PORTLAND, Maine — A Warren couple has filed a federal lawsuit against Knox County, accusing sheriff’s deputies of illegally entering their home, assaulting them and falsely arresting them.
The lawsuit on behalf of Donald and Sherrie Demmons was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Portland by attorney Scott Hess of Augusta.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified punitive damages and compensation from Knox County, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Donna Dennison, Sgt. James Moore and Deputy Nathaniel Jack over claims of illegal search and seizure, false arrest and false imprisonment, use of excessive force, deprivation of due process rights and conspiracy.
No dollar amount is mentioned in the lawsuit, but a notice of claim filed last year on behalf of the Demmonses sought damages of at least $300,000.
The lawsuit stems from an incident that occurred two years ago. On July 2, 2014, Deputy Jack and Sgt. Moore went to the Demmons’ home after the officers received a complaint that Donald Demmons had threatened to assault an employee of the Warren Animal Hospital earlier that day.
When deputies arrived at the home, Donald Demmons denied making the threat and ordered the officers to leave his property. Instead, the deputies forced their way into the home and used stun guns on the couple before arresting them, according to the lawsuit.
Donald Demmons, 50, was charged with terrorizing against the animal hospital employee, assaulting an officer, refusing to submit to arrest, obstructing governmental administration and two counts of disorderly conduct.
His wife, Sherrie L. Demmons, 49, was charged with assaulting an officer, refusing to submit to arrest and disorderly conduct.
All charges against Sherrie Demmons were dismissed. Donald Demmons ended up pleading no contest to the terrorizing charge and served seven days in jail in February 2016. All other charges against him were dropped.
Records in Knox County Unified Court show Justice Daniel Billings sharply criticized the action of the two officers as he dismissed the charges that stemmed from the confrontation at the Demmons home.
“Deputy Jack’s testimony concerning legal authority to enter a home illustrated a fundamental ignorance of the Constitutional limitations under which law enforcement officers work. The fact that a certified law enforcement officer could be so ignorant to the basic rules he is supposed to be following is frightening,” Billings stated in his Dec. 1, 2014, court ruling.
He said the conduct of the deputies was inexcusable. The judge said he believed Jack’s actions were motivated primarily by what he saw as a lack of respect by Donald Demmons.
“It was apparent that when questioned that Deputy Jack expects citizens to follow his commands, even when they are legally justified not to do so, and that Deputy Jack never considered what it would be like to be confronted at your home and asked to leave your home by two armed, uniformed law enforcement officers when you believe you have done nothing wrong,” Billings concluded.
The judge said the officers needed to have a warrant in this instance before they had the right to enter the home and make an arrest.
Knox County’s attorney Peter Marchesi said Wednesday that the county “has at all times had proper policies in place regarding searches and seizures, and all personnel have been thoroughly trained in those policies. In addition, all personnel have received ample training in Fourth Amendment protections in general.
“The officers involved in the incident at issue believe that their actions were appropriate and reasonable under the circumstances existing at the time. We are presently reviewing the allegations in the complaint and will respond to those allegations in due course,” Marchesi said.