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FBI's motive for Cossette housing document subpoena still unclear

MERIDEN - In November, the FBI subpoenaed documents related to police and housing division activity at 51 View St., a rental property owned by Police Chief Jeffry Cossette's son, Officer Evan Cossette, and 20-28 Jackson St., which is owned by the chief's wife, Susan Cossette.

Several weeks later, it remains unclear why the multi-family homes have drawn the interest of federal authorities, who have been examining allegations of brutality by Evan Cossette, an alleged cover-up by the command staff and other alleged misconduct in the police department since April, when officers Brian Sullivan and Donald Huston called for an investigation. A grand jury was convened a short time later, and is reviewing testimony and other evidence.

"I don't particularly know the details of what the grand jury is looking for," said Susan Cossette, who manages the properties. "If I was making a guess on what it could possibly be, is Officer Donald Huston and Officer Brian Sullivan telling the grand jury blatant lies. Because to the best of my knowledge that's what they both have been doing since April."

Sullivan declined to comment, but Huston repeated his denial that neither of them had talked to investigators about the properties.

"This has nothing to do with us. It's obviously something that the FBI has found," Huston said.

The requests were equally perplexing to City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior, who said he had not received any clarification on the subpoena from federal authorities.

"We don't have any particular information that I know of" on the reasons behind them, he said.

Police have visited the two homes that were the targets of the subpoena a total of 12 times since they were purchased by members of the Cossette family.

Since the three-family home at 20 Jackson St. was purchased by Susan Cossette in September 2009, police have been called to the property on five occasions. Only one call, for a motor vehicle accident in March of this year, resulted in an arrest, on a charge of evading responsibility.

Other calls included an unsubstantiated report of a sexual assault, an abandoned vehicle parked outside the home, and a complaint by Susan Cossette against a Record-Journal reporter who was taking pictures of the property.

On April 29, police were also called to the home for an alleged disturbance involving Juan Mercado. According to an incident report, Mercado was accused of using a knife to threaten a co-worker living at the home, although the neighbor declined to pursue any criminal charges.

Mercado has also been the subject of police responses at the three-family View Street home owned by Evan Cossette, where Mercado is a tenant.

On Aug. 2, a total of seven officers responded to View Street for a report of a large fight. An officer spotted an injured Mercado leaving the scene. The officer eventually tracked Mercado down and arrested him on charges of breach of peace and interfering with an officer. Neighbors who had engaged in the fight with Mercado told police that he had threatened them with a baseball bat and claimed to have a gun.

Two months later, on Oct. 15, police responded to an unspecified disturbance at Evan Cossette's View Street home, and eventually ran a check on Mercado that turned up an active warrant out of Florida. Mercado was detained while police waited for permission to extradite him.

Records for the original Oct. 15 call are limited to a dispatch entry sending an officer to the home, but no narrative of the incident was filed.

A search of the Polk County, Fla., Sheriff's Office website found that a warrant for a Juan Mercado-Cruz, whose date of birth matches that of the tenant at the View Street property, remains active. The warrant is for an assault, according to the website.

Police spokesman Sgt. Darrin McKay said that the lack of records related to the call could reflect an anonymous complaint that turned out to be unfounded. Police generally run warrant checks on anyone they encounter as the result of a complaint, and do not need probable cause to do so.

Other calls to 51 View St. included another fight between two groups of tenants at the home in January, and a complaint of a motor vehicle with its lights on outside the house. In March, Susan Cossette called police to complain that a set of cabinets, which she valued at about $200, had been stolen from the basement apartment.

She reported that she suspected a past tenant may have stolen them, but the tenant could not be located and no arrest has been made.

Susan Cossette said that she has never improperly used police resources to deal with issues at any of her properties, and has only called when she personally witnessed a disturbance.

"As landlords, we don't call the police for (tenants), because we're not there," she said.

Susan Cossette said she considered herself a conscientious landlord.

Chief Cossette did not respond to a request for comment. Evan Cossette declined to answer questions. Mercado could not be reached for comment.

The number of calls to the Jackson Street and View Street home pale in comparison to those at other city homes owned by the Cossettes, including 76 calls to a rooming house at 170 Colony St. since 2003, 43 calls to 118 Colony St. since 2007, and 41 calls to 47 Lincoln St. since 2007. Most of those calls are for routine disturbances, although many have resulted in arrests.

A request by the Record-Journal for specific information on those responses is pending.

Susan Cossette said she partners with the Rushford Center to provide rooms for clients who suffer from mental health problems at the Lincoln Street home.

Police may be called to the home when a client is off medication or struggling with psychological issues, and many need to live near the inner city to be within walking distance of services or public transportation, she said.

Police records for the Jackson Street and View Street homes do not include any responses by detectives, such as those in the police department's Crime Suppression Unit, or the department's SWAT team.

Spokesman Det. Lt. Mark Walerysiak said that the Crime Suppression Unit is a detective division, which is not obligated to keep records of its activity. The department declined to release SWAT records, saying they included sensitive information on tactical and investigatory techniques. Susan Cossette said that the SWAT team had never visited any of her properties.

The November subpoena also included requests for information related to the city's Housing Division and Neighborhood Rehabilitation Advisory Board. Documents detailing the Housing Division's structure and code, as well as the membership and policies of the advisory board were delivered to authorities last month. A request for information on the Housing Division's policies for responding to allegations of harassment, intimidation or discriminatory treatment was not met because the Housing Division has no such policies.

As part of their investigation, federal authorities have also issued subpoenas to obtain documents including police Taser records, internal investigations and responses to the Westfield Meriden mall.




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