BENNINGTON -- A New York man is suing the Bennington County Sheriff's Department, the sheriff, and a former deputy over an alleged civil rights violation that involved the deputy chasing the man across state lines and using pepper spray on him.
The complaint has been filed on April 15 in U.S. District Court District of Vermont on behalf of Gaston Boisvert, 71, a resident of Washington County, N.Y., by his attorney David J. Pollock, of the firm Martin, Harding, and Mazzotti, which has an office in Manchester, Vt.
According to the complaint, on May 14, 2013, at 2:30 p.m. Boisvert was driving down White Creek Road to his home in New York having just left North Bennington, when he came upon vehicles parked on the road's shoulder. One was a Bennington County Sheriff's Department vehicle. Jason Noblet, who was a lieutenant in the sheriff's department at the time, was in the road and speaking to the driver of a pulled-over vehicle.
Because of how they were parked, Boisvert felt it would be unsafe for him to go forward or pull around, so he waited until Noblet got in his vehicle. Boisvert pulled up next to him, rolled down his passenger side window, and said, "Good afternoon, sir, you could have at least had the courtesy to wave me by."
Boisvert claims this enraged Noblet, so he drove away only to see Noblet following him. Still afraid, Boisvert drove to his home and got out of his car as Noblet pulled up. Noblet sprayed Boisvert with pepper spray, who then ran into his home to call 911.
According to Boisvert, Noblet forced his way into the home, tackled him, hit him in the head with an object, then handcuffed him before hitting him again. After Boisvert complained his face hurt from the pepper spray, Noblet took him into his house and use a kitchen sink hose to spray him. He then searched his house.
The suit accuses Noblet of bearing a grudge against Boisvert over a traffic ticket that was dismissed two years prior to these events.
Noblet cited Boisvert for attempting to elude police, but the charge was never pursued by the Bennington County State's Attorney's Office. The complaint includes a letter from State's Attorney Erica Marthage informing Boisvert that there would be no charges.
The complaint also contains Noblet's account of the incident, which differs in character from Boisvert's. According to Noblet, he was at a traffic stop when a black truck stopped behind him and honked its horn several times while the operator made hand gestures. Noblet returned to his vehicle, then the truck pulled up alongside him. Noblet asked the driver if he could help him. This was met with expletives from the driver and the question of why Noblet had not waved him around when traffic was clear. Noblet asked him to pull over. "Based on my training and experience I suspected that the male was intoxicated based on his behavior and the face that sober people do not act in that manner," Noblet wrote.
His order to pull over was met with a, "Go (expletive) yourself," from Boisvert, who then drove off. Noblet followed with his lights and siren on and estimated Boisvert's speed at 85 mph down Niles Road. Boisvert pulled into a driveway on Chestnut Hill Road, and left his truck in an attempt to flee. Noblet blocked his escape with his cruiser and was again told, "Go (Expletive) yourself."
Boisvert continued his attempts to flee, and crossed his arms in front of his face, blocking the pepper spray twice, but not the third time. Boisvert ran into the house, and Noblet chased him fearing he would get a weapon. Boisvert tried to shut him out, but Noblet stopped the door from being closed. Once inside, he brought Boisvert to the ground and arrested him before taking him outside. While waiting for New York authorities, Boisvert asked the pepper spray be washed off, so Noblet led him inside and used a hose attached to the kitchen sink. He said Boisvert apologized for running, saying it was stupid to have done so.
According to Noblet, he let Boisvert leave a note for his wife, then took him back to Vermont after Cambridge, N.Y., police said they did not need anything from him. Boisvert apologized once more, saying he ran because he did not want a ticket, and was at fault for the incident.
The lawsuit claims Boisvert's right to free speech was violated, whether that speech was polite or not. It also claims damages based on false arrest, malicious prosecution, assault and battery, and intentionally/negligently inflicting emotional distress.
In addition to the sheriff's department and Noblet, Bennington County Sheriff Chad Schmidt is named as a defendant. He and the department are accused of failing to train and supervise employees.
Schmidt said Monday neither he nor the department have yet been served with lawsuit paperwork, and he is not in a position to comment either way.
Attempts to reach Noblet for comment were not successful. No legal response has yet been filed with the court from any of the defendants.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.