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News & Noteworthy

Police Probe Now A Federal Matter
 

MERIDEN - The U.S. Department of Justice has joined the investigation into whether police brutality was covered up to protect the police chief's son, Officer Evan Cossette.

FBI agents were at police headquarters on West Main Street Thursday, looking for records related to three complaints of excessive force against Cossette, according to City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior.

U.S. Attorney for Connecticut Krishna Patel also notified the lawyer for three men who have filed notices of intent to sue the city over the alleged brutality that the FBI would be involved in the investigation. The men claim Cossette used excessive force while they were in his custody.

"I was asked if my clients would come voluntarily or, if not, would I accept a faxed subpoena to appear before a grand jury?" said the lawyer, Sally Roberts of New Britain. "I replied that my clients were more than willing to speak with the FBI."

"This doesn't happen every day in Meriden," Kendzior said about the FBI's presence and the possible grand jury. "It's unfortunate that whatever events transpired have produced this result. This city will certainly cooperate and make sure there is a complete understanding of what transpired and what actions by the city might be appropriate."

New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington has also asked state police to probe allegations related to the brutality allegations, while the city this week hired Hartford attorney Thomas V. Daily to conduct an independent investigation.

Dearington said he agreed to pursue the matter after viewing a holding cell video showing Evan Cossette pushing arrestee Pedro Temich into the cell, causing him to fall backward and hit his head on a concrete bench, knocking him unconscious.

Cossette was given a letter of reprimand by Deputy Chief Timothy Topulos and ordered to receive more training.

Two more men, Robert Methvin and Joseph Bryans, filed excessive-force complaints against Evan Cossette less than a year after the Temich incident. Cossette was cleared in both cases following internal affairs investigations.

Police Chief Jeffry Cossette and Topulos have said Evan Cossette was not disciplined more severely in the Temich case because it was his first violation and they were following the department's progressive discipline policies.

"I encourage and welcome any state or federal audit of the practices and policies of the Meriden Police Department," Cossette said Thursday, adding that the department is nationally accredited and its policies adhere to those guidelines.

The city asked Dearington to review the matter after receiving a complaint from officers Brian Sullivan and Donald Huston alleging that Evan Cossette received preferential treatment during the internal affairs process because he is the chief's son.

The Justice Department gets called in to such cases when there are allegations of civil rights violations, said New Haven attorney John Williams.

The FBI has been conducting a long-running investigation over allegations of brutality and racial profiling in East Haven, said Williams, who represents clients in the matter, and a grand jury was convened.

"I have the impression the same thing is going to happen in Meriden," Williams said. "A grand jury is a way of compelling people to testify."

Williams said some of the officers called to testify in the case could face possible civil charges of civil rights violations for failure to report or intervene in matters of police brutality. Theoretically, failure to take action is also a violation of sworn duty and could subject them to disciplinary action, although that rarely occurs, Williams said.

The grand jury normally consists of 16 to 23 members and would hear evidence to determine whether there is probable cause to believe an individual has committed a crime and should be put on trial. Grand jury proceedings are closed to the public.

Police officers or other witnesses could invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, but a federal judge can grant them immunity and force them to testify. This is commonly done in cases involving police departments, terrorism, gangs and mob activity, Williams said.

Lt. Patrick Gaynor, the Meriden police union president, said the federal agents are entitled to investigate and that local officers "will cooperate."

He added that investigations in high-profile cases, such as the Rodney King incident in Los Angeles, can "expose deficiencies in training and monitoring," and lead to "national change of policy."

Staff Writer Adam Wittenberg contributed to this story.

 


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