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Civil suits move forward in Meriden police controversy

Dan Ivers | Posted: Monday,
January 23, 2012 6:49 pm

MERIDEN - As a grand jury investigation into claims of police brutality and an alleged cover-up continues, the progress of three related civil lawsuits could present a series of challenges for those on either side of the case.

Since April, a grand jury has been weighing accusations that Meriden Police Officer Evan Cossette injured three men - Pedro Temich, Robert Methvin and Joseph Bryans - in separate incidents between May 2010 and January 2011, and that the incidents were covered up by Cossette's father, Police Chief Jeffry Cossette, and other members of the department's command staff.

Attorney Sally A. Roberts has filed civil lawsuits on behalf of Temich, Methvin and Bryans against Evan and Jeffry Cossette, the city and members of the department's command staff. Lawyers for both sides have begun gathering evidence to form their cases, according to court records.

Chief Cossette has said the accusations, which come from two officers in the department, are retaliation for discipline they received. City Attorney Deborah Moore declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. Roberts did not respond to a request for comment.

While not necessarily unusual, it is often tidier and less challenging to defend a criminal case prior to a civil suit rather than dealing with them simultaneously, legal experts say.

The concurrent suits will likely force the parties involved to provide multiple statements under oath, which could produce inconsistencies or conflicting accounts of incidents crucial to the cases.

"It could be a real help to the defense. It's an enormous amount of discovery," said Attorney John R. "Jake" Donovan.

Witnesses that appear before the grand jury are called by government attorneys, but the filing of the civil suits will also allow Roberts to obtain sworn statements from defendants.

"The government can, in effect, take a deposition and get whatever testimony it wants that way. The government doesn't need to have a civil suit," said Yale University law professor Steven Duke. "Generally it helps the plaintiff if the plaintiff can proceed with his depositions."

Duke added that a criminal investigation is not likely to be affected by any related civil suits. However, if the investigation results in indictments or any criminal charges, the civil case would likely be put on hold.

In the meantime, it could become increasingly difficult for the city's attorneys to delay the civil depositions and other progress in the suits, according to Tim Everett, a law professor at the University of Connecticut.

"It doesn't put the criminal defendant in the position to require that courts order extensions or delays on the civil side. There's not a trump card," he said. "For the individuals caught in the crossfire, it's a complicated thing."

Roberts is also serving as legal counsel to officers Donald Huston and Brian Sullivan, who originally asked for an investigation into alleged favoritism toward Evan Cossette and other disparate treatment within the department.




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