Developments in the Meriden police investigation
By: Mary Ellen Godin
Posted: Monday, April 18, 2011 10:33 pm
MERIDEN - While city officials consider how to proceed in the case of Officer Evan Cossette, the Police Department explained a six-minute gap in video coverage of an incident involving Cossette that is central to the federal, state and local investigations now under way.
The question of who will decide whether Cossette will be placed on administrative leave during the course of the three investigations - which involve accusations that Cossette engaged in brutality and that the department covered it up - will be settled this week.
City Manager Lawrence Kendzior said the city will determine whether Deputy Chief Timothy Topulos, who has been assigned to rule on the matter, has a conflict of interest and should be making the decision.
"It's a complicated situation," Kendzior said.
Cossette's father, Chief Jeffry Cossette, typically hands matters relating to Evan Cossette over to Topulos, who could not be reached for comment Monday.
Evan Cossette has been at the Connecticut Police Academy taking a class and has taken personal time off, according to several city officials. Kendzior said he would have a decision regarding who should rule on the question of administrative leave when Cossette returns.
Whether an officer is placed on administrative leave depends on the situation and the seriousness of the allegations, said John Williams, a civil rights attorney in New Haven. For example, a sizable number of the police officers being investigated in a federal probe of the East Haven Police Department have not been placed on leave, Williams said.
One thing is clear, Kendzior said: He does not plan to place Chief Cossette on administrative leave.
Chief Cossette is also named in several notices of intent to sue and in a complaint filed by two officers claiming Evan Cossette has received special treatment.
"I have no plans to change his current status at all," Kendzior said.
On Monday, police officials responded to reports of a six-second gap in widely circulated video footage showing Evan Cossette shoving a drunken and handcuffed man into a holding cell. Pedro Temich is seen getting knocked off his feet, falling backward and striking his head on a concrete bench behind him. He was later treated for a fractured skull and received 13 staples to close the wound.
The first video shows several minutes in the department's receiving port when Evan Cossette escorts Temich from the police cruiser inside the booking area. The second video shows the door to the cell opening and Cossette placing two hands on Temich's chest and pushing him across the room.
Evan Cossette said in an Internal Affairs investigation that Temich made gestures suggesting he was about to strike or head-butt him. But the several seconds of video that would presumably have shown any motion preceding the push are missing.
Chief Cossette said the police station has 22 cameras in specific areas that store video on hard drives. After more than 30 days, the system overwrites the video. If flagged, however, it is stored indefinitely.
Sgt. Leonard Caponigro, the Internal Affairs investigator who reviewed the images during his investigation, said he would not comment due to pending litigation. Chief Cossette declined to elaborate on what might have led to the erasure.
Meanwhile, Chief Cossette disputed a recent claim by Officer Donald Huston that the department was retaliating against him by calling for an internal investigation into statements Huston made in a report about his tardiness on a private-duty road job.
Chief Cossette says the department could not have been retaliating, because of the timing of the complaints.
"Claims of retaliation cannot be substantiated if the Internal Affairs was assigned before the complaint letter was submitted to the city manager," the chief wrote in an e-mail.
Cossette said the complaint was filed by Huston's captain and assigned to Internal Affairs on March 31. He said Huston was 15 minutes late to the road construction site and made statements to the captain that were not consistent with other available data about the incident.
But Huston said Monday Chief Cossette was aware he had filed a disparate treatment and nepotism grievance against the chief through the union in January. He said Chief Cossette was also aware that Huston had used Freedom of Information Act requests to secure copies of videos and documents related to the claims of three men who are alleging brutality against Evan Cossette.
On March 28, Sally Roberts, who represents the three men, filed an intent to sue the city, Evan Cossette and top police commanders on brutality allegations.
On March 30, Huston was asked to draft a memo explaining why he was tardy on a road job.
On April 1, Huston and Officer Brian Sullivan filed a formal complaint with the city alleging disparate treatment. Later that day, Huston was handed a letter from Internal Affairs calling on him to answer for tardiness and what the chief claims were untruths in his report.