First Circuit Affirms Jury’s Verdict in Excessive Force Claim

Feb 19, 2020

First Circuit Decision

Robert S. Sinsheimer and Wesley B. Stoker obtained an important ruling from the First Circuit Court of Appeals concerning an individual’s right to be free from excessive force.

On January 26, 2016, a jury found that Essex County Sherriff’s Officer, George Gikas, violated Alfonso Ciolino’s constitutional right to be free from the use of excessive force when Gikas grabbed Mr. Ciolino by his shirt collar and threw him to the pavement during the 2012 St. Peter’s Festival in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Mr. Ciolino sustained a torn rotator cuff and significant injuries to his elbow, which kept him out of work for over one year.  Mr. Ciolino was awarded $288,767.34 including attorney’s fees and expenses.

The Defendant argued that he was immune from Mr. Ciolino’s excessive force claim, because his conduct fell within an allowable “margin of error.”  However, the U.S. District Court ruled that Gikas was not entitled to qualified immunity because “a reasonable officer in Sergeant Gikas’ position would have understood that throwing Plaintiff to the pavement in those circumstances was unnecessary, and would thus violate his Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force.”

On June 28, 2017, the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s decision. Although Gikas testified that the take-down was consistent with his training, the Court ruled that Gikas’ conduct was contrary to the training he received.”  A reasonable officer might well have laid hands on Ciolino…but would have used a less aggressive technique, such as seizing and securing Ciolino’s hands, rather than taking the actions that Gikas did.”  The Court’s decision is significant in that it puts police officers on clear notice that merely disobeying a police officer’s order to “move along,” without more, is not an adequate basis to take down non-threatening and non-resisting citizens.