September 14, 2020
By Kathie Ragsdale
Police misconduct may be high on the public’s radar in recent months, but it’s an area in which North Conway attorney Wayne C. Beyer has been laboring and learning for decades.
Long before the George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor cases made headlines, Beyer was building a reputation as an authority on police misconduct, defending officers as lead counsel in more than 300 police misconduct and corrections cases involving charges ranging from excessive force, to positional asphyxia, to failure to render medical assistance.
As a trial lawyer, author and lecturer, Beyer has a diverse career history. He has worked at two New Hampshire law firms and also as an assistant attorney general (previously known as assistant corporation counsel) for the District of Columbia, chief of staff of the U.S. General Services Administration and chief administrative appeals judge of the U.S. Department of Labor Administration.
But “the cases that really moved me were the police liability cases,” Beyer says of his work. Especially with cases involving death, “there are so many interesting factors.”
“There are both sides,” he adds. “There’s the mother of a dead person, a grieving parent or sometimes both parents, on one side of the case. They have lost their loved one. And on the other side is your client, somebody who has taken a human life and that’s something that will change your life forever. You’re dealing with very important and sometimes very sad facts.”
Beyer recently authored a 1,540-page book, “Police Misconduct: A Practitioner’s Guide to Section 1983” (Juris Publishing), including 18 chapters covering the law, with 12 on practice. He believes recent high-profile cases involving alleged officer misconduct are not reflective of policing as a whole in this country.
“You have a very large number of officers, with tens of millions of encounters with police,” he says. “Now you have video cameras of what people are doing, and I’m in favor of that, but you’re only seeing the outrageous ones that people are magnifying into a national problem that I don’t think exists.”
His data suggests that, of all cases brought against police departments, only about one in 1,000 are successful in court. “That’s a far cry from the public perception in terms of police brutality,” he adds.
Instead of “the blue wall of silence,” Beyer says, police agencies nationally are adopting strategies like crisis intervention, de-escalation and intervention, as well as statements on the sanctity of life, the importance of officers intervening with other officers and the use of intermediate force.
“That’s the art of police reform – hiring, training and discipline,” he says.
A native of New York State, Beyer spent summers as a child at a family residence in New Hampshire, then moved to the Granite State while in high school. His interest in the law stems back to junior high, when he wrote a well-received report for his ninth-grade class about what it was like to shadow his father’s lawyer for a day.
After graduating from Dartmouth with a bachelor’s and Harvard with a master’s in English literature, he decided law school would provide better career opportunities and, after a two-year hiatus spent teaching, enrolled at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington D.C., where he earned his juris doctor.
“My goal had always been to bypass the Wall Street aspect of law and head straight to New Hampshire,” he says.
And so he did, taking a job at McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton in Manchester before being recruited to join the General Services Administration in Washington and becoming the chief staff person for the agency. Lunches at the White House – and one with then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger in his private dining room – provided “a big thrill for me as a fairly young lawyer,” Beyer says.
Upon returning to New Hampshire, he took a job with the Concord firm of Cleveland, Waters and Bass and quickly became counsel to most of the police departments in the state for their civil liability cases. That helped prepare him for his next position representing police departments for the District of Columbia from 1996 to 2002.
That work was interrupted when Beyer went to work for the administration of George W. Bush for 10 years, serving as an administrative appeals judge for the U.S. Department of Labor, including two years as chief judge, and briefly as a presidential appointee to the Federal Labor Relations Authority.
He subsequently returned to working for the District of Columbia, handling its high-end police cases.
Ted Williams, a police officer-turned-attorney and a Fox News contributor, was co-counsel with Beyer in some of those cases and considers him “the consummate professional” who “knows and loves the law and also fairly administers the law.”
“He’s an excellent person, an excellent citizen, an excellent lawyer and certainly a specialist in the area of police administration,” adds Williams, who has known Beyer for some 30 years.
It’s an opinion shared by Seth Guggenheim, who met Beyer when Guggenheim joined the D.C. Office of Corporation Counsel in November 1998.
“What I most respect about Wayne is how hard he works and the expertise he has developed in defending governments and police officers in excessive force cases,” Guggenheim says. “He truly is the ‘go-to-guy’ in this field of law, and has a celebrated reputation.”
Another former colleague in that office, Michael Miller, calls Beyer “about as knowledgeable about police misconduct cases as anybody in the country” and a man who is “hugely responsible and honest and admirable.”
Likewise, Robert Deso, former deputy general counsel for the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, says Beyer “knows the law and how to apply it to the real world of law enforcement in a major city environment. He is a legal scholar, but also very persuasive with a jury.”
One of Beyer’s D.C. cases was Evans-Reid v. District of Columbia, involving an alleged bet among white officers to see which one could kill a Black kid, and an alleged party after one of them shot to death 14-year-old Sean Evans. The allegation had been taken seriously enough that it was under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for four and a half years and by the Washington D.C. office of the United States Attorney, according to Beyer.
No criminal charges were brought. At the civil trial, the evidence was that the officers conducted a motor vehicle stop and that an intoxicated Sean Evans pulled a gun on an officer who walked up to the passenger’s side and the officer shot him. The plaintiff claimed the gun, a B.B. gun, had been planted, but failed to prove that in court. The officers denied the bet and the party, though the judge allowed testimony about them. Ultimately, the judge granted Beyer a directed verdict, and other lawyers handled the appeal, which upheld the trial court’s ruling.
Asked about his most memorable New Hampshire cases, Beyer mentions Lavoie v. Town of Hudson (1990), involving the death of a man named Bruce Lavoie. The Hudson police chief and other officers, after obtaining a search warrant, had entered Lavoie’s apartment at 5 a.m. using a battering ram and Lavoie arose from bed and struggled with an officer whose gun discharged and killed him. The case was settled after discovery but before trial.
In addition to his legal work, Beyer has presented on police misconduct cases for Georgetown University Law Center, the Defense Research Institute, the American Bar Association and the Federal Judicial Center for District and Magistrate Judges and last year held 30 webinars on the subject, attended by thousands.
Retired since 2014, Beyer spent 22 months working on the manuscript for his book, which he hopes to make “a career capstone rather than a stepping stone.”
In his spare time, he enjoys golfing, reading classical literature and offering a Republican perspective on a local community television program.
“It’s been an interesting career,” he says of his legal work. “It’s a nice way to make a living because you read, you write and you talk for a living.”