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Most dangerous woman in CT: Sally ‘Hurricane’ Roberts

By Andy Thibault
Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Every once in a while, a civil rights litigator bangs her head against the wall and the wall cracks.

This is the case in Meriden, where cops must think twice now before smashing a citizen’s skull like a melon and leaving him unconscious, slamming a knee into the face of a defenseless, handcuffed suspect or tasing a hospital patient awaiting treatment. They just can’t laugh it off any more, or, as in the words of a sergeant, go “through the motions” to exonerate fellow officers of sadistic acts.

The game changer in this radical transformation is a petite, 55-year-old lawyer who has endured threats, mockery and derision on her path to believing in and practicing civil rights cases.

Sally “Hurricane” Roberts faced death as a young lawyer and death lost, but just barely. In 1990, a large tumor was squashing her brain stem, threatening to cut off cerebrospinal fluid and kill her. The good news was that the tumor was an acoustic neuroma – not cancerous – and a Hartford Hospital surgeon was able to remove it completely. The bad news was that she was left with Bell’s Palsy, a paralysis of the face. Roberts struggled for about a dozen years to regain many functions and physical strength. Plastic surgery was the last step on the long road back to normalcy.

The process transformed a Greenwich Ivy League girl into a street fighter with no fear of death or dirty cops.

“She absolutely is fearless, outraged by abuse of authority — it boils her over,” said New Britain attorney Peter Upton, a former Navy SEAL whose firm employed Roberts before she set up her own shop down the street last year.

In April of this year, Roberts pressed New Haven State’s Attorney Michael Dearington to pursue perjury charges against Meriden Police officer Evan Cossette, the son of Police Chief Jeffrey Cossette. She included 15 exhibits in the correspondence, including reports, videos and medical records. Dearington declined to take action, offering a defense of Cossette’s actions. Roberts plowed forward, pursuing three civil suits for brutality against Cossette.

In one case, Cossette is accused of pushing a handcuffed prisoner backwards into a holding cell. The prisoner fell and struck his head against a concrete bench, losing consciousness and a significant amount of blood. In a curious nursing procedure, Cossette – who was certified by the state as an Emergency Medical Responder – allegedly moved the man six or seven times to try to prop him up, then left the cell. The man was treated at some point for a fractured skull.

Just last week, a federal grand jury indicted Cossette on charges of unreasonable force and obstruction for writing a false report. He faces up to 10 years in jail for the first offense and 20 years for the second. The city of Meriden, which had given Cossette a written reprimand, placed him on administrative leave.

“Those that abuse their power should be held accountable,” Roberts said in a statement. “They should not be able to flaunt their abuse of power with impunity. We have waited a long time for this moment.”

In one of her civil cases, Roberts said, she looks forward to playing “the body mic of Officer Cossette where he is heard bragging and laughing about how the injuries occurred to my client.”

“That was my knee hitting his face,” Cossette is quoted as saying in an internal affairs report.

While a high school student in Greenwich and as an undergraduate at Radcliffe, Roberts was a star tennis player. Her hard-charging, relentless recovery from illness includes seven-mile hikes, kayaking and cross-country skiing. Her story, “Connecticut River Journey, 100 miles in 3 days,” won first prize in the state’s “What’s Your Connecticut Story” public relations campaign this year.

“She’s gutsy, God bless her,” said James Bergenn, a partner in the Hartford powerhouse law firm Shipman & Goodwin. “She has gone directly into the wind. She faces the hurricane and does the right thing.”

Andy Thibault is a contributing editor for Journal Register Co.’s Connecticut publications and the author of Law & Justice In Everyday Life. He formerly served as a commissioner for Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Commission. Reach Thibault by email at tntcomm82@cs.com. Follow him on Twitter @cooljustice.

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