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News & Noteworthy

Police Brutality Charge Lodged; Lawyer Says Video 'Speaks For Itself'

By DAVE ALTIMARI

The Hartford Courant

5:30 PM EST, December 9, 2011

BRIDGEPORT

A Stratford woman has filed a federal lawsuit against city police, alleging that a booking officer physically assaulted her during an arrest last year while four police officers did nothing to intervene.

The videotape of the police department booking area — supplied to The Courant by the woman's civil attorney — shows the officer, Kiela Farmer, grabbing Kelly Smith by the neck and pushing her to the ground. Smith, who co-owns a business in the city, can be heard screaming obscenities and yelling for the officer to get off her.

At least two other officers assisted Farmer and eventually got Smith's hands behind her back and handcuffed her. As Smith then tried to kick her, Farmer grabbed her by the legs, and with the assistance of other officers, dragged her into a holding cell.

Pieces of Smith's hair are visible on the floor after she was dragged into the cell.

The lawsuit alleges that Farmer and the four officers Michael Dos Santos, Omar Jiminez, Edward Rivera and Michael Sigrist violated Smith's civil rights. The lawsuit claims that none of the officers did anything to stop Farmer's attack on Smith.

Farmer is a civilian employee with the title of booking officer. Smith filed an internal affairs complaint against the five officers. The charges against the police officers were not sustained. Internal affairs found that Farmer violated several rules and regulations and referred the investigation to the city's Department of Labor Relations, records show.

The status of the labor relations investigation of Farmer was unclear. Calls to Lawrence E. Osborne, the director of labor relations, and Police Chief James Gaudett were not returned.

Bridgeport city attorney Mark Anastasi said Friday that the city would not comment because of the pending litigation.

But the city is not representing Farmer, as it is the four officers, in federal court. Farmer's attorney is Richard Buturla of Milford, who did not return

calls for comment Friday.

The incident occurred on Nov. 6, 2010, after Dos Santos and Jiminez arrested Smith on third-degree assault charges following a domestic dispute. Smith, 43, was chasing her husband in a car when the car she was driving struck the back of his car on North Avenue in Bridgeport. Smith and her husband own a tire business on North Avenue.

Smith was brought into the booking area about 4:40 p.m. As she was being led in, Farmer can be heard on the videotape telling another officer that Smith "might be a little drunk."

The banter between Smith and Farmer almost immediately turned sour.

As Smith was escorted into the booking area, she loudly yelled, "Let's make this quick and in a hurry so I can bail myself out," to which Farmer replied, "We're going to do this on my time, not yours."

When Smith then responded, "Well, guess what — I'll be out, I got money in my pocket," some of the other officers joked about Smith's money comment. Farmer replied: "Not as long as I am controlling it, honey. You're totally wrong."

Farmer then put on rubber gloves and walked to the other side of the booking desk, where an officer removed the handcuffs from Smith.

Farmer asked Smith to remove any bracelets, rings or jewelry she might be wearing. As Smith took off her wedding ring, Farmer asked her if the gray sweat pants that Smith was wearing had a string to tie them.

Smith said she "has no idea but that she has no drawers on" underneath them. Smith then pulled more than $3,700 in cash out of her pocket and tried to put it in her purse.

Farmer started moving toward Smith and ordered her to put the money on the desk. She then asked Smith to "take her stuff off," which Smith apparently assumed meant to take her sweat pants off.

"I am not going to take my stuff off with men standing here,'' Smith yelled.

Farmer repeated the command to take off her "stuff" while grabbing Smith's wrist. Smith started yelling "get away from me" and "don't touch me" as she tried to pull her hand away from Farmer.

Farmer then yelled, "What are you going to do if I touch you?" and grabbed Smith by the throat and pushed her back against a wall and eventually to the ground at least 5 feet away from where they were standing.

At least two officers rushed over to assist Farmer. Eventually a third one who was standing behind the desk counting Smith's money moved over to assist. As Farmer was on top of Smith, one of the other officers said: "You're not being too smart." The four cameras in the booking area do not show a good view of part of the incident.

It took the officers almost 2 minutes to subdue Smith. An officer said, "You're not cooperating, Kelly," before handcuffing her hands behind her back. The police then dragged Smith into the holding cell.

As the cell door closed, one of the officers said: "Good, that's the way to do it." As the officers returned to the desk to finish booking Smith, one of them joked: "All right, Omar, that turned out really great." Omar refers to Jiminez, one of the four officers named in the lawsuit.

Jiminez indicated that he was going to have to add more charges to Smith's arrest. He also charged her with assault of a public safety officer and intimidation based on bigotry.

Bail for Smith, who is white, was set at $20,000. Farmer is black.

In his police report, Dos Santos wrote that "Smith began to grab things from Farmer" and refused to remove her jewelry. She then "began to flail her arms and pose a threat to officers." At that point Farmer grabbed Smith and "tried to take her to the ground so she could be controlled."

The officer wrote that he assisted Farmer because Smith began to fight with Farmer. The report said that a "short struggle" ensued before Smith could be handcuffed again and that, during the scuffle, Smith kicked Farmer in the lip.

Bridgeport attorney Frank Riccio, who represented Smith, said that the state's attorney's office dropped most of the charges after reviewing the videotape. Smith eventually pleaded guilty to breach of peace and interfering with an officer, which was a charge from the car crash, Riccio said.

Smith has hired New Britain attorney Sally Roberts to pursue her civil case. Roberts is also the attorney representing three men who are suing the Meriden Police Department for alleged police brutality.

Roberts declined to comment on the case Thursday other than to say that "the video speaks for itself."

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