Meriden officer receives 14-month sentence in brutality case
Published: September 23, 2013 | Last Modified: September 23, 2013 10:45PM
By Mary Ellen Godin Record-Journal staff
NEW HAVEN — A federal judge sentenced former Meriden police officer Evan Cossette on Monday to 14 months in federal prison for using excessive force against a prisoner and falsifying a police report to cover it up.
U.S. District Court Judge Janet Bond Arterton sentenced Cossette to a term below the recommended guidelines of 27 to 33 months. The sentence includes one year of supervised parole and restitution to be paid in an amount to be determined in 90 days. He must report to federal marshals on Dec. 3 to begin his prison sentence.
Wearing a navy suit, Cossette, 26, stood before Arterton and said he never intended to harm prisoner Pedro Temich and he apologized for any injuries Temich sustained.
Cossette told the court he said he was not the person portrayed during the trial and the realization of never serving as a police officer again was severe punishment. He asked the judge to consider his past when considering his future.
“I’m a good person who has always wanted to help people,” Cossette said.
He also said he hoped the city of Meriden could move on from the distraction caused by the FBI probe into the department, his arrest and conviction.
Cossette’s father, Police Chief Jeffry Cossette, mother and immediate family members sat behind Cossette during the proceedings.
An audible gasp from a female family member filled the courtroom when Arterton remanded Cossette to the custody of the U.S. attorney. His father had tears in his eyes.
“One door is closing but others will open and the characteristics that your family and friends have written about can still be put to good use,” Arterton said.
Cossette was convicted by a federal jury in June during a trial that included police surveillance videotape of Cossette pushing a handcuffed Temich backwards in a holding cell. The push caused Temich to strike his head on a concrete bench and lose consciousness. Temich suffered a serious gash to the back of his head that required 12 stitches. Cossette is also seen on the video moving Temich around several times before removing his handcuffs.
The incident was not brought to the attention of top brass for several weeks when another officer complained to internal affairs. After an investigation that revealed Cossette may have violated rules governing excessive force, Deputy Chief Timothy Topulos recommended a letter of reprimand and four hours of training.
The FBI began its investigation when former officer Brian Sullivan and officer Donald Huston complained to City Manager Lawrence Kendzior that Cossette had a pattern of using excessive force on prisoners but was getting favorable treatment because he was the chief’s son.
Cossette was indicted in November and pleaded not guilty. During his four-day trial, Cossette repeated his earlier statements that he believed Temich was preparing to strike him. But the jury, which viewed the video numerous times, rejected Cossette’s version and convicted him on both counts.
The following day, Cossette resigned from the police force.
Arterton listed several factors in setting Cossette’s sentence: his lack of any prior criminal convictions, supportive letters from family and friends and that prison time is always more difficult to serve for police officers.
“These offenses become more serious because of the distinction of the pledge to ‘serve and protect,’ ” Arterton said prior to sentencing. “The purposeful distortion of the report to justify the use of force makes this all the more serious.”
Temich did not appear in court.
Arterton received many letters on Cossette’s behalf from police officers, city employees, family members and friends describing a “caring,” “hard-working” and “respectful” young man. But she told Cossette there were pros and cons of being the son of the police chief, and said that he was too young, 23, at the time of the Temich for the responsibility he was given.
Raymond Hassett, Cossette’s attorney, argued that incarceration was not necessary because there is no danger that he will offend again. He also said Cossette’s sentence doesn’t need to be a deterrent because the case was so highly publicized that other officers in the state are on notice that any use of force can lead to federal prosecution,
Hassett told reporters outside court the most difficult part of the trial was reconciling the version of Cossette portrayed during the trial with the young man he knows. He also reminded reporters that Temich, who Cossette arrested on charges of drunken driving and evading responsibility, was never convicted and never served prison time.
Hassett said no decision had been made regarding an appeal and did not argue for Cossette’s release pending appeal, which typically happens during sentencing, according to Thomas Carson, Department of Justice spokesman.
The U.S. attorney’s office argued for a sentence that fell within the guidelines.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul MConnell argued the case was about more than Cossette, or a shove, it was about an officer’s honesty.
“This particular defendant’s plea shows a lack of remorse,” McConnell said. “This case is not about a push or shove. This isn’t about second-guessing. It’s more than about the coverup. It’s about the oath of a police officer. Our system of justice at its foundation depends on the truth. More than anything it depends on the officers of the court to tell the truth. We stand for you when you’re brave and tell the truth. If you use your shield as a sword, the court will sentence you accordingly.”
According to Hassett, the Cossette family has asked that Evan Cossette’s sentence be served at Otisville Federal Correctional Institution in New York. But the final determination is made by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which determines the level of risk and other factors. Otisville is a medium-security facility with a minimum-security satellite prison camp. It is in southeastern New York state, about 70 mile northwest of New York City.
Police officers are generally placed in protective custody in federal prison, but there are no hard and fast rules, said defense attorney Norman Pattis.
Cossette was escorted out of the courtroom by members of the city’s Police Department who helped him into an unmarked black car bearing a dashboard sign that read, “Meriden Police, Official Business.”