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Meriden Police Receive More Complaints Than Similar Departments


The Hartford Courant

8:44 PM EDT, June 11, 2011


The city's embattled police department receives a much higher number of complaints than similarly sized departments, a Courant review of police records reveals. Yet, Meriden rarely sustained a complaint made by a citizen while often finding cause for those complaints filed internally.

When a video surfaced recently showing a Meriden police officer, who is a son of the chief, shoving a handcuffed suspect in a holding cell, charges of brutality and favoritism followed. Internal affairs documents also raised questions about whether the department was diligent in investigating its own.

The son of the Meriden police chief has the most internal affairs complaints against him of any officer in the department over the past 18 months, records show.

Evan Cossette had seven internal affairs complaints made against him since Jan. 2010, for everything from an allegation that he stole an arrestee's property to a uniform violation. In all but one complaint, the case in which he is charged with pushing a handcuffed inmate backward into a jail cell, cracking the man's head, the charges were not sustained.

But summaries of police internal affairs investigations obtained by The Courant through a Freedom of Information Act request show that the internal affairs department rarely substantiates a citizen's complaint no matter who the officer might be.

Of the 18 cases since the beginning of 2010 in which a charge was sustained against an officer, only one was a complaint filed by a civilian. The rest were all either filed directly by Chief Jeffry Cossette, his deputy chief or internally by other officers against each other.

Overall, the internal affairs department adjudicated 84 cases in the past 18 months. There are 20 investigations still pending, many of them filed fairly recently against Officers Donald Huston and Brian Sullivan, the officers who have made formal complaints against the department charging favoritism in how internal affairs cases are handled. The two officers claim that the recent charges against them are retaliation for their speaking out. .

The summaries only show what the internal affairs investigation determined might have been a violation of department policy. The ultimate decision on whether an officer is disciplined is made by the chief after a hearing involving himself, the city's personnel director, the police union and the officer.

In the case of Evan Cossette, Deputy Chief Timothy Topulos handles the administrative hearing.

An analysis of the reports shows:

There were 62 civilian complaints filed against the department in the past 18 months, and Huston is the only officer for which a civilian complaint was sustained against him. In that case, a couple complained that Huston parked his police car on their lawn while on a private-duty job.

Although the internal affairs division has at least three investigators, all of the complaints against Evan Cossette were investigated by Sgt. Leonard Caponigro, who said, according to records, following an interview with Cossette on one of the cases, that he "was just going through the motions" and would wrap the case up quickly.

A total of 45 different officers among 127 in the department had an internal affairs complaint filed against them.

The department had far more complaints filed against it than similar-sized departments. In 2010, Milford, for example, had 47 complaints, of which 15 were from civilians. (Four of the civilian complaints were sustained.) New London had a total of 27 complaints. The state police, which has nearly 1,200 sworn personnel, had 83. Meriden had 66 complaints in 2010.

Only two other officers besides Evan Cossette Huston and Allen L. Ganter  had more than three internal affairs complaints against them, with six and five, respectively. Two of the complaints were sustained against Huston, including one filed by the chief that he was late to a private-duty job. In the other case, the chief overruled an internal affairs investigator who ruled that Huston did not use unnecessary force when he kicked a man at least twice during a melee at a shopping mall, and suspended him.

There were seven complaints withdrawn, including one against Evan Cossette in which the defendant claimed that after he was arrested, his property disappeared. It is unclear why the cases were withdrawn; many departments have a policy that once a complaint is filed, it must be investigated to avoid any appearances that cases weren't investigated because of the officer involved.

Many of the internal or departmental complaints involved officers' actions during car pursuits or what seem to be personal conflicts, such as a complaint against a female sergeant that she was difficult to work with. In one case, the chief ordered an internal affairs investigation into a lieutenant who posted an accident photo involving a cruiser on his Facebook page.

But some of the internal complaints involved serious matters.

For example, one officer was cited after he left $1,700 in checks in a police cruiser that were part of a bank fraud investigation; in another case, an officer confiscated a gun during an investigation in 2005 but never filed a completed report and police didn't realize it until 2010, when they discovered the gun in the evidence room.

The city even lost money last year when the union president, Lt. Patrick Gaynor, who was responsible for turning in paperwork to the state for a DUI grant, missed a deadline. The city lost $6,775 in state funding.

Many of the civilian complaints that were dismissed involved allegations that officers used bad language or illegally stopped motorists, but there were 16 excessive-force complaints, only one of which led to an officer's getting suspended, and that was Huston, who was suspended after the chief overruled the internal affairs investigator.

Of the seven cases filed against Evan Cossette, four involved allegations of excessive force, one of them involving a prisoner in a holding cell that is the focus of a joint investigation by the New Haven State's Attorney's office and the FBI.

A videotape shows Cossette pushing the handcuffed prisoner, Pedro Temich, backward into the jail cell, causing Temich to crack his head on a concrete bench. The tape shows Evan Cossette entering the cell at least six times and moving the unconscious Temich around, twice propping him up against the bench and another time putting him back on the floor so that the man's handcuffs could be removed. There is blood visible on the floor where Temich fell.

A dispatcher who saw the unconscious Temich in the cell made the first call for medical help. Temich was taken to MidState Medical Center in Meriden and required 12 stitches in the back of his head.

The incident wasn't reported to police administrators until six weeks later. An internal affairs investigation by Caponigro found that Evan Cossette had used unnecessary force, but at an administrative hearing, Deputy Chief Timothy Topulos overruled Caponigro's findings and issued a letter of reprimand and ordered Cossette to take four hours of training on the use of excessive force.

After that ruling, Evan Cossette had six more internal affairs complaints filed against him, including three other complaints alleging excessive force, records show. All of the cases were not sustained by Caponigro.

Two of the men who filed excessive-force allegations, Robert Methvin and Joseph Bryans, have been interviewed by FBI agents and have filed notices of intent to sue the city.

The other cases against Cossette include a missing property complaint that was withdrawn, an unlawful arrest complaint, what was termed a procedural complaint and an internal complaint by Topulos that Cossette had an unknown uniform violation.




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