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Meriden Officer Cossette refused plea bargain

Jesse Buchanan
Posted: Sunday, December 9, 2012 11:30 pm

MERIDEN — Before his indictment on brutality and obstruction charges, Police Officer Evan Cossette turned down a plea bargain that could have helped end a highly publicized 18-month ordeal but also would have removed any chance of clearing his name in court and continuing a career in law enforcement.

Cossette has pleaded not guilty to charges that he pushed a handcuffed, intoxicated prisoner into a concrete bench in a holding cell and then made false statements in his report on the arrest.

As a way of speedily ending trials and ensuring convictions, prosecutors often offer defendants lesser charges in exchange for a guilty plea. However, the conviction on even a misdemeanor would prevent Cossette, son of Meriden Police Chief Jeffry Cossette, from keeping his certificate as a police officer and would end his ability to work in police departments in Connecticut.

Evan Cossette faces up to 20 years in prison and $500,000 in fines if convicted, although maximum sentences are rarely given.

Jeff Meyers, a former federal prosecutor and Quinnipiac University law professor, said federal grand jury cases are strong and result in a plea bargain 95 percent of the time.

But while most defendants lose their cases against the federal government, Meyers said there’s no obligation to take a deal.

“There’s always strong incentive (to plea bargain) but there’s always a number of cases that end in acquittals,” Meyers said. “One hopes that the decision was well informed.”

Unlike swamped state prosecutors, Meyers said, the federal government is less likely to offer lucrative plea deals just to close a case. The longer a case lasts, the less likely federal prosecutors are to offer any sort of a deal.

There is some interest in closing a case, though. Meyers said prosecutors want to avoid any surprises or problems at trial.

Evan Cossette’s lawyer, Raymond Hassett, did not return calls for comment.

State standards for police officers disqualify anyone convicted of a felony or class A or B misdemeanor. Personnel Director Caroline Beitman said the city’s policies mirror state regulations and that it’s possible lesser charges against an officer could also lead to termination if they result in a conviction.

Class A and B misdemeanors encompass a host of criminal activities, such as credit card theft, larceny, patronizing a prostitute and public indecency.

The state Police Officer Standards and Training Council revokes the certification of officers convicted of crimes or acts which are “in a way that’s not consistent with a police officer,” according to former Branford police chief John DeCarlo, now a University of New Haven associate professor.

“It’s a non sequitur,” DeCarlo said of officers convicted of crimes. “You can’t break the law and enforce the law.”

DeCarlo said police officers should be of “good moral character” that extends beyond an absence of criminal convictions. Police officer candidates have their financial records screened for default or other problems, for example.

“It’s a whole package of stuff,” he said.

Evan Cossette became a Meriden Police Explorer at age 14, a police service technician at 19, and finally an officer in 2009 at the age of 22. He was hired and completed the police academy in 2008 and training in early 2009.

“I have a picture from when I was, like, 3 years old of me in a Meriden police uniform,” he said in an interview with the Record-Journal last year. “Public service in Meriden is a tradition in my family. My grandfather was a fireman, my uncle’s a fireman, my dad’s a police officer, my uncle’s a police officer. It’s a tradition I always wanted to do from when I was very young.”

Mayor Michael S. Rohde said a meeting of city councilors and City Manager Lawrence Kendzior took place before the indictment and Evan Cossette’s decision not to take a plea deal was discussed. Rohde didn’t describe what federal prosecutors had offered Cossette. He said Kendzior briefed councilors to keep them informed about the status of a city employee.

“It was a private session on a personnel matter,” Rohde said.

When asked about the meeting, Kendzior had no comment, but another official who was briefed on the situation said two plea deals had been offered and were declined.

Under state law, the city will shoulder the cost of Evan Cossette’s legal defense if he is found innocent but not if he is found guilty.

Evan Cossette was put on administrative leave following the indictment, receiving his full pay but not working at the department. He’ll remain on leave until the conclusion of the case.

He earns $1,353.60 a week without overtime.

Cossette was placed on administrative duty following the arrest of Pedro Temich in 2010, but also received compensation for lost overtime. Kendzior said the police union contract allows the city to withhold overtime compensation for officers facing charges.

Jury selection in the case is scheduled to begin on Jan. 2. Hassett, the defense attorney, will likely spend time reviewing the prosecution’s evidence and may request that the trial be pushed back, according to Milford attorney John T. Walkley, who is not involved in the case. That would give the defense time to review the evidence, and also provide more time for a deal to be reached, Walkley said.

On Tuesday, Hassett filed a request to continue the trial to March 17 to allow him to review evidence.

“The court tends to be generous with time because everyone would prefer to resolve the case without a trial. It avoids the use of court and judicial resources,” he said.

Each case is different and there’s no telling how long it could take, he said.

“If the (defense) attorney needs time to obtain the (evidence) from the government and needs time to review everything and conduct his own investigation, then the date for jury selection in January may not be a real one,” Walkley said prior to the continuance. “Perhaps the actual trial won’t be for months or even a year down the road.”

Staff writer Dan Brechlin contributed to this story.





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