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Unfortunate if not unwarranted cost

Posted: Monday
November 21, 2011 10:55 am

Updated: 11:04 am, Mon Nov 21, 2011.

Under union contract, Meriden Police Officer Evan Cossette is entitled to lost overtime while on desk duty. Since he had worked a lot of overtime prior to his reassignment, the rate at which he is being compensated is high - about $960 a week in addition to his normal pay.

This is one of the more unfortunate costs related to a federal investigation into alleged police misconduct. You hate to see public employees receive overtime for hours they didn't actually work, regardless of the circumstances.

The city says it has some discretion regarding overtime payments to officers on desk duty, but that Cossette "isn't currently charged by the department with any wrongdoing." Overtime is usually only withheld when termination is contemplated or there's off-duty misconduct like a DUI, according to the personnel department.

Cossette's fate will likely depend on the outcome of the open-ended federal probe, which could last months or years.

That's why the city should not rely strictly on past precedent for guidance. City officials have to look at the evidence and make their best judgment. The conclusion of an independent investigation, expected soon, should provide that opportunity. In at least two of the incidents in question, well-publicized records already reveal questionable conduct.

An audio recording from an October 2010 arrest on Pasco Street captures police engaging in a frightening escalation of what began as a routine response. An officer can be heard screaming at a drunk and disorderly man "I'm going to break your f***ing face" and "I will f***ing break your neck." During the arrest, Cossette kneekicks the man in the face causing a gash in his lip that eventually requires staples to close. In a conversation with another responding officer, Cossette downplays their actions.

"We really didn't even use force. We just held him down," he tells Det. John Cerejo.

"How did that happen to his face?" Cerejo asks.

"When I kneeled on him," Cossette says.

"I thought I heard a shot come in from somewhere," Cerejo says. "I heard like a skin on skin."

"That was my knee hitting his face," Cossette replies.

He tells a different story when a paramedic asks what happened. "We just laid him down on the ground and when we were kneeling on him, he bumped his mouth," Cossette said.

Records don't indicate whether the IA investigator listened to that recording before clearing Cossette, but during an IA interview Cerejo was asked if the man had "cut his lip or hit his face or something."

"Somehow he got an abrasion to his mouth," Cerejo replied.

The video of a May 2010 incident shows Cossette shoving a drunken man in handcuffs into a holding cell causing him to strike his head on a concrete bench. Before medical personnel arrive, Cossette is seen repositioning the man, unconscious and bleeding, several times, propping him up against the bench, wiping him with a cloth and taking his handcuffs off. A lawyer suing the department claims Cossette was medically negligent in an attempt to cover up his actions. An initial recommendation of discipline for violating use-of-force rules was reduced to a reprimand in the incident during the IA process.

The findings of the independent investigator may give city officials more to consider than the conduct of any one officer. The city's review, however, should include the question of one officer's continued compensation for lost overtime.

Reach Managing Editor Eric Cotton at ecotton@record-journal.com




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