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Monday, June 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Nixes Immunity for State Trooper

(CN) - A Massachusetts state trooper who arrested the father of a boy who allegedly made an obscene gesture at a fellow trooper cannot claim qualified immunity, a federal judge ruled.

This article and all quotations in it are taken from the 14-page memorandum by U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro, in Boston.

State Trooper Paul Doyle was off duty in Bourne, Mass., in June 2008, when he saw a 14-year-old boy make an obscene gesture at him. It is unclear what the gesture was, but Doyle said the boy was moving his hand up and down near his hip.

Doyle confronted the boy, Frank Sorenti, who denied making the gesture. Doyle told the kid he would speak with his father the next day, then discussed it with fellow Trooper Joshua Fries.

Frank's father, Joseph F. Sorenti Jr., runs a garage called Little Red Tow Truck, which Doyle visited the next day. But the dad defended his son's version of the story.

According to plaintiff Sorenti, Doyle then pointed his finger at his face and said, "You're fucking going down."

The way Sorenti tells it, he told Doyle he was calling 911, and Doyle grabbed his hand and told him he was going to jail.

Doyle released Sorenti's hand and Sorenti called 911.

While Sorenti was on the phone, Doyle called Fries and asked him to come to the scene.

When Fries arrived, Sorenti thought he was responding to his 911 call, and said, "Good, I'm glad you're here."

Fries responded, "There are no deals being made now, Buddy," and Doyle told Sorenti he was under arrest for disorderly conduct.

Sorenti responded: "This is my place; I tell you what's disorderly; you can't tell me," and tried to walk away, but the troopers grabbed him and tried to force his hands behind his back.

The officers claimed that Sorenti resisted arrest, but Sorenti testified that he is physically unable to put his hands behind his back due to his build.

The troopers used two sets of handcuffs to arrest Sorenti, popping his shoulder out of its socket three times during the process.

Judge Tauro denied Fries' motion to dismiss, finding that the trooper may not be entitled to qualified immunity.

"Sorenti presents evidence that Fries knew that Doyle had personal motivations for his visit with Sorenti. Sorenti further presents evidence that Fries knew that the troopers lacked probable cause but nevertheless arrested Sorenti pursuant to a conspiracy. Fries, on the other hand, denies these allegations and argues that he acted in an objectively reasonable manner in assisting a fellow officer with an arrest. As discussed above, a reasonable jury could credit Sorenti's conspiracy claim. Resolution of this factual dispute is a prerequisite for a determination of qualified immunity," Tauro wrote.

In addition, Fries claimed that Doyle made the decision to arrest Sorenti before he arrived, but Sorenti and Frank's testimony conflicts with this account.

"They further testified that both troopers acted together to effectuate the arrest, with Doyle grabbing Sorenti's left arm and Fries grabbing his right. From this evidence, a reasonable jury could find that Fries participated in Sorenti's arrest," the judge wrote.

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