SYRACUSE – A jury found in favor of two Colonie police officers accused of using excessive force to restrain a former New York City police officer in 2013.
According to the legal papers, Justin Blot, a former New York City police officer who grew up in Colonie, got into an argument with family members on Hampshire Road. It became so heated that police were called, and to subdue Blot, officers used a Taser. Blot felt it was excessive and filed a $15 million civil suit against the town, the Police Department, several officers and command staff.
Rather than settle the suit to make it go away without a trial, and the inherent chance of a losing and having to pay the $15 million, the town opted to take it to a jury. Mike Magguilli, the town attorney, said that has been his advice to the town rather than paying $5,000 or $10,000.
“That adds up,” he said of paying out smaller claims. “We want to have the reputation of not settling lawsuits and it’s working. If we get four or five cases a year it’s a lot because the word is out that if you sue Colonie, you will go to trial. And most of these cases are on a contingency basis, and not many lawyers will take on three or four years’ worth of work on the chance the jury will not come back for them.”
He said the town will look for attorney fees, but is not confident of getting those costs covered by Blot.
On Sept. 13, 2013, Blot’s mother called 911 at around 9:45 p.m. She told dispatchers her 34-yeear-old son was “flipping out” and that there were guns in the house.
Officer John Calabrese was first on the scene and was speaking to Blot on the front lawn while Blot was wearing just a towel. Blot told officers he just got out of the shower, according to court papers, and that he was going through a tough time – his cancer was back, his wife suffered from post-partum depression and his daughter was diagnosed with spina bifida.
Other officers, including Jacques Tremblay, showed up as back up.
The officers claim Blot became unruly, started a physical confrontation with his father and his brother on the front porch and front lawn and Tremblay used a Taser to subdue Blot.
He continued to resist, though, so Calabrese picked up the Taser and fired it again into Blot, according to court papers.
The initial claim included a laundry list of complaints against Colonie and the officers including false arrest, malicious prosecution, conspiracy, use of excessive force and violating police procedures as they relate to the use of stun guns.
Prior to the trial, U.S. Justice Glen Suddaby, agreed with Colonie lawyers – the firm Maynard, O’Connor, Smith & Catalinotto – and tossed most of the complaints except for the excessive use of force.
That went to a trial in U.S. District Court in Syracuse and the town won.
Magguilli said another reason the town didn’t settle is because it’s self assured and is on the hook for the first $250,000. It is covered if the town if someone does win a large suit, the town does have a $10 million insurance policy.
“But the point is, yes we could have settled but what is that saying to police. It’s essentially telling our officers you did something wrong here but we don’t do it that way. We stand behind our guys,” he said. “They clearly didn’t use excessive force in this case and I think they appreciate that. I think that is one reason why we do get along so well. They know we have their backs. And they also know we are fair but if they do something wrong we do what we have to do.”