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Meriden politicians eager to move on after officer’s sentencing

MERIDEN — After two years of investigations that resulted in the sentencing of the police chief’s son to federal prison this week, city officials and candidates for office said Tuesday they’re ready to move forward.

But attorneys who represent the victim in the case and the two officers who complained that former officer Evan Cossette was not adequately disciplined for police brutality said the sentencing proves the department and the city still have some problems.

Evan Cossette was sentenced Monday to 14 months in prison and one year of supervised parole for using excessive force and obstructing justice. The sentencing ends a two-year FBI investigation into the department prompted by the officers’ complaint alleging excessive force and disparate treatment among officers. Cossette is the son of Police Chief Jeffry Cossette.

Attorney Frank Cannatelli, who represents former officer Brian Sullivan and officer Donald Huston, agreed with U.S. District Court Judge Janet Arterton that, if Cossette had admitted fault in pushing prisoner Pedro Temich and causing a serious injury, there never would have been a criminal case.

“The video that depicts these events shows a gratuitous show of force that appears to say ‘take that,’” Arterton told Cossette during Monday’s sentencing. “The offense made thereafter following the split-second judgment decision — the purposeful distortion of the police report to justify the use of force — makes it all the worse.”

Cannatelli said if Cossette had been disciplined fairly as a young officer, he wouldn’t be looking at prison.

“If he were properly supervised, I don’t think it should have happened,” Cannatelli said. “I don’t think there needed to be a criminal investigation. Why didn’t a supervisor see this? Somebody was asleep at the switch and this kid is taking the brunt of it.”

Attorney Sally Roberts, who represents Temich and two other men claiming they were brutalized by Cossette, said Arterton’s statements and sentence vindicates their position that Cossette engaged in a pattern of “out of control behavior, gratuitous force and making false statements,” she wrote in a statement to the media Tuesday.

Mayor Michael Rohde said the process was a long one and the city undertook the correct action in hiring an independent investigator to conduct a probe separate from the FBI. He added that he hopes the six large projects breaking ground in the next few weeks will help brighten the black cloud the city has been under for the past two years.

“The process did take a long time to play out,” Rohde said. “There were a lot of things not under (the city manager’s) control.”

Rohde said the FBI involvement prevented the city from certain actions, including disciplining Huston and Sullivan on charges of untruthfulness because their complaint letter to the city contained other allegations that were never substantiated.

But a U.S. Department of Justice spokesman said Tuesday the city was not under any obligation to withhold disciplining the two officers during the investigation or legal proceedings. Sullivan has since retired on disability and can no longer face discipline.

City Personnel Director Caroline Beitman explained that the delay in the officers’ discipline is due to the hearing officer working on another project. He is expected to make a final decision when he returns.

One of the recommendations made by the city’s investigator Thomas Daily was that the city adopt an anti-nepotism policy. Rohde said action on a policy has been delayed by other business but that City Manager Lawrence Kendzior should have a draft within 60 to 90 days.

Republican Manny Santos, who is running against Rohde for mayor, agreed that the city’s hiring of an independent investigator was the right course of action. But Santos has concerns about the department’s leadership.

“I do believe that the father and son relationship may have affected the chief’s handling of the whole thing,” Santos said. “More troubling to me is why it took so long for the incident to come to the attention of the department leadership.”

Republican City Councilor Daniel Brunet said support for an anti-nepotism policy has waned since the proposal was first introduced after Cossette’s indictment in November. He said councilors who were on board with the idea have concerns about whether it should apply to all city departments, or just the police department. They also have concerns about contractual obligations with the various unions involved.

“There was talk about waiting for the (Cossette) legal process to conclude,” Brunet said, adding he didn’t fully understand the reasoning.

Brunet has been a vocal supporter of an anti-nepotism hiring policy in all departments but also said he supports the police department.

“The police department as a whole is doing a good job,” Brunet said. “There are a lot of officers, a lot of personalities that are doing good work. Unfortunately, the situation brought the city into a negative light in regards to the officers, the victims and the city.”

Brunet said city leadership is addressing issues raised by the Cossette case.

“There has never been anything done as publicly as the complaint by the two officers,” Brunet said. “The good was it addressed some of the issues (in the department). The bad was it shed a bad light on Meriden.”

Brunet’s Democratic opponent in City Council Area 3, Luke Ford, declined to comment on the recent investigation and whether changes were needed.

Joshua Broekstra, a Republican running for the Area 2 council seat, said he fully supported an anti-nepotism policy throughout the city. He believes such a policy would have prevented the Cossette matter from reaching the level it did.

“It’s sad. It brought Meriden into the spotlight,” Broekstra said. “I’m glad it’s behind us and the city and police department can move forward.”

The Democratic incumbent in Area 2, Larue Graham, could not be reached for comment. (203) 317-2255 Twitter: @Cconnbiz

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