Indicted Meriden police officer pleads not guilty in federal court
Mary Ellen Godin
Posted: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 7:51 pm
NEW HAVEN — Meriden Police Officer Evan Cossette pleaded not guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court to charges of excessive force and obstructing justice in an incident involving a handcuffed prisoner.
Cossette faced Magistrate Joan Margolis, who set bail at $75,000 for the 25-year-old police officer and ordered him to surrender his passport and weapons. Cossette’s father, Meriden Police Chief Jeffry Cossette, did not attend the arraignment.
Jury selection for Evan Cossette’s trial before U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton begins Jan. 2.
Cossette, who wore a dark suit and white shirt, sat quietly with his attorney Raymond Hassett and answered questions about whether he understood the charges against him, and agreed with the conditions of his bail.
“Not guilty,” Cossette said softly but firmly when asked how he pleaded to both charges.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul H. McDonnell and an FBI special agent who assisted in the 18-month investigation were also in the courtroom and agreed to the terms of release, which include regular reporting to a probation officer and permission to leave to visit family in Florida and Boston with advance notice.
Hassett successfully argued against a prosecution request for a mental health evaluation. Margolis ordered such an evaluation if probation officials deemed it necessary.
Cossette was joined in court by a sister and his mother, Susan Cossette, who with the chief co-signed for Evan Cossette’s bail. Evan Cossette is on paid administrative leave from the Meriden Police Department.
Neither Cossette nor Hassett responded to media questions about the proceedings. A smiling Cossette said “Happy Thanksgiving” to the television cameras as he walked out of the courthouse.
Cossette is charged with one count of use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000. He is also charged with one count of obstruction of a federal investigation by preparing a false report, which carries a maximum prison term of 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000.
The indictment alleges that on May 1, 2010, Cossette escorted an intoxicated and handcuffed Pedro Temich into a holding cell and firmly shoved Temich, causing him to fall backwards and strike his head on a cement cell bench. Temich suffered a severe gash on his head and lost consciousness, but regained it prior to the arrival of paramedics.
The indictment further alleges that Cossette obstructed justice by making false and misleading statements, as well as material omissions, in his report relating to the arrest and processing of Temich.
Another police officer, Leighton “Buddy” Gibbs, initially backed Cossette’s version of events, claiming that Temich was making movements toward Evan Cossette which led to the push. But Gibbs later recanted that statement during interviews with the FBI and state police investigators and said he never saw Temich motion toward Cossette.
An internal affairs investigation determined that Cossette may have violated department rules against police brutality. However, the department’s deputy chief gave Cossette a letter of reprimand and an order for more training.
The Temich incident was among several complaints against Cossette and other officers detailed in a letter to city officials alleging brutality and disparate treatment within the police department. Officers Donald Huston and Brian Sullivan, who also faced internal affairs investigations, reported that discipline was handed down unevenly.
Since the Temich incident, Cossette had more than six more internal affairs complaints, at least three of them involving brutality allegations. He was cleared of all of them.
In addition to one by Temich, there are two other civil rights lawsuits against Cossette pending in federal court.
“Those that abuse their power should be held accountable,” Temich’s lawyer, Sally Roberts, said in a statement last week. “They should not be able to flaunt their abuse of power with impunity. We have waited a long time for this moment.”
Several Meriden residents attended Tuesday’s arraignment to get a glimpse of the proceedings. They also talked about alleged favoritism in the department, and allegations that the younger Cossette wasn’t disciplined seriously enough.
“I knew his father when he was a rookie,” said Kenneth Nowlin, Meriden resident. “I never knew him to be like that.”
According to Meriden Mayor Michael S. Rohde, Cossette was recently offered and turned down a deal allowing him to plead guilty to a misdemeanor in exchange for a promise he would never work as a police officer again.
Meriden Police Officer Evan Cossette (right) leaves Richard C. Lee Court House with attorney Raymond M. Hassett (left) in New Haven on Tuesday November 20, 2012. Cossette appeared in federal court on charges of police brutality and obstruction of justice. (Matt Andrew/ For the Record-Journal)
Reporter Jesse Buchanan contributed to this report.