In Meriden Police Brutality Case, There Was A Gap In A Tape
No Recording Of Move Officer Contends Prisoner Made Toward Him At Holding Cell
By DAVE ALTIMARI,
The Hartford Courant
9:48 AM EDT, April 18, 2011
The officer who is a target in a federal probe of the police department claimed he pushed a handcuffed prisoner because the man had spun toward him in a threatening manner and invaded his personal space.
But a review of the security tapes of the May 2010 incident involving Evan Cossette, the police chief's son, and the prisoner, Pedro Temich, shows there is about a six to eight second gap in the security tapes that could have been picked up by a camera in the booking area outside the holding cell. Police now say that tape has been erased.
The gap coincides with the time when the prisoner would have made the move that Cossette described to internal affairs investigators.
Meriden police turned over the holding cell video to FBI agents late this week as part of the joint federal and state investigation into allegations that a series of police brutality complaints against Evan Cossette were dismissed because his father, Jeffry Cossette, is the police chief.
There are two videos: The first shows Cossette walking Temich from his cruiser out of the sally port to book him. The second video shows what happened inside the holding cell when Cossette pushed Temich down.
The gap in the security videos already made public by police could have shown what happened when Cossette escorted a handcuffed Temich through the sallyport doors and walked him over to a holding cell less than 20 feet from those doors. It could also show what happened as Cossette opened the holding cell door.
In his interview with internal affairs, Cossette said that as he opened the holding cell door Temich "spun around and invaded my personal space."
"I became fearful that he (Temich) was going to continue to be combative and possibly headbutt me or even kick me as he attempted to do at the scene,'' Cossette told Sgt. Leonard Caponigro during the interview.
The Courant asked Jeffry Cossette a series of questions about the gap in the security tapes last week and he didn't respond.
Attorney Sally Roberts, who is representing Temich, requested the security tapes from the booking area for the night Temich was arrested and was told last week by Caponigro, the head of internal affairs, that the "camera system does not support video from that far back."
Caponigro told her that the videotapes are saved for 30 days and then erased.
The missing tape became an issue during Cossette's internal affairs interview as well when union steward John T. Williams asked Caponigro about the gap between the tape showing Cossette bringing Temich through the sallyport door and what happened inside the holding cell.
Caponigro seemed to indicate that he had watched that tape even though it was well after the 30-day storage period because the initial unnecessary force complaint against Cossette wasn't filed until more than six weeks after the May 1 incident.
"What about the camera outside the door in the center area there?'' Williams asked.
"Yeah I don't think it caught anything because when they opened the door it blocked the view,'' Caponigro responded.
The videotape picks up again with Temich, his hands cuffed behind him, backing into the cell and Cossette pushing him with two hands. Temich is at least two full steps into the cell when Cossette pushes him, which seems to contradict the officer's version.
Cossette said that he couldn't close the holding cell door and that he was fearful for his own safety so he gave Temich a "firm push back in order to get him into the cell."
"Unfortunately he was too intoxicated and fell down and bumped his head and then we rendered medical assistance,'' Cossette said, adding that he later found out at MidState Medical Center that Temich's blood-alcohol level was 0.321, four times the legal limit.
The video shows Temich falling backward and cracking his head on a concrete bench in the back of the cell. It required 12 sutures at the hospital to close the wound, Roberts said..
The videotape shows Temich lying unconscious in the cell as Cossette enters at least six times and moves him around, twice propping Temich up against the bench and another time putting him back on the ground so that he could remove the handcuffs. There is blood visible on the floor where Temich fell.
Cossette did not call for medical help, police reports indicate. An attorney representing Temich said that a dispatcher who saw Temich on the camera at the front desk called for an ambulance. Paramedics arrived about five minutes after Cossette first pushed Temich to the ground.
Caponigro never asked Cossette why he didn't call for medical assistance or why he moved a man with head injuries several times.
The Hunter's Ambulance record of the call states that the Meriden Police Department reported that patient was intoxicated and fell.
The ambulance records note the patient had a head injury that was bleeding from the back. Paramedics placed Temich in a collar and then fully immobilized him on a long board before taking him to the ambulance. The records note that in the ambulance Temich had to be restrained because he became extremely combative.
Caponigro went through the videotape of the push with Cossette and pointed out that Temich didn't seem to be combative.
"It appears, Officer Cossette, that he is backing up into the cell,'' Caponigro said.
Cossette answered, "The camera also doesn't tell the full story."
"That's what I've been told,'' Caponigro responded.
Caponigro concluded that he "did not see any furtive movements from this handcuffed male that would have caused Officer Cossette to push him." He cited Cossette for using unnecessary force in handling a prisoner.
But at an administrative hearing in front of Deputy Chief Timothy S. Topulos, the charges were lowered and only a letter of reprimand was placed in Cossette's file. Cossette also was ordered to take four hours of training on the use on unnecessary force.
It is not clear if Cossette completed that training. In the eight months after the Temich incident two other police brutality complaints were filed against Cossette. He was cleared both times.
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