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Angiuoni v. Town of Billerica

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

September 23, 2016

JOSEPH ANGIUONI, Plaintiff, Appellant,
v.
TOWN OF BILLERICA; DANIEL ROSA, individually and in his official capacity as Chief of Police, Defendants, Appellees.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS [Hon. Nathaniel M. Gorton, U.S. District Judge]

          John V. Siskopoulos, with whom Alexandra C. Siskopoulos and Siskopoulos Law Firm, LLP were on brief, for appellant.

          Jeremy Silverfine, with whom Deidre Brennan Regan and Brody, Hardoon, Perkins & Kesten, LLP were on brief, for appellees.

          Before Torruella, Lipez, and Thompson, Circuit Judges.

          LIPEZ, Circuit Judge.

         Joseph Angiuoni, a military veteran, brought a claim against the Town of Billerica and Daniel Rosa, Chief of the Billerica Police Department, under the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act ("USERRA"), see 38 U.S.C. § 4301-4335, claiming that his status as a veteran was a motivating factor for defendants' termination of his employment. A jury found in favor of defendants. In this appeal, Angiuoni argues that the district court made a series of errors in its evidentiary rulings that warrant a new trial. We affirm.

         I.

         We recite the facts as the jury could have found them. See Sinai v. New Eng. Tel. & Tel. Co., 3 F.3d 471, 472 (1st Cir. 1993). Angiuoni, an Army veteran, began working as a probationary patrol officer for the Billerica Police Department ("Department") after graduating in 2009 from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Police Academy. The Department's probationary period lasts eight weeks and is designed to determine if a new officer will be a good fit for the Billerica force.

         The Department has a Field Training Program to help police officer trainees build on their instruction at the academy. One component of the program is on-the-job feedback from Field Training Officers ("FTOs"), who accompany individual trainees in cruisers to evaluate and comment on their performance.

         Angiuoni's FTOs observed and reported on numerous incidents and issues with his performance. For example, early in his field training, Angiuoni backed a cruiser into a wall while transporting two prisoners to court. Then, on the return trip, he shouted at a crew of prisoners cleaning up the roadside, which his FTO, Officer McKenna, told him was inappropriate behavior.

         On another occasion, Angiuoni, accompanied by FTO Moran, made a traffic stop of a car containing two females and two males who appeared to be in their late fifties or early sixties. When Angiuoni told Moran that he planned to search the car for drugs because he thought he had smelled something, Moran said he did not smell anything and told Angiuoni not to search the car. Angiuoni replied that he was taught at the police academy to search every car he stopped because of the potential for drugs. Moran explained that that was not correct, and, in that instance, finding drugs was unlikely given the ages of the individuals.

         Similarly, Angiuoni argued with Officer Moran when they spotted a white van parked at a shopping mall with two people apparently "making out" in the back. Angiuoni ran toward the van, disregarding Moran's instructions, twice, not to do so. When approached and questioned, the female in the vehicle explained that the male was her boyfriend. Despite Moran's contrary guidance, Moran insisted that he was taught at the police academy to rush a vehicle in such circumstances because a rape could have been happening.

         Two other episodes that occurred while Officer Moran accompanied Angiuoni similarly involved Angiuoni's ignoring instructions or debating with Moran about what should be done. During one exchange, after Moran explained how Angiuoni should have handled a house alarm call differently, Angiuoni complained that another officer who started training around the same time as he did was being treated more favorably. Moran explained that that officer had prior law enforcement experience in Massachusetts and, hence, was already familiar with the responsibilities of a police officer. Angiuoni then said he had been in Iraq, and he knew what things were like and that people were out to get him.

         In May 2009, Angiuoni took handgun and rifle tests. He passed the handgun test, but did not qualify on the rifle test. He was the only officer who failed the rifle test that day and the only officer in that training cycle who did not qualify.

         When Angiuoni's probationary period ended, Lieutenant Opland, who oversees operation of the Field Training Program, did not clear Angiuoni for patrol. The FTOs who had worked with him reported concerns about Angiuoni's progress, demeanor, and professionalism, and stated that he did not listen to feedback, had trouble taking instructions, and became argumentative with them. ...


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