January 28, 2021

Old Town officer wins suit > Harrington awarded $960,000

A federal jury in Bangor found Thursday night that Old Town Police Officer Norman Harrington’s constitutional rights were violated in 1988 when he was ordered to take a controversial sexual-response test, the penile plethysmograph.

The eight-member jury also awarded Harrington $950,000 in damages, with $10,000 in punitive damages against Old Town City Manager David Cole, who ordered the test.

Harrington, sitting next to his attorney in the federal courtroom, sat without reaction while the verdict was read, then looked back at his supporters and family members, who wept as they heard the decision.

After the jury was discharged, he hugged his attorney, Warren Silver of Bangor.

“It’s been a long fight,” said Harrington, finally breaking into a big smile. “I’m glad we’ve had this day. I’m thankful to the jury for making this right.”

Outside the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building, where the federal courtroom is located, Harrington also said that the case “was about restoring my faith in the legal system.”

Asked if he would pursue getting his police cases prosecuted by Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy, who has refused to handle them since December 1989, Harrington, hugging his wife, Alice, replied, “I’m not going anyplace.”

Harrington sued the city of Old Town and Cole for $2.5 million after he was ordered to take the test in 1988. He had been suspected, but never charged, of participating in a Bangor child-sex ring.

The police officer was suspended from the Old Town Police Department but later was reinstated by an arbitrator.

The jury of six women and two men deliberated about 10 hours in U.S. District Court before reaching its verdict. It concluded that the demand that Harrington submit to take the unusual test “shocked the conscience” and violated his Fourth Amendment right of protection against unlawful searches and seizures.

The jury also found that Cole was not immune from a lawsuit and had acted with an “evil motive.”

“I’m extremely pleased,” said Silver, as he left the courtroom. “It’s been a long four years. The jury spent a long time going over this case, and I’m proud to say that the jury system works.”

Immediately after the jury announcement, Cole declined to comment. Outside the federal builidng, he said, however, that he was “disappointed” and would “have to decide what the next step is.” He declined to comment on whether he still believed he and the city had acted properly.

Old Town attorney Vernon Arey of Waterville said he would consider an appeal and filing motions in court in the next 30 to 60 days. He would not comment on whether the damages would be paid by the city’s insurance.

Arey said, “The subject matter of the trial itself” and the novelty of the case made the proceeding, which lasted almost two weeks, difficult.

District Attorney Almy, who figured prominently in the trial as a former defendant and a witness, is on vacation out of the country, but his attorney, Timothy Woodcock of Bangor, monitored the case.

Reached at home, Woodcock declined to comment on the verdict.

With the jury’s verdict against Old Town, the city may be able to file a “post-judgment contribution action” against Almy, on the grounds that the prosecutor contributed to events in Harrington’s situation. The issue of Almy’s immunity from lawsuit, which a Boston appeals court decided he had, could be raised again.

The jury’s verdict marked the ninth day of the trial. Testimony was completed Wednesday, and on Thursday morning jurors heard two hours of instruction on the law from U.S. Chief Judge Gene Carter.

The case is believed to be the first one of its kind in the country and is expected to be precedent-setting in establishing legal parameters on the issue of bodily intrusion.

The jury members, all of whom were believed to be deliberating in their first trial, took with them into the jury room more than 85 documents and pieces of evidence.

Three times the jurors sent notes out to Carter, asking for clarification on several questions and on his instructions.

Around 4:15 p.m., the jury asked for specific instructions on liability and compensation, and on two questions on the verdict form involving what amount of compensatory damages Harrington should receive and whether he was entitled to nominal damages.

Around 9 p.m., after they apparently considered the instructions and had their dinner, the jury returned its verdict.

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