the leafleting matter. That evening, O’Brien was stopped in his vehicle by Hamacher, who arrested him for driving with an expired license, and cited him for an expired inspection sticker.
While O’Hara transported O’Brien to the station, Hamacher, who stayed behind waiting for a tow truck, seized the fliers from inside O’Brien’s vehicle, according to court documents. Scituate Police Department policy mandates that all items in storage areas accessible to the driver of any vehicle ordered towed must be inventoried.
O’Brien said he was released on bail hours later, but never charged. Days later, he said he received a summons in the mail to appear in Hingham District Court on charges of “tagging,” more commonly used for graffiti cases. The charges were dismissed at the hearing, he said.
“I had the fliers seized, I had been arrested, my name was in the local paper — the police blotter — and in these small towns that’s like a death kiss,” the 56-year-old O’Brien said in an interview last week. “[I was] put in a jail cell for like four hours and humiliated, because I was trying to exercise my right to free speech. They had no search warrant to go through my vehicle and take the fliers.”
O’Brien was pulled over in July 2009 by O’Hara and issued another citation for having an expired inspection sticker, according to court records.
Eventually O’Brien filed a lawsuit in March 2010 accusing the officers of falsely arresting him; violating his constitutional rights to free speech and protection against unreasonable searches and seizures; and of harassing and stalking him.
Jackie Cowin, the Kopelman & Paige attorney representing the town in the matter, declined comment, and Police Chief Brian Stewart did not return calls seeking comment. Vinchesi said only she was authorized to speak on town legal matters.
O’Brien said his Newton-based attorney, David Grossack, told him the town’s attorney and insurance company were willing to settle for $20,000. O’Brien said that at Grossack’s recommendation, he was prepared to accept the settlement.
O’Brien was not at the selectmen’s executive session, but said he was told by Grossack, who was present, the board rejected the settlement for fear it would give O’Brien means to pursue legal action against the Scituate School Department on an unrelated matter involving a serious 2012 physical altercation between students and his son at Hatherly Elementary.