LYNN — A Lynn man is suing the city and its police department, claiming he was falsely arrested for a brutal assault at a Lynnway gas station two years ago.
Randy Spearing, 50, filed a civil complaint in U.S. District Court against Lynn Police Officer Jeffrey Trahant and Lt. Christopher Kelly, along with the city of Lynn.
Spearing is seeking monetary damages, which he claims he suffered “as a direct and proximate result of the negligence of city of Lynn employees,” according to the complaint filed by his attorney, Howard Friedman.
On May 28, 2016, a 34-year-old Lowell man was slashed repeatedly with a box cutter at Spiro’s Energy & Automotive Services, at the corner of Lynnway and Commercial Street.
Spearing was arrested for the assault, which the victim initially told police had occurred at the Shell gas station across the street. He was charged with assault with intent to commit murder, mayhem, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.
But after the arrest was made, the victim told police they had arrested the wrong person. Police then called the Essex County District Attorney’s office, relayed the information and Spearing was released, Lynn police said at the time.
Nicholas Gobiel, 24 at the time, of Lynn, was arrested on June 3 on the same charges. Gobiel allegedly slashed the victim repeatedly with a box cutter at the gas station after screaming at him that he parked too close to his vehicle while he was pumping gas, according to court documents.
The victim was treated at Brigham & Women’s Hospital for non life-threatening injuries, which included a severe laceration on his face. The wound went through his tissue and stretched from his left ear lobe to his bottom lip. His right arm also had a small laceration and his back had one deep enough to reveal white, fatty tissue, according to court documents.
“Mr. Spearing had no involvement in the crime,” Friedman wrote in the complaint. “On that day, however, he went into a Shell gas station across the street and bought an e-cigarette cartridge. Defendants Officer Jeffrey Trahant and Lt. Christopher Kelly conducted an improper investigation with deliberate disregard for the facts. They ignored evidence that their investigation focused on the wrong gas station and that Mr. Spearing did not commit the crime.
“They fabricated police reports to conceal the absence of probable cause to arrest and charge Mr. Spearing. While the real assailant remained at large, six police officers burst into Mr. Spearing’s home with guns drawn, handcuffed him and arrested him. Mr. Spearing was locked up more than 48 hours before the charges against him were dropped,” the complaint reads.
The complaint says that “Spearing was in shock when police officers barged through his front door with guns drawn on May 31, his 49th birthday. He did not know why officers were there and was stunned when they claimed to have a video of him slashing a man’s face … Mr. Spearing insisted (police) had the wrong person and there must have been a mistake. He felt confused, anxious and fearful.”
The complaint reads that Spearing experienced mental and emotional suffering as a result of the arrest, along with embarrassment, and continues to feel the effects of “his wrongful arrest and imprisonment.”
A spokesman for the Lynn Police Department said all comments would have to come from the city’s law department.
James Lamanna, the city’s attorney, said police relied on victim statements for the arrest. The victim said the assault took place at Shell gas station and identified the assailant through surveillance footage. Based on the victim’s statement and the alleged assailant, Spearing being known by the police department, an arrest and search warrant was obtained. But several days later, the victim, who suffered trauma from the slashing, said he was incorrect about where the assault took place and that it was the incorrect assailant.
Lamanna said the police department acted appropriately and that the investigation was appropriate. He said police were not satisfied with an attempt at a photo lineup identification by the victim, so police had him look at video surveillance. He said the lineup was insufficient because it wasn’t positive identification.
“It’s unfortunate that he (Spearing) was incarcerated for a period of a few days, but given the seriousness of the attack, it was prudent for the Lynn Police Department to take immediate action,” Lamanna said. “In all likelihood, the seriousness of the attack played (into) the decision that no bail be granted.
“It is unfortunate that the victim was mistaken, but following proper police procedure when the victim positively identifies a perpetrator known to the police department, it was proper for them to obtain an arrest and search warrant.”
Spearing’s complaint reads that Lynn Police showed the victim a photo array on June 1, but the victim did not identify Spearing from the lineup, picking a filler photograph as the possible attacker. After viewing the array, Kelly took the victim to the Shell station to view the video of Spearing. Showing the victim a video of a suspect who appeared in the photo array after the victim identified another person from the lineup “is unduly suggestive” and “violates proper police practices,” the complaint reads.
The complaint claims the victim told Kelly that he wasn’t sure if Spearing was the attacker based on the video, but that Kelly wrote in his police report that the victim had identified him as the attacker. That night, the victim called Kelly and told him that he had been confused about the location due to the trauma of being attacked, and now believed that the assault had occurred across the street at Spiro’s.
The following day, the victim texted Kelly to tell him that he was sure that police had arrested the wrong person. The victim then spoke to a clerk at Spiro’s, who had seen the attack and recorded it on his cell phone. The victim submitted the video to Kelly, which contained enough detail to clearly identify the attacker, the complaint reads.
Friedman said that Officer Trahant was dispatched to the hospital where he questioned the victim after the attack — he could not complete the interview because the victim was in a haze from pain medication, but the victim was able to tell police that he had purchased cigarettes inside the gas station before the attack, his co-workers had witnessed the assault and the assailant was a white man wearing a tank top.
But the complaint reads that the victim mistakenly reported the assault occurred at the Shell gas station across the street from Spiro’s Energy — Trahant went to the Shell station, but did not find any physical evidence of an assault and the store employee on duty that afternoon had not noticed an altercation. The Shell employee showed video footage of the entrance and cashier’s counter, which did not show the victim making a purchase, according to the complaint.
“Had Officer Trahant walked across the street to Spiro’s Energy, he likely would have seen blood stains on the ground and spoken to a gas station employee who witnessed the assault and recorded it on his phone,” the complaint reads. “He could have viewed the video of the assault and identified the true perpetrator.”
The complaint reads that Spearing was linked to the attack from video footage that showed him inside the Shell gas station making a purchase during the reported timeframe of the attack. The footage was shown to other Lynn police officers, who identified Spearing, as he is “well-known by police officers and others in the community as a person who overcame addiction.”