The city's police department is under fire from within its ranks over allegations that it has treated the chief's son, an officer on the force, with favoritism while investigating a series of brutality complaints.
In one case, a video inside a department holding cell shows Officer Evan Cossette shoving a handcuffed man, who falls backward and slams his head against a concrete bench. Cossette re-entered the cell at least six times and moved the unconscious prisoner several times despite the head injury but never called for medical assistance, according to police reports. He was ultimately given a letter of reprimand and ordered to take four hours of training on the proper use of force.
"It is standard practice if an employee within a department makes allegations against their superiors that we would normally retain somebody from outside the department to do an independent investigation,'' City Manager Lawrence Kendzior said.
"Clearly, this is information that needs to be addressed,'' Kendzior said.
The two officers, Brian Sullivan and Donald Huston, filed the six-page complaint last week. Among their allegations is that department leaders have covered up a pattern of excessive-force incidents and have gone "to great lengths to conceal cases" involving Cossette.
The chief said Wednesday that the complaint is by two disgruntled officers and that the police union's executive board supports his administration.
"This is a very strong union and their support shows that these two individuals are standing alone on these allegations,'' Jeffry Cossette said. "It is unfortunate that they [Sullivan and Huston] decided to retaliate against me, my family and my command staff. These officers chose to attack me personally with these untrue allegations in an attempt to discredit me within the community. I am confident that any inquiry will reveal a fair and equitable rendering of discipline within the Meriden Police Department."
In an interview with The Courant, Sullivan said he decided to come forward after doing some research for his own grievance. Sullivan was arrested last year while off duty on a charge of driving while intoxicated. The charges were later dropped but he was suspended for 30 days, while another officer who also was arrested and whose charges were later dropped received a lighter penalty.
"I started looking at some of the internal affairs cases and noticed a disparity in the punishments, particularly when it came to the chief's son,'' Sullivan said.
Evan Cossette joined the police force in 2009 and is a patrol officer. The town has been served a notice of intent to sue in the holding cell case involving Pedro Temich, who was arrested on May 1, 2010, after fighting with police who responded to a party.
A security video from inside a holding cell at the police station shows Cossette pushing the handcuffed Temich in the chest. Temich falls backward, slamming his head into a concrete bench, knocking him unconscious.
The videotape shows Cossette entering the cell at least six times and moving Temich around, twice propping him up against the bench and another time putting him back on the ground so that he could remove the handcuffs. There is blood visible on the floor where Temich fell.
Cossette did not call for medical help, police reports indicate. An attorney representing Temich said that a dispatcher who saw Temich on the camera at the front desk called for an ambulance. Paramedics arrived about five minutes after Cossette first pushed Temich to the ground. He was transported to MidState Medical Center, where it required 12 staples to close the wound in the back of his head.
No investigation was done of the jail cell incident until nearly six weeks later, when an anonymous complaint was made to internal affairs Sgt. Leonard Caponigro.
In his internal affairs interview, Evan Cossette said that he felt that Temich, who was arrested on a charge of drunken driving, was moving toward him and was being violent and that he was about to head-butt him. He said that Temich probably fell because he was so drunk.
Attorney Sally Roberts, who has filed a notice of intent to sue the department on Temich's behalf, said the idea that Temich could threaten Cossette while he was handcuffed was "ridiculous." She said that Temich is 5 feet tall and weighs about 150 pounds and that Evan Cossette is more than 6 feet tall and weighs more than 200 pounds. Roberts said she also has filed notices of intent to sue the department for two other unnecessary force complaints involving Evan Cossette.
Roberts said that one of the other lawsuits would be the case of Robert Methvin, who was arrested in October 2010 outside his home on Pasco Street. While Methvin was being handcuffed, Evan Cossette kneed him in the face, causing an injury that required six stitches to close, Roberts said. An internal affairs investigation was done and Cossette was exonerated.
The officers' complaint alleges several other instances in which they claim that Cossette used excessive force, from a case in which he tackled a woman before he was even a certified officer to a case in which he struck a handcuffed man with his baton. Neither of those cases was investigated by internal affairs.
Caponigro, after reviewing the Temich video several times, concluded that "I did not see any furtive movements from this handcuffed male that would have caused Officer Cossette to push him," the report states. Caponigro cited Evan Cossette for using unnecessary force in handling a prisoner.
But at an administrative hearing in front of Deputy Chief Timothy S. Topulos, the charges against Evan Cossette were lowered to "performing his duty in a careless manner." A letter of reprimand was placed in his file and he was ordered to take four hours of training.
"I believe that you exercised poor judgment in this case and that your actions were negligent,'' Topulos wrote. "I believe that you didn't mean for this to happen, but I also believe that you failed to perceive the risks involved. Simply put, a mistake was made."
Chief Cossette said that he didn't know why it took six weeks for police brass to become aware of the incident in the cell but that once it did, an investigation was conducted. He said he was not involved in the probe.
The chief said he has seen the video but couldn't comment on the specifics of it because of possible litigation against the department.