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Judge Clears Way For Excessive Force Trial Involving Hartford Police

  • Wayne Burwell



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Hartford — An Upper Valley man who is suing two Hartford police officers alleging they used excessive force against him in his own home may get his day in court next year, almost seven years after the high-profile incident.

An appeals court on Wednesday affirmed U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss’ September 2015 ruling that some of Wayne Burwell’s claims in connection with an incident where police allegedly used excessive force on him when they responded to an erroneous report of a burglary at his home can proceed to trial.

Burwell had originally included the town of Hartford and its police chief at the time, among others, in his lawsuit, which was filed in 2012. The two officers remaining in the lawsuit, Fredrick Peyton and Kristinnah Adams, had appealed Reiss’ ruling last fall, and on Wednesday morning, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York sided with Reiss.

“We have reviewed all of the arguments raised by officers Peyton and Adams on appeal and find them to be without merit,” three judges on the panel said in their ruling. “We affirm the Sept. 14, 2015, order of the district court for substantially the reasons stated by the district court in its memorandum and order.”

Cristina Rousseau, one of Burwell’s Orford-based attorneys, called the development “the last obstacle.”

“We are extremely pleased with the outcome,” she said in a telephone interview. “We have been waiting for our day in court and to be able to be in front of a jury. This was the last obstacle, so now we should get a trial date.”

She couldn’t say for sure when that date will be. Burwell’s team expects it will be sometime in 2017.

Rousseau said there haven’t been settlement talks for “quite some time,” and she doesn’t anticipate any in the near future.

“I think this case is destined to be decided by a jury,” she said.

Messages left for Peyton and Adams’ attorney, James F. Carroll, of Middlebury, Vt., weren’t returned by deadline.

Hartford Police Chief Phil Kasten, who took the reins of the department in March 2015, referred a reporter to the defendants’ legal counsel.

Burwell, an African-American, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in July 2012, roughly two years after Peyton and Adams entered Burwell’s Wilder home while responding to a report that the residence had been “ransacked” and that an unknown male was inside. Police pepper-sprayed and repeatedly struck Burwell with a baton.

Police had found him “profusely sweating” and sitting naked on an upper-floor toilet; at the time, Burwell was suffering from a medical event and was only semi-conscious.

Burwell claimed three officers, Peyton and Adams, as well as Scott Moody, used “unreasonable and excessive force” during the incident. He also sued then-police Chief Glenn Cutting and the town of Hartford.

Claims against Cutting, the town and Moody, who wasn’t inside the home at the time of the incident but aided in handcuffing Burwell, all have been dismissed from the case over the years. Allegations that Burwell had been discriminated against because of his race also have been dropped.

Reiss, who is based in Burlington, ruled that Burwell can proceed to trial on claims that Peyton and Adams allegedly used excessive force, committed assault and battery and intentionally inflicted emotional distress.

Burwell, a fitness trainer who owns a gym in Lebanon, currently lives in Hanover.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.