United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM & ORDER ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION
FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW
ALLISON D. BURROUGHS U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
civil action involves claims of excessive force during an
arrest. After a jury trial, one of the arresting officers -
George Gikas - was found liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Presently before the Court is Gikas’ post-trial motion
for judgment as a matter of law, on the grounds of qualified
immunity. [ECF No. 129]. For the reasons set forth in this
Memorandum and Order, the motion is DENIED.
evening of June 30, 2013, while attending the annual St.
Peter’s street festival in Gloucester, Massachusetts,
Plaintiff Alfonso Ciolino (“Plaintiff”) was
arrested by officers of the Essex County Sheriff’s
Department. Plaintiff, whose rotator cuff was torn during the
arrest, later filed this civil action against the arresting
officers - Defendants Aaron Eastman, David Earle, and George
Gikas. In Count I of his First Amended Complaint, [ECF No.
29], Plaintiff asserted a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
alleging that Defendants used excessive force in violation of
Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights. In Count VI,
Plaintiff asserted a state-law claim for malicious
prosecution, alleging that the Defendants conspired to
provide false information to the Gloucester Police
Department, resulting in the filing of criminal charges
discovery, Defendants moved for summary judgment on
Plaintiff’s § 1983 excessive force claim, arguing
that they were entitled to qualified immunity. The Court
denied the motion, holding that it would defer ruling on the
qualified immunity issue until after trial, because certain
critical facts remained in dispute. [ECF No. 68].
began on January 19, 2016 and concluded with a jury verdict
on January 25, 2016. On the malicious prosecution claim, the
jury found in favor of Defendants. With respect to the §
1983 excessive force claim, the jury found that only Gikas
was liable and awarded Plaintiff $140, 000 in damages.
Defendants Eastman and Earle were found not liable under
§ 1983. The jury also answered several special questions
posed by the Court, which were designed to assist the Court
in deciding the qualified immunity issue.
moves for judgment as a matter of law on Count I, on the
grounds that he is qualifiedly immune from suit. Defendants
timely made their motion after Plaintiff rested [ECF No.
123], and Sergeant Gikas renewed the motion after the jury
verdict. [ECF No. 129]; see Fed.R.Civ.P. 50. The
parties also submitted post-trial memoranda on this issue.
[ECF Nos. 130, 132, 133, 134].
deciding the issue of qualified immunity after a jury
verdict, “the evidence must be construed in the light
most hospitable to the party that prevailed at trial, ”
and “deference should be accorded to the jury’s
discernible resolution of disputed factual issues.”
Jarrett v. Town of Yarmouth, 331 F.3d 140, 147 (1st
Cir. 2003) (internal quotations omitted) (quoting
Iacobucci v. Boulter, 193 F.3d 14, 23 (1st
Cir.1999)). Therefore, the Court construes the facts in the
light most favorable to the Plaintiff and the verdict.
evening of June 30, 2013, Plaintiff and his wife, Cinsia
Ciolino (“Mrs. Ciolino”) and two other couples,
(the LoGrassos and the Giordanos) went to a barbeque at Mrs.
Ciolino’s mother’s residence. At approximately
10:00 p.m., they departed the barbeque and drove to downtown
Gloucester to go to the annual St. Peter’s street
festival. After arriving downtown, the three couples went to
a local bar and restaurant called Captain Carlo’s, then
to another restaurant called Café Sicilia, and finally
to the St. Peter’s Club on Main Street. Plaintiff
testified that over the course of the evening, he consumed
one to two beers, but was not intoxicated when he left the
St. Peter’s Club.
Plaintiff exited the St. Peter’s Club at approximately
midnight, there was a small crowd gathered outside the club.
Law enforcement officers and K-9 dogs from the Essex County
Sheriff’s Department and the Gloucester Police
Department were stationed outside the club to perform crowd
control. Defendant George Gikas, a Sergeant of the Essex
County Sheriff’s Department, was assigned to K-9 duty
that evening. Defendants Eastman and Earle, who are also
Officers employed by the Essex County Sheriff, were assigned
to plainclothes duty.
the time that Plaintiff exited the club onto Main Street, or
shortly thereafter, law enforcement officers gave the crowd
orders to disperse and clear the area. Video footage of the
incident, which was admitted into evidence at trial, revealed
that some people in the crowd were moving along the sidewalk,
but some remained immobile. Sergeant Gikas stood in the
street with his K-9 dog, facing the crowd, approximately six
feet away from the sidewalk. Another K-9 officer, identified
as Sergeant Pickles, was standing with his own K-9 dog, in
front of Sergeant Gikas, and in closer proximity to the
sidewalk. Officers Eastman and Earle stood in the street
behind Sergeant Gikas, also facing the crowd. Both K-9 dogs
were barking continuously in the direction of the crowd.
leaving the St. Peter’s Club, Plaintiff walked into the
area where the crowd was gathered, and then took several
steps down the sidewalk, towards Sergeant Gikas and Sergeant
Pickles. He paused in front of Sergeant Pickles’ K9 and
briefly lifted his arm, which came within two feet of the
dog’s head. Plaintiff testified that while making this
gesture, he also made a statement to the effect of
“look, the dog’s got a muzzle in its mouth.
What’s he going to do? The dogs can’t hurt us . .
. they have muzzles on.” Plaintiff then turned around
and faced the opposite direction, with his back towards the
officers. Sergeant Pickles did not immediately react.
Sergeant Gikas, however, who was standing behind Sergeant
Pickles, took several steps towards the sidewalk, grabbed
Plaintiff by the shirt collar, and, with one hand, forcibly
pulled Plaintiff’s body backwards into the street and
down onto the pavement. Plaintiff fell on his right arm,
which resulted in an injury to his rotator cuff. As he fell,
Officers Eastman and Earle approached, and each took hold of
one of Plaintiff’s arms. Officers Eastman and Earle
then pushed Plaintiff onto his stomach and placed Plaintiff
in handcuffs. The video ends with Plaintiff lying face-down
on the pavement. Officer Gikas testified that prior to
approaching Plaintiff, he had observed Plaintiff repeatedly
taunt the dogs and then turn to incite the crowd, and that he
was not going to allow this disruptive conduct to continue
while they the officers were trying to disperse the crowd at
the end of the festival.
his arrest, Plaintiff was transported to the Gloucester
Police Department and charged with a municipal ordinance
violation and disorderly conduct. Those charges, however,