FOXBORO - Police Chief Edward O'Leary has been sued by two concertgoers detained for alleged drunkenness before a Bruce Springsteen show at Gillette Stadium last month in a civil action that could have a profound impact on police procedure at future concerts.
The suit by Paul Weldner and Dr. Timothy Dutton, both from Maine, was filed in federal court, alleging they were held under an illegal policy in which police simply round up people they think are drunk.
An attorney for the men says he's seeking class-action status for the suit, alleging the police policy has been in effect at other concerts affecting hundreds of people, if not more.
Weldner and Dutton are suing to strike down the policy and for unspecified damages, citing "emotional distress and humiliation."
In the Springsteen incident, the pair was on a bus trip organized by Dutton to take about 50 fans from the Portland, Maine, area to the Aug. 18 show at Gillette Stadium.
Both men were drinking, but neither was "incapacitated" - the state's legal standard for putting people into protective custody, the lawsuit said.
"We are confident that ... (police) were basically casting the net too wide," said David Milton, an attorney for the plaintiffs. "The statute's called protective custody. It's not meant to be preventive detention."
Milton said he believes more than 1,000 people were also wrongly detained under O'Leary's policy, including at the Aug. 24-25 New England Country Music Festival at Gillette Stadium. He's seeking class-action status.
O'Leary said Monday that he hadn't read the lawsuit and couldn't comment.
Sixty-six people were taken into protective custody at the Springsteen concert, which drew an audience of 46,700 fans.
That was more than was taken into custody at last year's Springsteen appearance, but O'Leary said after the concert fans were mostly well-behaved, calling them a "more mature" crowd.
A week later at the two-night country music fest featuring Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, local and state police took 617 people into protective custody.
O'Leary, who serves as head of security for events at Gillette Stadium, said after the country-western concerts: "We set a higher bar for the protection of the public that goes to these events. Several of the young people taken into protective custody were so impaired, we feared for their lives and they were sent to the hospital."

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