PEABODY — A jury on Tuesday cleared two Peabody police officers, one accused of using excessive force and the other of failing to take any action to stop it, during the arrest of a teenager 4 1/2 years ago.
The U.S. District Court jury deliberated for about 4 1/2 hours before finding that Patrolmen David McGovern and Antonio "Tony" Santos were not civilly liable for the injuries suffered by Tyler Leger-Broskey, who was 16 at the time of the March 28, 2015, incident inside the McDonald's on Main Street in downtown Peabody.
Peabody police Chief Thomas Griffin said he was "pleased with the time the jury took to weigh all of the evidence."
Leger-Broskey's mother, Melissa Faulkner, began to cry after the jury's verdict, which came at 4:30 p.m.
"I'm just absolutely shocked," Faulkner said.
Jurors on Tuesday heard two very different versions of what happened that evening, during closing arguments in the civil lawsuit accusing two officers of violating the teen's civil rights.
The incident took place after police had already responded to a complaint about Leger-Broskey and another teenager possibly smoking marijuana at the McDonald's. Police had told the teens to leave and not return. The officers were called back to the restaurant when the boys returned about 10 minutes later.
Both sides acknowledge that, in the events that would unfold, the teen suffered a concussion. But how that happened was in dispute.
Leger-Broskey's lawyer argued that the then-teenager was thrown into a wall and then a restroom by McGovern, then beaten and pepper-sprayed, leaving him with a concussion, as Santos did nothing to stop it.
McGovern "is a bully with a badge," Leger-Broskey's lawyer, Mark Loevy Reyes, told the jury during his closing argument Tuesday morning. "Officer Santos let it happen."
The reason, suggested Reyes: Leger-Broskey asserted his rights not to answer a question about where he lived.
"That's why Tyler got beaten," Reyes told jurors.
But a lawyer for the two officers suggested to jurors that the concussion suffered by Leger-Broskey was simply an accident, after he reared backward while McGovern was trying to arrest him on a trespassing charge, and pulled the officer down on top of him in the doorway of the restroom.
"There was no beating," lawyer Stephen Pfaff, who is representing the officers, told jurors in his closing argument. "They used reasonable force necessary to stop him from resisting."
Pfaff said Leger-Broskey had curled up in a fetal position, his hands tucked under his body, as the officer attempted to handcuff him. Pfaff argued that the teen continued to resist, even as the officers tried every technique they knew to get him to release his arms to be cuffed, eventually spraying him with pepper spray.
Reyes said McGovern was angry that Leger-Broskey had defied a previous no trespassing order and was now refusing to answer questions. He said the officer threw his client into a restroom at the restaurant, then gave him a beating that left the teen suffering from seizures and a fear of police, among other effects.
And then, suggested Reyes to the jury, he began a cover-up, changing his report to explain why Leger-Broskey ended up at the hospital and later changing his account of the incident between a deposition and the trial.
Pfaff, meanwhile, suggested that it was a situation that could have been avoided had the teen and his friend listened to officers the first time.
"If the plaintiff and his friend had not decided to go back into McDonalds, none of us would be here right now," Pfaff argued.
Reyes acknowledged that his client and the friend went back to the McDonalds after being told not to return. "But that doesn't justify what happened," he said.
"That is a classic abuser story," Reyes suggested. "He tripped and fell."
And when Leger-Broskey says he tried to surrender, telling the officers, "Just arrest me," he was told by McGovern, "It's too late for that now," Reyes told the jury.
Pfaff, in turn, called into question Leger-Broskey's credibility, pointing to inconsistencies in his testimony at a deposition and later, during his testimony last week.
And he suggested that Leger-Broskey could have gone into any number of nearby businesses to clean himself up after a sauce packet burst in his pocket rather than return to the McDonalds.
Pfaff also argued that bringing Leger-Broskey into the bathroom would have been dangerous for McGovern.
"The officer had no idea who else was in there," he said.
Reyes argued, however, that the restroom, with no cameras, was exactly where McGovern wanted the teenager.
Pfaff suggested that the injuries shown in photos were not consistent with multiple officers "pummeling" a teenager for an extended period of time, saying the scrapes and bruises on his legs came from the fall and scuffle.
And, he argued, there was no mention in the medical records of concussion-related seizures until months later, after a June 2015 car crash in which, Pfaff said, the teen suffered another concussion when his head hit the windshield.
Reyes disputed that, saying that there was some indication that the June crash itself might have been caused by a seizure, and that there was no evidence to show where the spiderweb cracks on the inside of the car's windshield in the crash came from Leger-Broskey's head.
Outside court, Pfaff said he was happy with the verdict. "These police officers did nothing wrong that night and the jury's decision shows that," he said.
Reyes declined comment.
Faulkner, of Salem, said she believes that the officers "got away with beating my minor child. How do I proceed with taking care of him? I'm concerned that these officers still have a badge and a gun."
"He would have died in that cell if I hadn't requested he be seen at a hospital," she said.
Several other officers were originally named in the civil complaint, including Lt. James Harkins, who was dismissed as a defendant just prior to the start of the trial last week and who was then called as a witness.
Griffin said that the department conducted a review after the incident, as it does with all use of force cases. "Unfortunately, there were some injuries, and sometimes they can't be avoided."
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.