TRYING TO HELP GETS YOU SKEWERED
The Federal District Court of Northern New York in Albany was the scene of a trial regarding the alleged excessive use of force by a current New York State Trooper. It had taken more than three years from the time of the defendant’s arrest on domestic violence charges until the jury’s verdict in this civil rights case.
On October 26, 2016 Trooper Peyton Ogden (formerly of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office) responded to a report of a possible kidnapping and violent domestic dispute taking place in Queensbury, New York.
According to trial testimony, the Trooper was the lone officer on scene. He ran into the residence where he could hear the screams of a woman and a struggle. Once inside the living room, the Trooper found the suspect, Christopher Hansen. He was on top of the female victim, pinning her to the couch with a hand on her neck.
By the victim’s account, the domestic dispute started in the driveway and she was dragged into the home by her hair. Once in the living room, she was pushed onto the couch and choked by Hansen until the trooper intervened.
A GOOD GUY SAVES THE DAY
Trooper Ogden stated that when he entered the living room and announced his presence as a police officer, Hansen turned away from his victim and took a fighting stance stating toward Trooper Ogden, “Do what you got to do.”
Trooper Ogden took Hansen to the ground.
In the struggle, Hansen tried to get back on his feet to face the Trooper. Trooper Ogden stated it was necessary to strike Hansen about the head and body to stop the threat to the female victim and himself.
In the initial lawsuit, Hansen claimed he was only restraining the female. He said that he was using defensive tactics that he learned as a corrections officer for New York State Department of Corrections. Hansen was later fired from his position as a corrections officer following an additional arrest where he allegedly assaulted another female during a domestic dispute.
THE INEVITABLE TRIAL BEGINS …
The jury heard testimony about Trooper Ogden’s training, beginning with the police academy he attended in 2011, as well as in-service training. He was questioned extensively by his attorney, Gregg T. Johnson, regarding the reasoning behind his use of force.
Trooper Ogden made a clear case to the jury, stating that his actions were not malicious. Action was taken in a split-second in order to maintain the priority of life standards that are widely used by police officers.
The priority of life standards begin with the victims, followed by officers and finally, suspects. After two days of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant, Trooper Ogden, declaring him not guilty.
THE AFTER-ACTION REVIEW
The outcome of this case weighed heavily on Trooper Ogden’s testimony. It highlights the need for officers to have the ability to clearly explain to a jury the reasons why they do what they do. Not all officers can remain composed during cross examination.
Trial preparation needs to be taken seriously to prepare officers for the stress of testifying. Perhaps law enforcement agencies partnering with their district attorneys for annual mock trials would help build comfort and confidence in those officers who are not skilled in testifying.
Today’s society is much more suspicious of the police than in the past. This case demonstrates how a heroic decision of an officer to risk his life for a stranger can result in a federal lawsuit against the officer and his agency.
“Above all, it’s about going home at the end of the shift … “
We couldn’t agree more.
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