Bourn adds town to $100M lawsuit

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BENNINGTON -- A Bennington man who is suing the Bennington Police Department has filed a motion to add the town to the lawsuit.

Paul Bourn, 30, who is incarcerated at the Marble Valley Correctional Center in Rutland, filed a suit in September against the department, its chief, and a number of officers claiming damages for injuries he sustained while he crashed on a motorcycle after encountering what he alleges was a police road block.

Bourn is seeking $100 million from the department and $25 million from Police Chief Richard Gauthier and officers Joshua Stemp, David Faden, and Lloyd Dean. Bourn claims that he was injured after crashing into a police road block that was set up after a chase -- in which he was the suspect -- was called off.

Bourn, who is representing himself, said in his motion that the town is responsible for his injuries as well "for failure to provide appropriate oversight with regard to the policies, procedures, and safe operation practices of the police department within their authority."

In November, Nancy Sheahan, a Burlington attorney with McNiel, Leddy & Sheahan, who is representing the department, said that her client is not a suitable entity for a lawsuit because it is an extension of the town, and furthermore, that Bourn’s alleged injuries were a result of his own negligence.

In Bourn’s response, filed Nov. 20, he said he agreed that the police department is not a separate entity from the town, but no statute exists indicating that it cannot be sued. He also said that officers within a chain of command are liable for their subordinates’ actions.

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According to a police affidavit by Faden, on Sept. 17, 2008, he responded to the Stewart’s store on Main Street for a report of someone driving off on a motorcycle without paying for gasoline. Faden said that Bourn was pursued, but he crashed his motorcycle near the Mount Anthony Union High School.

Bourn’s latest motion

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According to the latest motion by Bourn, the gasoline he allegedly didn’t pay for was worth $7 and that police had already identified him and knew his address. He said that they could have waited and spoken to him at his home and that by chasing him, they created a danger to the public. Bourn said that police were also in violation of the disorderly conduct statute by blocking the roadway.

In her response to Bourn’s motion, Sheahan said that he offers no evidence that the police station is a valid entity to sue and only adds the town to the suit. Sheahan cited a number of procedural rules, which involve Bourn having to mark in his amendments what items he has changed, that he has not complied with. Sheahan said that the fact he is incarcerated does not exempt him from those rules.

Sheahan said that while Bourn has the right to file amendments, they are not automatically granted. She said that the court must consider the possibility that the amendment is an attempt to stall the litigation process and incur a prejudice against the defendant.

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"In this case, the futility of the Plaintiff’s proposed amendment is self-evident," she said.

Sheahan went on to say that the town would only be liable if Bourn’s injuries were a result of a town policy and that he has not provided evidence of that to be the case. She said that Bourn, by his own doing "crashed into what he believed to be a police road block."

She said that the incident was a single incident that involved town employees below the policy making level. She said that there is no proof that the town was deliberately indifferent to the training, monitoring, or supervision of police.

Bourn has been held without bail since March for allegedly threatening police with a gun. Police said they were dispatched on March 21 to a reported fight on School Street. Police said that Bourn had been in an argument with a woman, who asked that he be removed from her house. Police said that Bourn pointed a rifle at them from down a hallway, but didn’t have his hand on the trigger. He was subdued after being sprayed with a chemical.

On March 23, he pleaded not guilty to two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, unlawful trespass of an occupied dwelling, aggravated assault to prevent a law officer from doing his duties, resisting arrest, and two counts of violating probation.


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