BOSTON - A man arrested when police showed up to break up a New Year's Eve party at a friend's house has filed a lawsuit, arguing he had a constitutional right to get drunk on private property as long as he didn't cause a public disturbance.
Eric Laverriere, 25, of Portland, Maine, was taken into protective custody by Waltham police and locked in a cell for nine hours until the effects of the alcohol wore off.
Legal experts said his lawsuit, filed this week in U.S. District Court in Boston, is the first to challenge a state law allowing police to lock up drunk people against their will for their own protection.
Laverriere argues that the Massachusetts Protective Custody Law was written to combat public drunkenness and that the police had no right to use it to take him from a private residence. He also says he had planned to spend the night at his friend's and wasn't going to be driving anywhere.
"One thing people should be able to do is drink in their own house," Laverriere told The Boston Globe. "That's the beauty of the land of the free."
Waltham Deputy Police Chief Paul Juliano declined to comment on the suit on the advice of the city's legal department.
Several lawyers said they believe police have the authority to take inebriated people into custody, but they said it was the first time the law has been challenged on the grounds that one has a constitutional right to get drunk on private property.
The Protective Custody Law, enacted in 1971, replaced a Colonial-era law that made public drunkenness a crime. It authorizes police to hold people against their will for up to 12 hours if they are drunk and a danger to themselves or others.
Attorney Leonard Kesten, who has defended police departments in civil-rights cases, said if officers are investigating a crime or responding to an incident and discover that someone is drunk and posing a danger, they are obligated to take that person into protective custody.
Police have been sued for failing to take people into protective custody who later died from alcohol poisoning or killed others in drunken-driving accidents.
Laverriere said that he drank several beers, but wasn't drunk, when officers arrived at his friend's duplex saying someone had thrown bottles at a passing police cruiser.
When the partygoers denied throwing bottles, Laverriere said, the officers became angry, prompting him to pick up a friend's camera and start videotaping. Laverriere told the Globe that Officer Jorge Orta ripped the camera from his hands and threw him to the floor, injuring his shoulder.
Laverriere said he told police he had been invited to spend the night at the house, but the officers insisted on taking him into protective custody.
One police report says that Laverriere appeared intoxicated and expressed "displeasure" at being told he had to leave the party. He was then taken into custody. The report says he fell to the floor while resisting Orta's efforts to handcuff him.