A federal appeals court has again sided with a woman who says Maine State Police troopers failed to protect her from a former boyfriend who went on a shooting rampage after she reported he raped her.

Anthony Lord enters a Bangor courtroom for his sentencing in 2017 on murder and other charges related to a shooting rampage directed at the family of a former girlfriend and others. Mark Rediker/WABI-TV via Associated Press

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston said Friday the troopers should not be granted qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that would have protected them from this lawsuit. It is rare for the courts to rule against public officials, and qualified immunity has come under new scrutiny as activists push for greater accountability for police officers who use excessive force.

“Finally, the defendants’ apparent utter disregard for police procedure could contribute to a jury’s conclusion that the defendants conducted themselves in a manner that was deliberately indifferent to the danger they knowingly created. … Whether the jury will or should conclude as much is, of course, not a question for this court, but it was clearly established in July 2015 that such conduct on the part of law enforcement officers, if it occurred, could give rise to a lawsuit,” the judges wrote.

The case will now return to the U.S. District Court of Maine to decide the central claims in the lawsuit.

Attorney Scott Lynch, who represents plaintiff Brittany Irish and her mother, said they feel vindicated by the decision.

“Finally, the Irishes will get their day in court before a jury,” he said.

The Maine Attorney General’s Office has represented the police defendants in the case. A spokesman said that office had no comment on the court’s decision. An attorney for the Maine State Police did not return an email about the case Friday afternoon.

The appeals court summarized a violent string of events in July 2015.

Brittany Irish, who was 22 at the time, reported to Maine State Police detectives that Anthony Lord kidnapped and raped her. She also said Lord, a registered sex offender, threatened her if she told anyone. Despite those warnings, the detectives did not attempt to find or detain Lord. Instead, one detective left him a voicemail asking for a return phone call. 

Less than two hours later, the detectives responded to a fire at a barn owned by Brittany Irish’s parents. When she asked for an officer to protect her family at her mother’s home, her request was denied. In the early hours of the next morning, Lord beat up a man at a Silver Ridge Township home and stole firearms from him. He then went to the Irish home in Benedicta. He shot and killed Brittany Irish’s boyfriend, 22-year-old Kyle Hewitt, and wounded her mother. Irish tried to escape in a passing pickup truck, but Lord shot and wounded the driver. He then drove her to a woodlot in Lee, where he fired at two employees and killed 58-year-old Kevin Tozier. The massive manhunt ended later that day when he gave himself up to police at his uncle’s house in Houlton.

Lord pleaded guilty in 2017 to two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, multiple counts of aggravated assault, reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon, theft of firearms and eluding an officer. A charge of kidnapping was dismissed. A judge gave him to two life sentences, and Maine’s top court upheld that punishment last year.

Brittany and Kimberly Irish filed their lawsuit in federal court in December 2015. The individual defendants in the case are Jason Fowler, Micah Perkins and Darrin Crane. The case also names the state and Maine State Police.

The lawsuit has already been to the appeals court and back once before. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2016, but the appeals court overturned that decision the following year. At that time, the judges said the court needed more information from the parties, including whether police followed protocol. In February, the judge again found in favor of the defendants, granting their motion for summary judgment.

District Judge John Woodcock wrote that a jury could find that the officers violated the plaintiffs’ rights with their actions, but he said the law on “state-created danger” was not clear enough at the time.

“Whatever the end result of this lawsuit, the Court acknowledges that the Plaintiffs suffered a horrific tragedy at the hands of Anthony Lord – and the role of Detectives Perkins and Fowler in setting in motion Mr. Lord’s violent rampage is a genuine issue of material fact that a factfinder would resolve, but for qualified immunity,” Woodcock wrote. 

He deferred to the 1st Circuit, which chose to clearly establish that precedent.

“Under the state-created danger substantive due process doctrine, officers may be held liable for failing to protect plaintiffs from danger created or enhanced by their affirmative acts,” the opinion says.

Lynch said the court still kept a high bar for lawsuits against police, and these cases would still “be exceptional and not the rule.”

“It set some specific tests that must be met in order for law enforcement to be responsible for state-created danger,” he said. “I view the decision as a real striking of balance. … It will allow cases that meet a stringent standard of meritoriousness to proceed, and it will weed out the cases that fall short of the court’s articulated test.”

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.