Meriden cop whose complaint spurred federal probe retires
Published: September 18, 2013 | Last Modified: September 19, 2013 02:20PM
By Mary Ellen Godin Record-Journal staff
MERIDEN — One of two officers facing disciplinary action for statements made in a complaint about nepotism and disparate treatment in the police department has retired on medical disability.
Officer Brian Sullivan, a 14-year veteran, was officially granted retirement on Sept. 11, according to city Personnel Director Caroline Beitman.
Sullivan and Officer Donald Huston face administrative charges that they were untruthful in a 22-page complaint letter to City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior in 2011. The city hired former New Hampshire Police Chief Charles Reynolds to review the internal affairs complaints against officers Sullivan and Huston and to rule on discipline. He has yet to release findings six weeks after the two officers defended themselves on charges they may have violated department rules and regulations. The Aug. 8 hearings lasted more than eight hours. According to Beitman, any sustained charges won’t affect Sullivan’s pension or benefits because the city can’t discipline an employee after retirement. Reynolds could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Beitman said union attorney Eric Brown, who represents Huston and Sullivan, asked to submit more information for Reynolds’ consideration on Sept. 7, but she isn’t sure if that delayed his decision.
With Sullivan retired, Huston faces three possible outcomes; no action, suspension, or termination. City officials have said Reynolds’ ruling is final. Huston and Sullivan’s letter alleged that former officer Evan Cossette was not held accountable for a pattern of excessive force against prisoners. Cossette, who is the son of Police Chief Jeffry Cossette, was indicted after an FBI investigation into the allegations. He was convicted in June and faces up to 30 years when sentenced Monday.
The complaint also mentioned several incidents, not involving Cossette, of alleged disparate treatment and nepotism within the department that were not substantiated. An internal affairs investigation was launched after several officers named in the letter filed complaints against Huston and Sullivan. It stated the two officers lied about events, made public statements that were not true, and violated departmental rules on officer conduct.
“The findings coming out of the IA investigation found that some of the things officers Huston and Sullivan said may have been untrue or said with a reckless disregard for truthfulness,” Kendzior said after the hearings. “Obviously honesty and truthfulness in a police officer is a very important principle. We went to great lengths in doing the appeal of those findings to ensure it was fair and impartial.” But the officers’ attorneys accused the city and the department of retaliation, claiming they “had gone into the weeds” in bringing charges against them. And despite being immune to discipline, Sullivan’s name and reputation are at stake. “All he (Sullivan) did was come forward and say there is a bad egg in the department and they put him through the wringer,” said attorney Frank Cannatelli, who represents Sullivan and Huston in a civil complaint against the city.
“This poor guy was in a fortunate position,” Cannatelli said. “He outsmarted them. He loved his job and he would have stayed on as best he could if they didn’t retaliate. They were looking for a needle in a haystack.” Hartford attorney Salvatore Bonanno, who represents Huston, said the officers are protected under state whistleblower protection laws, and had presented strong defenses during the hearings. “As Officer Huston’s attorney, I trust the hearing officer is going to make a fair and just review of what he heard at the hearing,” Bonanno said. “How long it takes is less important than that the right result occurs.”
Cannatelli has filed a federal lawsuit on the officers’ behalf against the city and the department’s top brass alleging retaliation. Cannatelli said Sullivan was denied certain training positions he had before the complaint letter and was not notified there were internal affairs complaints filed against him.
Sullivan and Huston were represented at the hearing by Brown, who could not be reached for comment.