City of Meriden settles lawsuit alleging police brutality for $550K

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MERIDEN — The city has agreed to pay $550,000 to settle a federal lawsuit alleging Meriden police officers used excessive force while carrying out an arrest in 2018, according to terms of the settlement released this past week in response to a Record-Journal request under the Freedom of Information Act.  

The incident occurred the night of Sept. 2, 2018, according to the lawsuit filed by Hillside Avenue resident Jose Negron. Incident reports written by officers named in the lawsuit confirm the incident and arrest. The reports were also obtained under Record-Journal public records requests. 

The use-of-force incident occurred as officers attempted to disperse a large gathering after a fight broke out in front of 5 Hillside Ave. — Negron’s home. 

According to Negron’s 2019 lawsuit, the situation was immediately quelled. But officers “inexplicably without provocation, attacked” Negron while the plaintiff was standing on his front porch directing family members to go inside their home. Negron claimed he did not act in a way that would prompt such a response. Other officers joined, grabbing Negron and “restrained his hands behind his back” while he was still standing on his porch, according to his lawsuit, which states that officers then dragged him down the steps of his porch while he was restrained.

The lawsuit claims that officers stood Negron on the grass nearby, then kicked his right knee, which forced him to fall to the ground face down. Negron’s complaint described the use of force as unprovoked and unnecessary, and claimed further that other officers did not attempt to assist him or stop the use of force. He was handcuffed while “laying on the ground writhing in pain.”

Officers outnumbered in chaotic scene

Written accounts filed days after the incident by the officers who responded portrayed a scene that was far more chaotic than described in Negron’s lawsuit. Those same officers are listed as defendants in the lawsuit. 

Officers’ reports stated they encountered commotion and active resistance from individuals who attended the gathering and that law enforcement personnel were significantly outnumbered. Officers also reported that some attendees physically and verbally assaulted law enforcement personnel. 

In an arrest warrant application filed after the incident, Officer Michael Lounsbury wrote that when he arrived at the scene on Hillside Avenue, he observed a “street filled with people yelling and drinking alcoholic beverages. The scene would be considered to be chaotic at the very least.” Lounsbury is no longer employed by the city, according to city officials.

In his warrant application, Lounsbury wrote that officers on the scene were “vastly outnumbered,” with what he estimated as 40 to 50 people gathered in the street and yard of the home. Other officers’ accounts similarly described a large chaotic gathering, in which they characterized many guests as intoxicated and disorderly. 

“I immediately yelled for the crowd to move and go inside,” Lounsbury wrote. “I then observed multiple parties arguing with officers and disobeying their commands.”

Officers listed self-defense, defending one another, effecting arrest and preventing escape as their reasons for using force during the incident. 

Officers, including Lounsbury, described the behavior of some individuals at the gathering as aggressive toward law enforcement. One person was particularly verbally aggressive and was in a proximity to officers that Lounsbury in his report described as “fighting distance.” Lounsbury wrote that this individual, who was not the plaintiff, spat at Lounsbury, and narrowly missed. The individual then clenched his fist and flexed his muscles in what Lounsbury described “as a sign of someone preparing to fight.”

Police: Plaintiffactively resisted arrest

Officers described Negron, the homeowner, as another individual who actively resisted officers’ verbal commands during the encounter. 

Police alleged that as those interactions continued Negron punched Officer Christopher Morin, while Morin and another officer attempted to remove Negron from others at the gathering, as they also tried to calm and disperse the crowd. 

Lounsbury’s report continued that as he attempted to approach the entrance of the home, he was met with resistance from several people, including the homeowner. Lounsbury stated he observed Morin grab Negron. In response, Negron punched Morin in the face, according to Lounsbury’s account. Then another individual poured a beer on both officers. 

“Ofc. Morin and I then continued to attempt to restrain Jose, but due to his active physical resistance, Jose was brought to a position of disadvantage on the ground to prevent him from further assaulting officers. Ofc. Morin then placed Jose in handcuffs, double locked, and we then removed Jose from the deck to prevent him from being further injured by the many people who had stepped on him while trying to interfere with officers. 

Lounsbury wrote he had probable cause to believe Jose Negron committed assault on a public safety officer, breach of peace, second degree and interfering with an officer. Those charges were listed in the warrant application.

Officer Morin’s supplemental report corroborates Lounsbury’s description of the incident.

Morin wrote he saw Negron push Lounsbury — “at which time I grabbed a hold of [Negron] to prevent him from further assaulting Ofc. Lounsbury. Jose then punched me with his right hand using a closed fist on the left side of my face just beneath my ear.”

Morin too described an alcoholic beverage having been “thrown or poured” on him and Lounsbury, but that officers did not know its source.

Morin continued that after observing and feeling what he described as “active physical resistance and assaultive behavior” from Negron and with officers being so vastly outnumbered, he began “to fear … further assaults and more grave injuries could very quickly become reality.”

Morin wrote he forcefully removed Negron from the group in an attempt to put the suspect in a “position of disadvantage.” Morin stated Negron, due to his continued resistance, “was forced to the ground to put him at a further position of disadvantage.”

Morin indicated that during officers’ attempts to subdue Negron, one of them attempted to sweep the plaintiff’s leg, in an effort to control and handcuff him. 

“As this was done, Jose tried to counter the sweep with his right leg, but due to the sweep, weight transferred onto his leg forcing an injury to his right leg/knee,” Morin wrote, adding Negron was immediately handcuffed.

All references to medical assistance law enforcement or other personnel administered to Negron were redacted from official reports. 

George G. Mowad II, Negron’s attorney, stated in an email to the Record-Journal that he and his client “have no comment” regarding the settlement. Mowad cited the document’s confidentiality agreement in declining comment.

Current and former city officials similarly did not comment regarding the settlement. Former police Chief Jeffry Cossette, another defendant in the lawsuit, was among those who declined comment.

The City Council voted 7 to 3 last month to authorize the settlement with councilors Dan Brunet, Ray Ouellet and Bob Williams Jr. voting against it. The lawsuit was officially dismissed on Tuesday as a result of the settlement.

No conviction, nointernal investigation 

Arrest warrant applications show police filed a series of charges against Negron. However, state judicial records do not indicate whether those charges were pursued in court. Judicial records show Negron was never convicted of an offense.

The incident was not reviewed by the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division, officials confirmed.

Meriden Police Lt. Darrin McKay, in an email, explained IA investigations are launched either by the chief of police, internally, or by a civilian complaint to the police department. McKay cited the department’s policy language around those IA investigations: “The Meriden Police Department is committed to maintaining a positive working relationship with the community by investigating all complaints and correcting any actions, practices, or attitudes on the part of its members deemed contrary to the mission of the agency or considered professionally unacceptable.”  

“It is the goal of the Internal Affairs Unit to ensure the integrity of the Department, while protecting the rights and interests of private citizens and Department members by conducting thorough and impartial investigations of all complaints, including anonymous complaints and third party complaints, made against the Department and its employees.”

McKay indicated the department did not receive a citizen complaint related to the Negron incident that would have launched an IA investigation.

Three years after the incident occurred, the City Council established a Civilian Police Review Board tasked with reviewing the police department’s own use-of-force investigations. The authority of that board, whose findings are considered advisory, is limited to reviews of citizens’ complaints related to use of force. The board’s task is to review only completed Internal Affairs investigations to determine their thoroughness, completeness, accuracy and objectivity.



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