Gregg Marchand v. Erik Simonson: A federal court jury in New Haven has rendered a defense verdict in the case of a man who claims police used excessive force when subduing him with a Taser at his home in front of his elderly mother.
The police officer had struggled with Gregg Marchand and then chased him inside the building, not knowing that it was the suspect’s home until after he encountered the suspect’s mother. Criminal charges related to the incident were later dropped and Marchand sued the police officer, seeking $1.5 million.
The odd story began on the night of March 8, 2008. Marchand was driving home after work in his Buick Century when he realized that a police officer was following him. The cop trailing him was then-Willimantic Police Officer Erik Simonson.
Simonson’s lawyer, Thomas Gerarde, of Howd & Ludorf in Hartford, said Marchand made a turn without signaling and so the officer decided to follow him to observe his driving. According to the officer, Marchand suddenly crossed the center line and parked on the side of the road facing the wrong way.
At that point, Simonson pulled up near Marchand’s car and shined the cruiser’s bright lights, called the alley lights, at the Buick. Gerarde said the officer expected to see a couple arguing or perhaps several college-age kids in the vehicle. But he found only Marchand, so Simonson decided to leave him alone and drove off.
However, according to the lawyer, Marchand decided to chase after the police officer. He began honking his horn and flashing the high beams to get the officer’s attention. Marchand then pulled over.
Simonson drove back toward Marchand’s car. Gerarde said Marchand got out of his car; when the officer lowered his window, Marchand stuck his head in the cruiser and asked the officer: “Why the f— did you shine your light on me?”
The officer didn’t immediately respond, as he was talking on his radio. Then Marchand screamed the same question again and began walking up the driveway of a nearby residence. According to Gerarde, the officer began wondering about Marchand’s mental stability and he got out of his cruiser and ordered the man off the property. The officer was unaware Marchand was at home, and Marchand never bothered to tell him.
As Marchand reached the front door, the officer grabbed him and pulled him back to the driveway. “Instead of saying something like, ‘I live here,’ or ‘I’m on my own property,’ [Marchand] struggles his way away from [the officer], loses his shirt and starts banging on the door,” said Gerarde.
Gerarde said the officer, still thinking Marchand didn’t belong on the property, became fearful of what could happen if he went inside the house.
“Simonson is at a point of no return,” said Gerarde. “If [Marchand] gets in that house and the door shuts, [the officer] won’t be able to help anybody inside there if his intentions are bad.”
So Simonson began yelling for Marchand to get away from the door. An older woman opened the door; the officer yelled at her to not let Marchand enter. But Marchand went inside and a pursuing Simonson used a Taser on him. Shortly thereafter, Marchand stood up, and the officer used the Taser on him a second time. “After he got up again, he was in a position where if he had bad intentions, he was close enough to hurt this elderly woman,” said Gerarde, justifying his client’s second use of the Taser.
It was at this point that Marchand’s mother spoke up and explained that Marchand was at home. By this time, a second officer had shown up with a police dog. The officers told Marchand to come outside or they will let the dog loose on him. He complied and was placed under arrest for interfering with a police officer.
In court, the charge was nolled. Marchand then filed a lawsuit against Simonson. Initially, the lawsuit included claims of excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, trespass and harassment.
Gerarde said Marchand was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the incident.
“He just doesn’t like the police,” said Gerarde, noting Marchand’s statements during his deposition. “I don’t have to say anything to anybody,” Marchand reportedly said under questioning. “Let the pig follow the Fourth Amendment.”
The civil case proceeded to trial in June in U.S. district court in New Haven. Some of the counts had been dismissed beforehand, and only the false arrest and trespass claims remained. Marchand had represented himself for much of the case, but over the past year two lawyers from Carmody & Torrance helped him: John Cordani Jr., who was lead counsel, and Damian Gunningsmith. Cordani did not respond to an interview request.
At the four-day trial before Judge Tucker Melancon, Marchand, his mother and Simonson testified. Gerarde also presented an expert witness regarding police use of stun guns. Gerarde said the expert claimed that stun guns represent an “intermediate” use of force, comparable to a baton or pepper spray. Marchand had argued that the sensation was like being electrocuted. The expert said the Taser causes all of the body’s muscles to contract at the same time, temporarily paralyzing the person. While painful, the expert said it was not comparable to being electrocuted.
The jury deliberated for three hours before rendering its verdict.
“The real challenge in this case was to ask the jury not to look at it in hindsight and I think the jury did a good job of that,” said Gerarde. “In hindsight, a man gets tasered walking into the front door of his home, but that’s not how it unfolded for Officer Simonson. The police officer had no clue as to this man’s intentions. Using the Taser was the right thing to do.”•