(CN) – The town of Billerica, Mass., and its police officers won a new trial in the case of a family who said officers with a 19-year vendetta tried to run them out of town.
The 1st Circuit granted the town and its officers a new trial in the Kennedy family’s latest civil rights violation claim. One federal judge called the trial “intense” and “nasty” due to the “incessant uncivil and unprofessional and even unethical” behavior of attorneys from both sides.
Over the years, the family has brought several claims against more than two dozen Billerica officers for alleged civil rights violations ranging from assault to the infliction of emotional distress on Brian and Michelle Kennedy and their two sons.
The Kennedys were ultimately awarded about $380,000 in damages for violations they say they suffered at the hands of spiteful officers, though the town and police have maintained that the Kennedys are drug users and dealers and need to be kept under watch.
The problems began in 1991 when Michelle, wife and mother of three, says she spurned the advances of Officer Frank MacKenzie.
Since then, the Kennedys claim they and their children have been targeted by police who have repeatedly violated their civil rights.
The latest alleged violation was the false arrest of the Kennedys’ 14-year-old son Mitchell. Officer Mark Tsoukalas arrested Mitchell for allegedly assaulting a police officer after he suspected Mitchell of vandalizing a trailer in the Kennedys’ trailer park.
A jury heard conflicting accounts from Mitchell and the officer. Jurors were instructed that proof of bodily injury was necessary for a battery conviction, though the town and Tsoukalas pointed out that Massachusetts law does not require such proof.
The jury found that Mitchell’s arrest was without cause because there was no proof of injury.
On appeal, the 1st Circuit ruled that the trial court was wrong in denying the town and officers a new trial based on the jury’s instruction regarding bodily injury.
“The instructions given prevented the jury from fairly evaluating Officer Tsoukalas’s defense and arguably precluded a finding for Officer Tsoukalas entirely,” the ruling states.
The Boston-based appeals court granted the defendants a new trial on Mitchell’s false arrest claim.
It also rejected emotional distress claims brought by two of Kennedy children, upheld a ruling for Michelle on her assault claim against Officer Scott Parker and vacated the attorney’s fees awarded to the family.