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Meriden Police Brutality Probe Could Focus On Internal Affairs

Records raise questions about whether chief's son got special treatment


By DAVE ALTIMARI, daltimar@courant.com

The Hartford Courant

5:27 PM EDT, April 7, 2011

After conducting a six-minute interview concerning a brutality complaint against the Meriden police chief's son, the head of the department's internal affairs division told the officer he was "just going through the motions" and would have the investigation wrapped up quickly.

Sgt. Leonard Caponigro chuckled with Officer Evan Cossette about the size of the man who filed the complaint at the end of the interview, department records show.

Two weeks later Caponigro conducted a seven-minute interview with Det. John Cerejo, who was with Cossette during the incident in question, and then closed the case without ever interviewing the complainant, Robert Methvin, before ruling the brutality charges weren't substantiated.

As the police department faces allegations from within that Cossette has been given preferential treatment related to brutality charges because he is Police Chief Jeffry Cossette's son, the handling of Methvin's brutality complaint will likely draw the interest of independent investigators city officials have said they may hire.

Methvin's complaint is one of three excessive force complaints made against Evan Cossette in less than a year, records show.

In two cases, Cossette was exonerated. In a third, involving a handcuffed prisoner who suffered a cracked skull when he was pushed into a concrete bench in a holding cell by Cossette, the officer received a letter of reprimand and was told by the deputy chief that "a mistake was made."

Two officers, Donald Huston and Brian Sullivan, last week sent a letter to City Manager Lawrence Kendzior seeking an independent investigation of the way the police department handles internal affairs complaints and discipline of officers. Kendzior said he is considering hiring an outside investigator to review the allegations.

Neither Chief Cossette nor Caponigro could not be reached for comment Thursday. In previous statements, Cossette has said the two officers who filed the complaint do not have the backing of the union and are disgruntled employees out to get him and his family.

"I have always operated the Police Department in a transparent environment. I am confident that any inquiry will reveal a fair and equitable rendering of discipline within the Meriden Police Department,'' the chief said in a written statement Wednesday.

Methvin was arrested on Oct. 5 2010 after his wife called police and said he was drunk and belligerent.

Internal affairs records show Cerejo was the first officer on the scene followed by Evan Cossette. The officers told Caponigro in their separate interviews that Methvin was profane, threatening, would not listen to Cerejo's commands to go back into the house and would not turn over his license.

When Cerejo attempted to handcuff Methvin, a scuffle broke out and Cossette acknowledged that he kneed Methvin in the mouth, causing him to bleed. While Cossette later described the injuries as "superficial" in his internal affairs interview, Methvin was transported to the hospital and needed six stitches to close the gash on his jaw where his teeth ripped through.

Cossette was using a cruiser with a video camera and also was wearing a body microphone that had automatically been turned on as he was responding to the scene. While the videotape from the vehicle doesn't capture the physical confrontation, the microphone does capture a conversation between Cerejo and Cossette as they stand by a cruiser watching medical personnel attend to Methvin.

Cerejo asks Cossette "how did that happen to his face?" and Cossette replies that he kneed him.

Cerejo then said that he "saw a shot come in from somewhere" and that he could hear the "skin on skin" contact, to which Cossette replies, while laughing, "that was my knee hitting his face."

The other alleged brutality complaint against Evan Cossette occurred in January at MidState Medical Center.

In a notice of intent to sue the city, attorney Sally Roberts, representing Joseph G. Bryans, alleges that Evan Cossette tackled Bryans in the parking lot and, after he handcuffed him, tasered Bryans several times in the back. The complaint also alleges that Cossette handcuffed Bryans to a hospital bed and ignored complaints by Bryans that the handcuffs were too tight. The complaint alleges that he suffered nerve damage in his wrist because of that.

Roberts filed an unnecessary force complaint with the department on Bryan’s behalf. Cossette was cleared of any wrongdoing by internal affairs.

Both of those incidents came after Evan Cossette was disciplined for an incident in the holding cell involving a prisoner named Pedro Temicho. The town has also been served a notice of intent to sue in the Temich case.

Temich was arrested on May 1, 2010 after fighting with police who responded to a party.

A security video of inside a holding cell at the police station shows Evan Cossette pushing the handcuffed Temich in the chest. Temich falls backward, slamming his head into a concrete bench, knocking him unconscious.

The videotape shows Cossette entering the cell at least six times and moving Temich around, twice propping him 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. He was transported to the MidState Medical Center and required 12 staples to close the wound in the back of his head.

No investigation was done of the jail cell incident until nearly six weeks later, when an anonymous complaint was made to Caponigro. In his internal affairs interview in that case, Evan Cossette said that he felt that Temich, who was arrested on a charge of drunken driving, was moving toward him and was being violent and that he was about to head-butt him. He said that Temich probably fell because he was so drunk.

Caponigro did find that Cossette used unnecessary force in that case. But at his administrative hearing Deputy Chief Timothy S. Topulos downgraded the charges to performing official duties in a careless manner and issued the letter of reprimand.

Topulos also ordered Cossette to take four hours of use of force training "to enhance your skill set when dealing with combative individuals."




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