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It’s Desk Duty For Officer Cossette, Pending Probes

By: Mary Ellen Godin,
Record-Journal staff
Posted: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 11:03 pm 

MERIDEN - Officer Evan Cossette, son of Police Chief Jeffry Cossette, was placed on administrative duty Tuesday pending the outcome of three investigations into possible police brutality and nepotism in the department.

City Manager Lawrence Kendzior made the decision after discussions with city Personnel Director Caroline Beitman and Chief Cossette over how similar situations have been handled in the past. But the decision was ultimately his, Kendzior said.

"We felt that with the pending allegations, he should not be doing police work," Kendzior said. "It would impact how he does police work and how people interact with him."

The decision to place Evan Cossette on administrative duty instead of administrative leave was based on departmental reports showing he was cleared in two Internal Affairs investigations of alleged use of excessive force, and disciplined on the third. He will collect his base pay plus the average overtime he would have received on regular duty. The findings of the city's internal investigation will determine whether Cossette will return to his police duties or face discipline.

The allegations came to light when three men filed notices of intent to sue the city, Evan Cossette and some top members of the Police Department, including Chief Cossette. The men, through their attorney, Sally Roberts, claim Evan Cossette used excessive force in three separate instances when they were arrested or in his custody.

Kendzior and Beitman also ruled Tuesday on two issues involving Officer Donald Huston, one of two officers who filed a complaint with the city alleging disparate treatment in favor of Evan Cossette.

Huston was suspended for five days in January after Chief Cossette determined that he used excessive force in a melee outside the Westfield Meriden mall last October. Huston had been cleared by Internal Affairs and by department detectives in a criminal investigation. During the process, he was placed on a 45-day paid leave, earning his base wage but not his average overtime pay.

Huston filed a grievance through the police union to the state labor board, claiming the discipline was excessive and claiming that during his paid leave he should have received average overtime.

Huston also had faced a disciplinary hearing last Thursday over allegations he lied about being tardy to a private-duty road job last month.

Kendzior and Beitman said Tuesday they were granting Huston his back overtime pay for the weeks he was on leave. They also agreed to address the tardiness complaint by placing a "tardy slip" in his personnel file, ending an Internal Affairs investigation into the allegations.

Kendzior said the timing of the decisions involving Huston was not coincidental, but he stopped short of commenting on a possible perception of favoritism within the department until the independent investigation is concluded.

"We both agreed it was the appropriate action," Kendzior said. "It lessens the number of outstanding issues in the situation. Clearly there were arguments for the course of action that was taken. In these situations, it was an outstanding issue that could be reasonably resolved without taking a position either way."

Union President Lt. Patrick Gaynor said the union fought for both Evan Cossette and Huston. Union representatives asked that Cossette be placed on administrative duty for his own sake and those of officers who work with him.

Video of Cossette pushing a detainee in a holding cell has been widely circulated and may have influenced citizen opinion in the city, Gaynor said. Public knowledge of the pending lawsuits could make Cossette and any partner he works with a lightning rod for excessive-force allegations, Gaynor said.

The union also backed Huston in his effort to receive the overtime pay he lost while on administrative leave.

Both the union and Beitman said the language in the contract regarding average overtime pay was ambiguous and needed clarification to eliminate inconsistencies. Tuesday's decisions on Huston and Cossette will clarify that language, Gaynor said.

"There is no clear practice," Gaynor said. "In some instances they've given it and in some instances they haven't given it."

The union is still fighting Huston's five-day suspension.

Chief Cossette could not be reached for comment Tuesday.



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