Lawsuit targets 3 police in city

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PORTLAND – A Norway man who claims he was shot 18 times by three Lewiston police officers is suing them for violating his constitutional rights.

In 2003, Vince Berube drove into the Lewiston Police Department compound and started smashing cruisers with a carpenter’s hammer.

He was depressed and had slashed his wrists and chest with a knife, according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court.

The first officer’s gunshots dropped him to the ground before the other two joined in. All three used excessive force, Berube charged in his complaint.

The officers claim they acted in self-defense and their use of deadly force was justified.

The case is scheduled for trial in September.

In his complaint, Berube, 43, said police fired 26 rounds in all, hitting him 18 times. Damage from the shots left his left leg paralyzed and shattered his hip, requiring a replacement.

His medical bills are “substantial,” he said. He also has suffered permanent impairment, loss of income, physical and emotional pain, suffering and discomfort, according to the lawsuit filed by John Campbell of Portland.

Berube claimed he was the victim of assault and battery, violation of state and federal constitutional rights and was arrested in a “wanton or oppressive” manner.

In their answer to the suit, the three Lewiston officers – Carly Conley, Eric Syphers, and Matthew Vierling – deny most of the allegations, especially the way Berube claimed the shootings happened.

Berube said he drove his truck into the parking lot at the corner of Spruce and Park streets shortly before 9:35 p.m. on Dec. 17, 2003. He jumped out and started hammering on cruisers parked there while yelling profanities about police.

He charged Conley. She shot him several times and he fell to the ground, dropping the hammer, his suit said. The two other officers came into the parking lot afterward and also shot Berube when he tried to get up.

The suit includes the observation of a bystander who “makes it quite clear that there was no threat of physical harm towards any of the officers at the time of the numerous shots fired by those officers.”

In their answer to the suit, the three officers deny most of the sequence of events as described by Berube or claim there isn’t enough information available to establish the facts of the case. They said Berube didn’t let go of the hammer, which appeared as a metallic object in his hand.

They said their conduct didn’t rise to the level of a constitutional violation and was justified, based on “doctrines of emergency, duress and reasonable self-defense.”

The level of force they used was “reasonable” under the circumstances, they said. Berube’s negligence or misconduct was responsible for his own damages. He “posed a danger of death or serious bodily injury,” they said.

The also claim Berube filed his lawsuit too late. They asked the court to dismiss the case and award them legal costs.

Following an investigation, the Maine Attorney General’s Office ruled the officers were justified in shooting Berube.

He spent weeks in the hospital recovering from his wounds. He was indicted on counts of criminal mischief and criminal threatening.

He pleaded guilty to criminal threatening, a felony, and was sentenced to four years in prison with all suspended, plus four years of probation.

The officers’ lawyer, Edward Benjamin Jr. of Portland, said he plans to file a motion for a summary judgment. That means a judge would review all the facts in the case and decide whether the evidence and testimony support the charges.

Benjamin represented Lewiston police the last time they were involved in a shooting. In 1991, Michael Roy was shot in the abdomen and neck when police responded to a domestic violence call. Roy was wielding steak knives. He later sued. Police were cleared by the AG’s Office.

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