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Police, problems and policy

Eric Cotton |
Posted: Saturday, April 7, 2012 9:30 pm

That Meriden police filed a complaint against an officer after he told the truth about alleged brutality only speaks to the deep dysfunction within the department.

Buddy Gibbs says the police chief's son, Officer Evan Cossette, at first influenced Gibbs' statements during an internal affairs review of the Pedro Temich jail cell incident. Gibbs, now retired, claims Cossette told him just to repeat the version of events contained in the report, which is what Gibbs did. He told IA that Temich was heavily intoxicated, resisted commands and took a step forward before Cossette pushed him back into a holding cell, causing the handcuffed prisoner to fall and hit his head on a concrete bench.

But Gibbs changed his story after federal investigators began looking into allegations that police brutality involving the chief's son had been covered up. Gibbs told the grand jury and the city's own investigator that Temich had made no threatening movements before he was pushed. For telling the truth, Gibbs says union officials and the chief retaliated against him. He became the subject of a departmental IA complaint into "untruthfulness" on account of making his initial statements conform to Officer Cossette’s report.

"Gibbs has constantly been told . . . that he has a target on his back and that the Chief has stated he will fire Gibbs. This is clear retaliation for aiding a criminal defendant to uphold his constitutional rights," Gibb's attorney wrote in a notice of intent to sue the city last month.

If Chief Cossette did in fact play a role in initiating the untruthfulness complaint, as Gibbs claims, it would be a serious conflict of interest since the statements at issue deal directly with his son's conduct. The chief has said, when it comes to matters involving his son, he has a strict hands-off policy, deferring instead to other administrators. The question of whether he actually observed such a policy is central to the allegations facing the department.

By leaving the chief in a position where he can discipline or investigate officers who cooperate with the grand jury, the city risks compromising the federal investigation and exposing itself to further liability, as the Gibbs lawsuit illustrates.

It's easy to see how the complaint against Gibbs could be viewed as punishment for cooperating with the feds. But just for the sake of argument, let's say you did think it was a good idea to investigate Gibbs over whether he lied to internal affairs. Why not also investigate the allegation that the chief's son influenced the statements of a fellow officer to protect himself?

It's time for the city manager and members of the City Council to deal with the problems of their police department. They can start by making sure nothing impedes the federal investigation or exposes taxpayers to further liability.

Meriden needs strong voices on this issue, politicians who aren't afraid to hold the department accountable for the many troubling allegations it faces. To date, city councilors have mostly deferred to the city manager, who defers to a long-awaited report from the lawyer the city hired to investigate.

It's hard to imagine someone like Nick Economopoulos or Craig Fishbein — the bipartisan team of Wallingford town councilors who helped address mismanagement in that town's housing authority — reacting so passively to comparable allegations against their own police department.

No, I'm pretty sure they'd have some very pointed questions and wouldn't be shy about voicing their concerns.

Meriden could use that kind of leadership right about now.




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