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Federal Appeals Court Upholds Former Meriden Police Officer's Conviction

Evan Cossette, center, with his legal team, leaves New Haven Federal Courthouse after he was found guilty on both counts by the jury on Monday afternoon. (Patrick Raycraft, Hartford Courant)

 By David Owens

A federal appeals court has upheld the June 2013 conviction of Evan Cossette, a former Meriden police officer serving a 14-month prison at a federal prison in Ashland, Ky.

Cossette was convicted by a jury after a four-day trial which centered on a videotape of Cossette pushing a handcuffed prisoner backward into a holding cell at the police department in May 2010. The prisoner, Pedro Temich, struck his head on a concrete bench and was knocked unconscious.

In his appeal, Cossette claimed he was denied due process because he lacked "fair warning" that his conduct was illegal.

The videotape shows Cossette entering the cell several times and moving the unconscious man around before eventually removing his handcuffs and propping him up against the bench as EMTs arrived.

In sentencing Cossette, U.S. District Court Judge Janet Bond Arterton said Cossette appeared to be "setting up a rag doll on the video" as he moved Temich around the holding cell and that a police officer has a duty to protect people whether they "are in custody or dead drunk."

"The video that depicts these events shows a gratuitous show of force that appears to say 'take that' " Arterton said at his sentencing in September 2013. "The offense made thereafter following the split second judgment decision – the purposeful distortion of the police report to justify the use of force -- makes it all the worse."

Arterton agreed with Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul McConnell's statement that if Cossette had just owned up to making the mistake of pushing Temich and not tried to cover it up there would likely have been no criminal case.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York rejected Cossette's appeal, saying Cossette should have known his conduct was illegal.

"Cosette was charged with using force without provocation or need, specifically, with 'assaulting' a detainee who was already 'handcuffed' in a 'holding cell' and, most important, 'compliant' with police," according to the decision. "Cossette does not — and cannot — contend that he lacked fair notice that gratuitously assaulting a detainee, without provocation or need, constituted an unreasonable use of force." The judges reached the same conclusion on Cossette's appeal of his conviction for falsifying his report on the incident.

The incident wasn't investigated internally for months and Cossette was eventually issued a letter of reprimand. Federal authorities began their investigation after two police officers complained to the city manager that Evan Cossette was getting favorable treatment because his father, Jeffry Cossette, is Meriden's police chief.

The videotape was shown numerous times to the jury during the trial and Cossette testified, denying that he had used improper force against the much smaller Temich and testifying he felt threatened by the prisoner.

The jury deliberated for about four hours before convicting him on both counts. He resigned as a Meriden police officer within days. Cossette's is scheduled to be released from prison Jan. 31, 2015.

Copyright © 2014, Hartford Courant




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