Ex-trooper settles assault lawsuit
NEWFANE -- A former Vermont state trooper has paid $27,000 to settle a civil lawsuit alleging that he assaulted two men while on duty in April 2012.
Eric Howley, who previously had pleaded no contest to criminal charges stemming from the Wilmington incident, has paid $10,000 to Mark Ellison and $5,000 to Anton Pike, who claimed Howley violated their constitutional rights.
Howley also agreed to pay another $12,000 to cover legal fees and costs. The judgment "has been paid in full," according to documents filed at Windham Superior Court Civil Division in Newfane.
"It was a fair settlement figure," said Devin McLaughlin, a Middlebury attorney who represented Ellison and Pike. "It served as an acknowledgement that Mark and Anton were the victims of improper and unconstitutional police conduct and fairly compensated them for what they had to go through."
Andrew Boxer, a Springfield attorney representing Howley, did not respond to requests for comment.
Howley, who at the time was a seven-year veteran of the Vermont State Police, arrived at Lake Raponda in Wilmington on April 8, 2012. He was looking for his stolen canoe, investigators later said, and he believed he had spotted his boat in the water.
Pike, of Wilmington, and Ellison, of West Wardsboro, were in the canoe and eventually came ashore. And then Howley, who was on duty, "physically assaulted both Mark Ellison and Anton Pike, causing injury," according to the civil lawsuit filed by McLaughlin.
"Defendant’s assaultive behavior included slamming Anton’s face repeatedly into the hood of a police cruiser and slamming Mark’s head into a rock"" the lawsuits says.
Howley was charged criminally, and court documents claimed he threatened that he would show the victims "what police brutality was all about" while declaring that he "was sick of white-trash Vermonters and stupid pot heads."
Howley resigned from the State Police the month after the assault. And in February 2013, he pleaded no contest to two counts of simple assault in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division.
At sentencing, a psychologist testified that Howley suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. The doctor cited Howley’s service in the military, his experiences during Tropical Storm Irene and a police incident in Arlington in 2006.
Howley, who claimed he did not remember the Wilmington incident, received a six- to 12-month sentence, but that jail time was suspended in favor of two years of probation. He also was ordered to continue mental-health treatment, to stay away from the victims and to not seek employment as a police officer or security guard.
The civil lawsuit followed the disposition of the criminal case. Court papers claimed that Howley’s acts were "recklessly and/or callously and/or deliberately indifferent to plaintiffs’ rights under the United States Constitution."
Specifically, Howley, "acting under color of state law, deprived plaintiffs of their rights to be free from unreasonable searches under the Fourth Amendment ... and used excessive force within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, for which defendant is liable in his individual capacity."
The lawsuit did not list the state as a defendant.
Court documents show that a settlement was reached in April, and a "satisfaction of judgment" was filed June 26.
"The dollar amounts for Mark and Anton were not broken out between compensatory and punitive damages, but both were claimed and both were warranted," McLaughlin told the Reformer.
"There certainly was the real possibility of trial, but both sides thought it best to try and make the effort to settle the litigation before we got too far into the civil litigation, in part to avoid the expenses associated with depositions and experts," he added.
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