State's attorney reviews request for perjury charges against Meriden officer
Posted: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 6:30 pm
Updated: 6:51 pm, Tue May 1, 2012.
MERIDEN — The lawyer for Joseph Bryans, who is alleging police brutality after his arrest last year in the MidState Medical Center parking lot, has asked the state’s attorney to consider perjury charges against Officer Evan Cossette.
In a letter to State’s Attorney Michael Dearington dated Monday, Attorney Sally A. Roberts says that recently released MidState surveillance video contradicts Cossette’s official report of the incident.
The video “makes it abundantly clear the police report written by Officer Cossette, is (to put it charitably!) blatant prevarication — it is a piece of fiction,” the letter states.
Dearington Tuesday confirmed he had received Roberts’ letter, and said only that his office was “in the process of reviewing it.”
Cossette’s attorney, James Tallberg, called Roberts’ argument “ridiculous.” He did not comment further.
Bryans had been waiting in the hospital’s emergency room in the early morning hours of April 23, 2011 when, against the advice of medical staff, he left to smoke a cigarette. Nursing supervisors asked Cossette and Nowak to help prevent Bryans from leaving, which led to a struggle in the parking lot during which Cossette repeatedly punched Bryans and twice shocked him with a Taser.
Bryans has filed a federal lawsuit against Cossette, MidState, the city and other members of the police department, including Chief Jeffry Cossette, who is Evan Cossette’s father. Last year, Dearington asked state police to investigate allegations by officers Donald Huston and Brian Sullivan that Evan Cossette was involved in several instances of brutality, and that high-ranking members of the department had helped him avoid discipline. Chief Cossette has repeatedly denied the allegations, which he has said are in retaliation for discipline that Huston and Sullivan received.
The investigation, along with probes by the FBI and an independent investigator hired by the city, are ongoing.
In the letter, Roberts cites several points in the MidState video that she says contradict Cossette’s report.
She writes that the video, which shows Bryans steadily walking away from the hospital, disproves Cossette’s account that Bryans was “running through the hospital’s rear parking” lot. In his report, however, Cossette attributes the comment to nursing supervisor Sean Raimo, who he says told him Bryans had been running when he left the emergency room.
The letter points out that Bryans is never seen in the video turning around to look back as Cossette and Nowak approach him from behind. In his report, Cossette wrote that “officers requested Joseph to stop, but he continued traveling away.”
“In reality, Mr. Bryans has no idea the police were coming for him,” according to Roberts’ letter.
The video contains no audio so it’s unclear if commands were given or not.
Roberts also disputes that Cossette and Nowak, upon reaching Bryans, could have given several more verbal commands for him to stop since the video appears to show the officers grabbing Bryans immediately.
Cossette writes in the report that after Bryans (whom he refers to as Joseph) refused to stop, “I then held Joseph’s right wrist in order to prevent him from escaping. Joseph immediately tensed his arms and body up, forming fists and maintaining an aggressive fighting posture. Joseph attempted to spin around and engage me in a physical altercation. Ofc. Nowak took Joseph’s left wrist while I attempted to restrain his right. Officers issued numerous commands for Joseph to relax and calm down and advised him that there was no need to fight. Joseph continued to fight with officers and I was forced to bring him to the ground.”
According to Roberts’ letter, “There was not enough time for Officer Cossette to have done all the things he reported that he did. ... Officer Cossette exits his car, grabs Mr. Bryans, promptly tackles him and slams him to the ground,” Roberts writes.
The video shows Cossette and Nowak grabbing Bryans, but then shifts away from the encounter and goes out of focus for about four seconds. When it returns to focus, Bryans is lying on the ground and Cossette can be seen delivering several punches.
Pursuing perjury charges can be extremely difficult because the law requires that the accuser prove it was committed with a specific intent to mislead, according to Quinnipiac University law professor Jeffrey A. Meyer. The burden of proof can be even greater when dealing with police officers, although video evidence is among the most effective ways to counter their sworn testimony in reports.
“Law enforcement officers oftentimes get some benefit of the doubt from jurors, or from all of us for that matter, because of the extenuating circumstances that they often find themselves in,” said Meyer. “Perjury is always very difficult to prove, but there’s no better way to prove it than to have video.”
In comments to the Record-Journal via email, Roberts called Cossette’s report a “travesty of justice.”
“Police officers are not above the law, although it often appears they think the law does not apply to them,” she said. “Officers should not be allowed to commit perjury with impunity.”