Meriden City Council considers $85,000 payout in arrest claims

MERIDEN — The City Council could vote to settle three police-related claims made against the city at its meeting tonight. If accepted, the negotiated settlements would total $85,000.

Two of the claims resulted in federal lawsuits and allege excessive force by Meriden police officers. The three claims are unrelated, said Corporation Counsel Michael Quinn. He said “it’s just a coincidence” that all three are being settled at the same time.

In one of them, Quinn said, the situation was closing in on a mediation and the other one it was not a lawsuit, just a claim.

Because of the move toward mediation, Quinn said there was some urgency to reach a settlement and avoid further legal fees and other costs.

In one, William Arnold alleges that excessive force was used by two police officers in a 2009 incident. According to Record-Journal articles, Arnold, who had a knife in his hand, was shot twice after he attempted to flee officers David Buck and Jeffery Selander. Police said that the use of stun guns was ineffective twice due to the clothes Arnold was wearing, and as he fled he was shot twice.

According to Arnold’s account, which is described in a federal lawsuit, he was approached by officers who said he matched a description. When he saw one approaching and touching his weapon, according to the complaint, Arnold fled. After being hit by a stun gun multiple times, Arnold claimed, he continued to try to flee before being shot twice. While Arnold admits to having a knife, he said it was closed. Police said he was trying to stab one officer.

Arnold was charged with third-degree criminal mischief, second-degree threatening, disorderly conduct, third-degree assault, attempt to commit first-degree assault, assault on a police officer, carrying a dangerous weapon and violation of probation.

Attorney Thomas Gerarde of the law firm Howd and Ludorf is recommending that, without admitting liability or the allegations, it is in the city’s best interest to settle the case for $25,000. The insurance deductible for the case is $50,000, which the city would have to pay if the case proceeded.

Another lawsuit claims excessive force was used against Orien Thomas in a police department jail cell. The lawsuit stems from a 2010 incident, though specific details were not documented in the claim. The lawsuit claims the police department “had fostered and encouraged a culture of police brutality and unaccountability for civil rights.”

Meriden police spokesmen could not be reached for comment Friday, nor could a police report be obtained.

In Thomas’ case, Gerarde recommended a settlement of $35,000. The insurance deductible was also $50,000 and Quinn and City Attorney Deborah Moore both recommended the council approve the settlement. The case involved Detective Jon Femia, who was an officer at the time, and officer Donald Huston, who has since been fired.

Huston and fellow officer Brian Sullivan claimed the unfair treatment in the department and made complaints about the chief’s son, former officer Evan Cossette. Cossette has since been convicted of using excessive force on a prisoner and falsifying a report about it. He was sentenced to a term in federal prison in January. There have also been other lawsuits filed in recent years alleging excessive force.

The City Council recently examined the police department’s use of force and accepted a report by Chief Jeffry Cossette, which made no changes to the use of force and found the department to be compliant.

In the third claim, no lawsuit was filed, but Brad Montenaro claimed the police department “mistakenly issued a warrant for his arrest for the felony crime of larceny in the third degree committed by a different Brad Montenaro,” according to the City Council resolution. The claim said Montenaro was served with a felony warrant when he was arriving in Newark, N.J., after returning from a business trip in London.

He was held without bail for over 22 hours in Essex County jail while the jail was in lockdown “prior to it being determined that the Meriden Police Department had issued the warrant for the wrong Brad Montenaro, but not before his mug shot was taken and posted on the Internet,” the resolution said. Montenaro filed a claim for a false arrest and “various other violations of state and federal law and the U.S. Constitution.”

With the insurance deductible set at $100,000, Moore recommended that, without admitting the allegations, the city settle the claim for $25,000.

While all three cases would total $85,000, City Council Deputy Majority Leader Brian Daniels said it made sense to settle.

“By these settlements, we would be saving the city considerable money,” he said. “We were going to spend more than that defending each of the cases ...”

Daniels, who has been briefed on the settlements, said he anticipates a more in-depth discussion by the council in executive session tonight. While there are some lawsuits in the past that have been considered frivolous, Daniels said these claims demanded more attention and will be looked at more closely.

Last year, excessive claims resulted in the police department’s insurance carrier, Argonaut Insurance Co., to not renew coverage. In recent years, the department has been the target of excessive-force lawsuits and property and accident claims. The department was able to switch to Chartis Insurance, though self-insuring was considered briefly. The department has a deductible of $100,000 with Chartis. Because the claims by Thomas and Arnold were made before the switch, the deductible remained at $50,000.

Public Safety Committee Chairman Kevin Scarpati and Councilor Steven Iovanna, whose name is attached to the resolution because of his role as Finance Committee chairman, said Friday they were not aware of the claims but planned to be briefed on the situation before Monday’s meeting. The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.

dbrechlin@recordjournal.com 203-317-2266 Twitter: @DanBrechlinRJ



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