Jury finds no wrongdoing by state police after man suffers heart problems following traffic stop

John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse, Boston, Mass. Photo by Chris O'Brien / BU News Service

By Chris O’Brien
BU News Service

A jury ruled Thursday that a police officer did not violate a man’s civil rights after the officer impounded the man’s car on a traffic stop, despite the man claiming he was on his way to the hospital with chest pain and soon suffering from a heart problems. 

The three-day trial concluded after just two hours of jury deliberation. The defendant stormed out of the courtroom following the reading of the jury’s decision. 

On the morning of Feb. 2, 2017, Massachusetts State Police Officer Christopher Booth stopped Mark Harper on I-95 near North Attleboro for improper plates. Booth discovered Harper did not have registration for his Acura, which Harper said he had purchased just days prior, according to court documents.

“I thought it was Massachusetts law…I had seven days to register a car,” Harper testified Tuesday in court. 

Harper had been driving from his home in Warwick, Rhode Island, to Boston Medical Center to seek treatment for severe chest pains, according to his testimony. Harper testified that during the traffic stop, he made Booth aware of his condition and asked for help multiple times. 

Booth’s defense team denied that Harper made Booth or Officer Paul Powell, who came to assist shortly after Harper was pulled over, aware of his medical condition. The defense team argued that Harper had been combative, refusing to identify himself multiple times and refusing to exit the vehicle when officers requested he do so.

“Booth could have physically restrained or arrested Harper for failure to comply to a police officer but didn’t feel animosity towards Harper. Instead he used conflict resolution tools,” said Joseph Kittredge, Booth’s defense lawyer.

Booth called a tow truck to retrieve Harper’s car, as Harper was legally unable to drive without valid insurance or registration for the car. According to his testimony, Harper thought the tow truck would take him to the hospital. Instead, he was released at a nearby gas station in North Attleboro.

“I didn’t have a clue where I was at,” Harper said. “I felt angry. I felt disappointed…I didn’t know what to feel.”

Before approaching the gas station, Harper made a 911 call to the North Attleboro police. In the call, Harper mentioned that he was headed to the hospital, and that his car had been taken by state troopers. 

Booth’s defense team stressed that it was “revealing” that Harper did not use his phone to call 911 when he was with the police. Harper said he did call emergency services at the gas station where he then collapsed.

“Before I got to the gas station, I blacked out,” Harper recalled. “The next thing I saw was the ambulance.” 

Harper had undergone cardiac arrest and was taken to nearby Sturdy Memorial Hospital, according to court records. 

Harper testified Tuesday that he has an extensive medical history, and has built a trust with and prefers the medical staff at Boston Medical Center, which is why he had intended to drive there that morning. 

In his testimony, Harper alleged that he was given medication by doctors at Sturdy Hospital that gave him an allergic reaction, causing him to vomit. Harper’s legal team made the argument that this would not have happened with the doctors at Boston Medical Center that Harper knew and said he trusted. 

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