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Meriden officer indicted on brutality, obstruction charges

Mary Ellen Godin
Posted: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 2:22 pm

MERIDEN — A federal grand jury Wednesday indicted Police Officer Evan Cossette on charges he used unreasonable force following a May 1, 2010 arrest and then filed a false report on the incident.

Cossette, 25, is the son of Police Chief Jeffry Cossette.

The grand jury found that Cossette “firmly shoved the compliant and handcuffed” Pedro Temich into a holding cell, causing him to fall backward and strike his head on a concrete bench. Temich suffered “a deep cut and trauma to his head,” the indictment states.

Cossette then falsely claimed in his report that Temich was uncooperative and had tried to engage in a physical altercation, according to the four-page indictment.

Cossette eventually received a written reprimand following an internal affairs investigation that wasn’t launched until six weeks after the incident.

The Temich incident received public attention after two city police officers, Donald Huston and Brian Sullivan, sent a letter to the city manager claiming widespread misconduct within the department, including brutality and preferential treatment for the chief’s son. Video news footage of the Temich incident in the holding cell caught the interest of New Haven State’s Attorney Michael Dearington, who asked state police to investigate in April 2011.

Temich has also filed a civil suit against Evan Cossette and the city, which is pending.

A former federal prosecutor, Thomas Daily, was hired by the city to investigate the two officers' allegations and cleared the department of any wrongdoing and Evan Cossette of any pattern of excessive force.

Evan Cossette could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

He faces one count of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer, which carries a maximum jail term of 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000, according to a statement by U.S. Attorney David B. Fein. He is also charged with one count of obstruction of justice by preparing a false report, which carries a maximum jail term of 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000, Fein said.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arteron in New Haven. Cossette's arraignment is scheduled for Nov. 20 before U.S. Magistrate Joan G. Margolis in New Haven, who will review his rights and set bail.

Mayor Michael S. Rohde said Wednesday that Officer Cossette would be placed on paid administrative leave.

“He obviously will go through the judicial process,” Rohde said. “He’s innocent until proven guilty.”

Fein also stressed in a statement that an indictment is not evidence of guilt and that charges are only allegations.

Asked whether the indictment changed his opinion of Daily’s findings, Rohde said the city’s investigator did not have access to the same information as the FBI and state police.

Rohde also said he believed this would be the only indictment in the case, but that he could not say for certain.

If Cossette is found not guilty, the city is obligated to pay his legal expenses, Rohde said.

Asked what the indictment meant for Chief Cossette, Rohde said he would reserve judgment until the legal process plays out. The chief could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior said he could not comment on the indictment but he defended the city’s actions in dealing with allegations against the department.

“I know and I’m confident that the things the city of Meriden should have done have been done appropriately,” he said. “We have taken the actions that we should have taken and will take whatever action is necessary, depending on the outcome, whatever it may be.”

New Britain attorney Sally Roberts, who represents Temich and two other clients in brutality suits against Evan Cossette, said her clients “have waited a long time for this moment.

“My clients are adamant that they were assaulted by Officer Cossette. They are looking forward to their day in court when they can show the video evidence to a jury,” she said. “We believe the videos speak for themselves and clearly show Officer Cossette out of control in using excessive force against my clients.”

Cossette is defended in the civil suits by attorney James Tallberg, who declined to comment Wednesday. He would not say whether Cossette had retained counsel in the criminal matter.

A Department of Justice spokesman said Wednesday that the FBI and state police investigation is ongoing and that the case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul H. McConnell.

New Haven attorney John Williams, who represents plaintiffs in civil suits brought against indicted East Haven police officers, said Wednesday’s indictment in Meriden may not be the only one, and that it’s likely to bolster Temich’s civil suit.

Temich could not be reached for comment.

Williams also said that officers who are eventually convicted in brutality and obstruction cases generally serve jail time.

“A physical altercation”

On May 1, 2010, officers Cossette, Huston and Jeffrey Selander investigated a hit-and-run incident and came upon what Cossette described in his report as a large party. Upon identifying Temich as the likely driver, the officers attempted to arrest him but found that he was intoxicated and refusing to comply.

Cossette and Huston struggled with Temich as they arrested him and placed him in Cossette's cruiser, while Selander drew his Taser to keep the crowd back, according to police reports.

Cossette drove Temich to police headquarters and escorted him from the squad car into the holding cell, according to the indictment. Once inside the holding cell, the indictment states that Cossette firmly shoved the “compliant and handcuffed” Temich, causing him to fall backward and strike his head on a concrete bench. Temich suffered a deep cut and trauma to his head that required medical attention, according to the indictment.

In the video, Cossette can be seen moving an unconscious Temich on the floor. Temich later regains consciousness before paramedics arrive.

The next day, Cossette submitted an official police report detailing the investigation, apprehension and arrest of Temich and his injuries. According to the indictment, Cossette “falsely claimed” that (Temich) “remained uncooperative and immediately spun around when I placed him in the cell. (Temich) invaded my personal space and I became fearful that he would again attempt to engage me in a physical altercation and possibly head butt me.”

Sgt. Leonard Caponigro, the internal affairs officer at the time, initially ruled that Cossette had violated department use-of-force procedures, but he was overruled by Deputy Chief Timothy Topulos, who reduced the violation to a lesser charge and ordered Cossette to receive four hours of training.

A first responder told the grand jury that Cossette told him Temich had not lost consciousness, according to the indictment.

Retired Officer Leighton “Buddy” Gibbs, who witnessed the Temich incident, initially backed Cossette’s story during an interview with internal affairs. But during grand jury testimony, Gibbs recanted his statements.

"Officer Gibbs did not notice any struggle occur," according to a letter of intent to sue the city filed on Gibbs’ behalf. "Officer Cossette placed cuffs on the prisoner, and put him in the cell. (Gibbs) heard Officer Cossette yell about five to seven times to sit down. Officer Gibbs then saw Officer Cossette move his arms quickly as if to push the suspect. Then Officer Gibbs heard what sounded like a melon splitting."

Gibbs says that after changing his story, he was harassed and retaliated against by department officials.





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