By Marjorie Nesin
---- — A Townsend woman has filed a lawsuit charging that a Gloucester police officer “maliciously mishandled” her arm, pulling it behind her back and causing a tear in her rotator cuff as police dogs barked outside the St. Peter’s Club and Fiesta Pub on a rowdy, humid St. Peter’s Fiesta night.
And the lawsuit has come just as the city released its long-delayed after-action report on Fiesta, with reports from Essex County sheriff’s deputies and a third-party review by a former police chief through the consulting firm ADP Management Inc. — all of which found that there was no wrongdoing either on the part of Gloucester Police or the Essex County Sheriff’s Department deputies who assisted local police during Fiesta.
Police Chief Leonard Campanello declined to comment on the specifics of plaintiff Jill Fontaine’s civil action claim Friday, saying only that his department has received her claim and denies its charges in their entirety.
“The Gloucester Police Department vigorously and emphatically denies all of Ms. Fontaine’s claims, and we look forward to the process that we must abide by, which is the court proceeding,” Campanello said Friday. He refused to comment on the employment status of any officers involved.
Fontaine’s attorneys, Robert S. Sinsheimer, Lauren Thomas and Stephen Hrones, filed her claim against the city — and specifically naming Gloucester Police Inspector Steven Mizzoni — in U.S. District Court. The claim lists damage to Fontaine’s rotator cuff and resulting pain, six weeks of physical therapy and an inability to perform her job as a day-care employee, claiming damages based on her medical bills and reduced work hours and earnings. The suit does not list a specific monetary claim.
Fontaine, who grew up in Gloucester, alleges that she exited a restroom at Fiesta Pub on June 30 and heard dogs barking outside the pub as police attempted to clear people away from the area. She left the pub moments after a man was cuffed in what later became a contentiously debated arrest, when a 27-second video of the arrest surfaced on the website Youtube and elsewhere.
The video shows police K9s barking and pulling at leashes, as officers take the man to the ground and others mill about outside St. Peter’s Club minutes after its closing.
According to ADP Management Inc.’s section of the after-action report — and consistent with earlier local and county reports — Gloucester Police Sgt. William Leanos had called for additional officers and backup, including the Essex County Sheriff’s Department K9s and their handlers, when he assessed that the crowd leaving St. Peter’s Club about 12:15 a.m. was a “threat to public safety,” based on the size of the crowd, level of alcohol consumption and the “mood” of the gathering.
Fearful of dogs since a trauma 10 years ago when she was bitten, Fontaine said she saw the K9s and asked for assistance navigating her way away from the pub.
In the suit, Fontaine alleges that Mizzoni “snidely remarked, ‘I’ll help you,’ and grabbed (Fontaine’s) arm, pulling it behind her back.”
That is when Fontaine said she “heard crunching and felt tearing in her arm,” according to the claim. She walked to the police station, asking officers to arrest Mizzoni at that time, and police declined. She alleges her next request was for medical aid, and police turned down that request, too, she claims, causing her to seek other transportation to the hospital.
The lawsuit outlines three alleged counts of wrongdoing — the first against Mizzoni for excessive force, one against the city for “unconstitutional conduct” in reacting to the situation, and a third against both Mizzoni and the city for a violation of civil rights.
“The wrongful acts described were undertaken with a grossly reckless disregard of (Fontaine’s) constitutional rights,” the suit claims. “(Mizzoni) intended to inflict, and did inflict, serious physical and emotional injuries.”
The after-action report, filed annually after Fiesta and approved by the mayor this week — the day after the lawsuit was filed — recalls the same evening without specifically touching on the event that included Fontaine.
The report, when addressing the use of K9s for crowd control, mainly centers around the arrest of Alfonso Ciolino, the incident that was caught on video and circulated around the city and far beyond.
Still, the report finds that, though that arrest seems “disturbing” when viewed “without context,” there is “no wrongdoing on the part of the Gloucester Police Department, the Essex Sheriffs, or any other public safety entity in terms of policy, protocol or deployment.”
The report, also addresses a variety of other issues that police faced during Fiesta, like traffic issues surrounding the 5K road race and a reported overcrowding of liquor establishments.
But the report’s authors maintain that the K9s were used properly to disperse a crowd that was “ignoring commands,” using obscene language and “using fighting language.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.