By Katina Caraganis
SHIRLEY — A U.S. District Court judge has dismissed a Shirley resident’s claims that his arrest in 2008 and various related events violated various state and federal rights.
Mark Gustafson alleges in his complaint that on April 15, 2008, Shirley police received a report that people were stealing heating oil from a unit at a mobile-home park.
Gustafson, then a resident of Briarwood Mobile Home Park in Shirley; his friend, Kevin Corr; and Gustafson’s father, Mark P. Gustafson, allegedly removed home heating oil from the tank for Unit No. 33 at 87 Front St. within the mobile-home park.
Shirley police dispatched Sgt. Peter Violette and Officer Samuel Santiago to investigate. Corr said they had permission from Patricia LeBlanc, former tenant of Unit No. 33, to remove the oil.
However, a manager with the mobile-home park told officers that LeBlanc had been served with an eviction notice the previous week and because she had been gone for more than 48 hours, the oil in the tank became the property of the management company.
Gustafson was arrested and charged with larceny under $250 — charges that were later dismissed, according to court documents.
His attorney, Roland Milliard of Dracut, previously alleged that during the incident, officers subjected his client to “unreasonable search and seizure, an arrest without reasonable ground and probable cause, unlawful detention and confinement, and unlawful and malicious harassment.”
The complaint in U.S. District Court named the Town of Shirley, Officers Violette and Santiago, former Chief Paul Thibodeau, Shari Jenson, and Oak Leaf Trust as defendants.
The case was heard by Judge George A. O’Toole, who said in his decision that “police officers do not have an obligation to investigate potential defenses fully before making a finding of probable cause.”
He said that despite the plaintiff’s contention he had permission to remove the oil from a residence he did not live in, officers had enough facts to make an arrest.
“All of the plaintiff’s state-law claims depend necessarily, in one way or another, on the proposition that the police acted improperly in arresting him. None of these claims is viable where it appears from the facts alleged in the Complaint that the arrest was lawful,” the decision reads.
Milliard said the decision, which they do not plan to appeal, was not what he and his client were hoping to get.
“Obviously we’re disappointed by the ruling,” he said. “What I find troubling about it is a police officer can show up, for what is apparently a civil matter, someone not in the law can make an assertion, arrest you and put you in jail.”
He continued: “The way this came down, he was arrested, put in handcuffs, put in jail, had to go through the process, and the case was eventually dismissed. He’s the one who had to go through all of it.”
Milliard also called the whole incident “ridiculous,” and said it’s not right his client has nothing to show for being wrongly accused.
Peter Knox, the attorney representing the mobile-home park, said decisions like these are rare.
“It’s really rare that they do that. It was kind of neat to get one of those,” he said. “They filed a suit against us, saying his constitutional rights were violated and all kinds of crazy things. Probable cause is very easy. If it looks like you’re stealing oil out of someone’s tank, you can be arrested. When you really get into this case, the police had probable cause to arrest him.”
Courtney Mayo, an attorney with Worcester-based Hassett & Donnelly, P.C., which represented the town, did not return a call seeking comment. Police Chief Greg Massack was not available for comment.
Chief Administrative Officer Dave Berry said he was aware of the suit, but hadn’t seen the decision as of yesterday.
“I think that’s what the chief was expecting to happen,” Berry said. “He felt that was the outcome that would probably result but obviously we didn’t know that for sure.”