by Garret Ean
Oct 2 2012
A New Hampshire woman with a federal civil rights lawsuit against Loudon police has settled with the officers involved on the day prior to the scheduled trial. Jessica Dennis had filed the suit in June of 2011, in relation to an incident that had happened to her while she was being arrested in July of 2009. Dennis was in woods near a house party that police were breaking up when she was attacked by a police canine. She sustained injuries from the attack, and after police had pulled the dog off of her, she was taken into custody for suspicion of underage drinking. Reports also indicate that the police immaturely insulted and ridiculed her throughout the ordeal. She would be found guilty of nothing in state criminal court before filing the federal case alleging violations of her civil rights.
The jury trial was scheduled to begin October 2, so this morning I went down to the temple-like court with a notepad and pens, knowing that federal courts are much more restrictive than New Hampshire courts when it comes to transparency. At security, you’ll be surrendering any recording equipment you might have, as well as any cell phone. A sign at the door stated that ID was required to enter, and when asked, I responded that I do not carry ID. They didn’t ask for my name, but I was told to wait momentarily while they found me an escort to the clerk’s office. A female Marshal showed me around the corner to the ornate office. For a court clerk’s office, it was surprisingly empty of traffic, the staff was surprisingly helpful, and the office had several computers available upon which you could research the status of different dockets. While it was nice to have the information accessible there, and printable at a rate of ten cents a page, there was no way to copy or save the information digitally. I technologically regressed and manually copied relevant information from the files onto a notepad.
There was relatively little revealed in the order from October 1, confirming that all parties to the dispute had settled without revealing the terms. On September 17, the town of Loudon and the police chief of Loudon were removed from the lawsuit, leaving the town and state police officers named as defendants in an individual (as opposed to official) capacity. All defendants were represented by John A. Curran, a Manchester attorney, with lawyers from the attorney general’s office also named, including Kevin O’Neill, David Hilts, and John Vinson. The attorney general himself, Michael Delaney, also has his name attached to the suit as an attorney for the defendants in the final settlement document.
A memorandum order from the judge dated Sept 20 has been made available. It provides a narrative of events and an overview of legal issues which the jury would be considering. The final pretrial order available from the court’s database provided an agenda for the trial if it were to occur. That order, signed by judge Joseph Laplante on Sept 24, predicted logistical aspects of the trial, including an estimation of the trial length (three days) and contemplated potential defense theories (“general denial” and “qualified immunity”). The theory of liability read,
Plaintiff asserts a fourth amendment claim for false arrest under USC § 1983, arising out of an arrest by defendants, allegedly without probable cause. Plaintiff also asserts claims for strict liability under the dog bite statute NH RSA § 466:19, and negligence, both of which arise out of injuries suffered when she was attacked by a police dog handled by defendant Ferry.
Dennis had sought $85,000 damages for medical expenses, legal fees, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and permanent scarring. The order had listed the settlement possibility as “fair”.