Meriden Police Report: Inadequate Evidence To Find Nepotism, Favoritism
By DAVE ALTIMARI,
The Hartford Courant
7:24 PM EDT, May 25, 2012
A Meriden police officer at the heart of nepotism allegations against the department will return to duty, while the two officers who made the charges face disciplinary action, after a report released Friday concluded that the department did not treat the officer differently because he is the chief's son.
Officer Evan Cossette will return to active duty this weekend. After releasing a 44-page report by a former federal prosecutor that concluded there was no favoritism or disparate treatment when it came to disciplining the chief's son, City Manager Lawrence Kendzior said Friday that Cossette would go back on the road despite an ongoing federal investigation.
Kendzior and Police Chief Jeffry Cossette briefly addressed the independent report by Hartford attorney Thomas V. Daily, who was hired by the city 13 months ago after two police officers, Brian Sullivan and Donald Huston, submitted a letter to Kendzior claiming that Officer Evan Cossette received favorable treatment because he is the chief's son.
Daily concluded there "was not adequate evidence that there was special treatment or consideration given to Officer Evan Cossette because of his status as the son of the chief of police."
"I am gratified that this process has come to an end and the results are what we all expected — that there is no favoritism in our police department. It is now time to move on and do what we do best — protect the citizens of Meriden," said Jeffry Cossette.
But several attorneys involved in the cases questioned the "independent report," given that a Meriden police officer, Lt. Mark Walerysiak, sat in on all of the interviews that Daily conducted and used some of what was obtained in those interviews as the basis of internal affairs investigations.
"It appears that they just hired some gun to clear them," said attorney Frank Cannatelli, who has filed notices of intent to sue the city on behalf of Huston, Sullivan and retired Sgt. Buddy Gibbs.
"I would like to know exactly what was and wasn't investigated. I have serious problems with the way this was handled,'' Cannatelli said.
Kendzior said that it was Daily's decision to allow Walerysiak to sit in on the interviews. Kendzior said that he charged Walerysiak with investigating all of the allegations made by Huston and Sullivan. Walerysiak was the head of detectives at that time, not affiliated with internal affairs as he is now.
Daily did not attend the press conference and could not be reached for comment Friday. Kendzior said that the city has paid Daily about $60,000 and that more bills are expected.
No Meriden officials brought up the ongoing federal grand jury probe of police brutality charges involving Evan Cossette. Kendzior said that based on Daily's findings, Evan Cossette will return to active duty — probably by Sunday night.
When asked at Friday's press conference about the federal probe, Kendzior acknowledged that the grand jury is still active but said the issues it is reviewing might be different than those in Daily's review.
"Unless they are in possession of facts that we don't have, the facts are the facts in this case,'' Kendzior said.
Attorney James Tallberg, who is representing Evan Cossette in several civil lawsuits, said that his client hopes to return to full duty.
"After 13 months of investigation, there is simply no evidence to support the false claims against Officer Cossette. We hope, based on this exoneration, that Officer Cossette will be returned to full duty, and we look forward to the dismissal of these unfounded lawsuits,'' Tallberg said.
After Sullivan and Huston filed their complaint with Kendzior, several police officers filed internal affairs complaints against the two men, claiming that they were lying about allegations made in the letter to Kendzior.
Walersyiak investigated all of those complaints and determined in numerous instances that Sullivan and Huston lied in their letter to Kendzior and therefore violated department policy.
Among the lies that Walerysiak cited in his investigation is that they claimed Evan Cossette was 6 feet 3, 275 pounds, when he is really 6-1, 230 pounds.
Kendzior said that city officials have not yet decided what disciplinary action will be taken against Huston and Sullivan. He said that no decision has been made as to whether to place them on administrative leave.
Evan Cossette was accused of police brutality three times within about a 13-month period. Only once were the charges substantiated, in a case in which Evan Cossette is caught on a security tape pushing a handcuffed inmate named Pedro Temich into a holding cell.
Daily said in the report that his conclusion does not mean he would "necessarily agree" with the findings of internal investigations into Evan Cossette's actions or the discipline imposed.
Temich fell backward and cracked his head on a stone bench in the cell. The video showed an unconscious and bleeding Temich lying in the floor while Evan Cossette came in and out of the cell, repeatedly moving the unconscious man, eventually sitting him up and taking the handcuffs off before medical personnel arrived.
The Temich video drew the attention of state and federal investigators, who announced a joint investigation into police brutality allegations against Evan Cossette and the department as a whole. A grand jury has been hearing evidence sporadically since April 2011. That investigation is continuing.
The then-head of internal affairs, Leonard Caponigro, who has since died, found that Evan Cossette violated department regulations in the Temich incident, but his recommendation was overruled by Deputy Police Chief Timothy Tupolos, who instead issued a written reprimand.
Although Daily said his review of the Temich incident did not show that Evan Cossette used excessive force, he acknowledged that Evan Cossette's conduct after the fall was "likely inappropriate" and that the officer appeared more concerned with appearances within the cell than appropriate medical treatment for a man who might have suffered severe head trauma.
All three of the men that have accused Evan Cossette of police brutality Temich, Joseph Bryans and Robert Methvin have either been before the grand jury or been interviewed by FBI agents. All three also have filed federal lawsuits against the police department that are pending.
New Britain attorney Sally Roberts, who represents the three men suing the city, questioned how independent Daily's investigation was.
"My clients have confidence in the jury system in this country, where they can present the evidence in a court of law, rather than to a so-called 'independent' investigator who was hired by a defendant, the city of Meriden, which is paying his bill,'' Roberts said..
Daily's report also makes a few recommendations, including changing the city's nepotism policy. Kendzior said he is in the process of drafting a new policy, which would have to be approved by both the city council and the police union, that would bar the hiring of relatives at the police department.
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