Much later, traffic stop still simmers

By Matt Carroll
Globe Staff / February 5, 2009
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A tense traffic confrontation on a quiet street in Milton between a motorist and a state trooper has led to criminal charges, since dropped, and now a federal lawsuit.

Beth E. Shea of Milton says in her suit that Trooper R. Bradford Porter violated her civil rights by using excessive force arresting her and would not let her contact her attorney while she was being questioned. The incident took place in June 2007 near the home of Porter, who also lives in Milton.

According to Shea, Porter repeatedly swore at her, and smashed the window of her car when she refused to roll it down. She kept the window up, she said, because she feared he was not a real officer since he was not in uniform and be cause of his angry demeanor. She is seeking unnamed damages in her suit, filed last month in US District Court in Boston. The case is in the early stages and a trial date has not been set.

Scott Dunlap, Porter's attorney, said his client "has an exemplary record and no other citizen complaints."

Porter could not be reached for comment, although he filed a detailed incident report after Shea's arrest.

Some of the facts of the case are in dispute. A witness to some of the confrontation, in an interview, contradicted part of Shea's account, saying that Porter did not swear and repeatedly identified himself as an officer, pointing to the badge clipped to his belt.

The suit revolves around a confrontation that took place on June 5, 2007, on Centre Lane in Milton outside the homes of Porter and his neighbor, Tracy Gorfinkle, who was also a babysitter for Porter's child. Porter and Gorfinkle were chatting on the sidewalk about 4:30 p.m. with their children when Shea drove down the street in her brown Jeep Cherokee.

Shea said she was traveling at less than 30 miles per hour. The police report filed by Porter said the car was "bouncing up and down" and traveling at more than 40 miles per hour. Gorfinkle, in an interview, said the street is a cut-through for people avoiding nearby traffic signals and speeders are a problem. She said she edged into the street and waved at the car to slow down.

Saying she thought Gorfinkle was waving at her for help, Shea swerved around a parked car and stopped directly in front of Gorfinkle, who had stepped back to the sidewalk. Shea pulled out her phone and called police.

"I stopped on my own," said Shea, in an interview. "I thought this was a woman who needed help."

Porter and Gorfinkle thought otherwise. Gorfinkle said there was no parked car. Porter wrote in his report: "It appeared as if Ms. Shea was attempting to strike Ms. Gorfinkle with the Jeep."

Gorfinkle said she was startled that Shea's car was pointed directly at her.

"If she'd gone a few more feet, she would have hit me," said Gorfinkle. "I was flabbergasted."

Porter approached Shea's car. The officer was in plain clothes, but Gorfinkle said he had his State Police badge clipped to his belt and had his holstered gun in plain view.

Shea said Porter pounded on her car window, tried to open her door, said he was a police officer and that she would spend the night in jail. Shea told him she was on the phone to police. "

"I am the . . . police," Porter said, using an epithet, according to Shea.

Shea said Porter's "abusive" actions made her doubt he was an officer. She had heard stories about men who pretended to be officers and then assaulted women, she said.

"I saw no badge, no gun, and he kept swearing," Shea said. "Everything was happening at once."

In her account, Gorfinkle said Porter never swore or tried to open the door. She said he repeatedly identified himself as an officer, pointed to his badge, and asked Shea to roll down her window.

Porter wrote in his two-page report that Shea ignored him, continued to talk on her phone, and yelled, "Don't touch my car!"

When Porter went to get his car keys, Shea drove away. She said she intended to go directly to Milton Police to report the problem because she had lost her phone connection to the Police Department.

Porter followed in his unmarked car and put on his blue lights and his siren. Shea's car became blocked by Porter's vehicle and another car at a stop sign at the intersection of Clifton Road and Highland Street.

Porter approached Shea's car. Shea said Porter hit her side window glass so hard with his bare hand it cracked. He returned to his car, came back with a long flashlight, smashed a hole in her window, opened the door and pulled her out by her wrist, she said.

"I've never seen such an angry man," she said. "I fell to the ground, he was swearing at me still. He started grabbing at my breast area. He called me [an epithet] and grabbed at my crotch area." Her suit said Porter used "excessive, brutal force."

In his report, Porter said he identified himself as an officer, that Shea was in her car crying and saying she wanted Milton Police. He said he told her he would break open the window if she did not roll it down. Porter wrote that he considered Shea a "danger to the public" because she had been driving recklessly and "had already assaulted Ms. Gorfinkle with her motor vehicle" and had fled.

She fell to the ground while resisting arrest, he said. After she was handcuffed, Milton Police arrived. Shea said she ran to them, while Porter shouted, "She's mine."

Three Milton police officers filed short narrative reports about the scene, totaling about two pages, noting it was a State Police arrest. One officer spoke to the woman and suggested she calm down, while a female officer frisked Shea and accompanied her to the State Police barracks in Blue Hills.

Shea complained in her suit that Porter refused to let her make a phone call, unless he was told who it was to, and that when her attorney arrived, she was not allowed to speak to him for a while. Charges against Shea included assault with a dangerous weapon (her car) and resisting arrest. She was released on $5,000 bail at about 8:45 p.m.

A few months later, she complained about her treatment in a letter to the State Police. An internal State Police investigation found Porter had acted properly, had probable cause to make the arrest, and he did not improperly touch Shea. There was insufficient evidence to prove or disprove he used profanity making the arrest, according to a State Police spokesman.

The criminal charges against Shea were dropped by the Norfolk County district attorney's office in a procedure called a "nolle prosequi," which means they will not go ahead with the case.

The filing from the district attorney's office said that while the officer acted in good faith and believed there was probable cause, the investigation did not support the charges.

The district attorney's office had no further comment.

Matt Carroll can be reached at

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