MERIDEN — The city released records of a $40,000 settlement this week in a 2017 federal lawsuit accusing now-former police officials of intimidation and retaliation against a critic of the police department in violation of his First Amendment rights.
The settlement last April, negotiated by lawyers representing the city and plaintiff Christopher Dingwell Sr., is briefly outlined in a general release the Record-Journal obtained through a public records request.
According to the release, the city’s insurers agreed to pay Dingwell $40,000 in exchange for Dingwell agreeing to withdraw his complaint against the co-defendants, former Meriden Police Chief Jeffry Cossette, former Police Detective John Williams, and the city of Meriden. Williams is a former head of the Meriden police union.
In the release document, the co-defendants are referred to as “releasees.” The document stipulates the co-defendants be held harmless from further legal action related to the complaint.
The release does not include admissions by the defendants of liability regarding Dingwell’s claims. In fact, the release states the settlement “represents a compromise resolution of a disputed claim solely based on an economic assessment by the CITY… and does not constitute an admission of liability, violation of any law, constitutional or statutory rights, or any negligence or other wrongdoing by the RELEASEES.”
DIngwell’s attorney, Amita P. Rossetti of Waterbury, did not respond to requests for comment. Reached by phone Tuesday, Cossette declined to comment. Williams could not be reached for comment.
Critic of department
Dingwell’s complaint described the plaintiff as having established a track record of being publicly outspoken about “inefficiencies” within the Police Department starting in 2014, the year the city’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education program was canceled.
Dingwell claimed local police retaliated against him after he notified state police, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Record-Journal that the department had lost track of two firearms in early 2015.
According to Dingwell’s complaint, the retaliatory steps included a wrongful motor vehicle stop in November 2015. Dingwell’s complaint alleged another effort to publicize the March 2016 arrest of Dingwell’s son, with whom he shares the same first and last name.
Dingwell’s complaint claimed Williams emailed Cossette requesting that the latter allow the Police Department to broadly publicize the arrest in a press release. According to Dingwell’s complaint, that release did not clarify which Dingwell had been arrested.
Dingwell’s complaint further claimed Meriden police had deprived him of his First Amendment rights by blocking him from posting to the department’s Facebook page. Meriden Police Chief Roberto Rosado, who was a member of the Willimantic Police Department during the time frame described in DIngwell’s legal complaint, declined comment.
“We are moving forward,” Rosado said. “I have no comment.”