7/22/2010 - Posted by:
Spinella & Associates
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Police Department Ignores the Warning Signs and Lets Officer Off With Slap on the Wrist After Bar Shooting

In the legal world of Police Misconduct litigation, two issues loom large: the exercise of excessive force and the municipal policies and outright corruption that allows it to flourish. The present case involving one of the three largest municipalities in Connecticut is chosen because of its fantastic yet real-life portrayal of these two issues: a psychologically impaired off-duty police officer who casually guns down two innocent bystanders during a bar fight whose conduct is subsequently sanctioned by a police internal affairs investigation that ignores an outrageous history of citizen complaints; egregious misconduct; and a psychological impairment evaluation by the military and by the Department itself at the time of hiring. Here is a case of enormous official misconduct; an off duty police officer with a troubled past who guns down two innocent bystanders in a bar-fight. The police officers subsequent exoneration and the criminal prosecution of the two victims presents the two prominent ingrained issues of corrupt exercise of the police power by municipalities: 1. Complete absence of accountability: Immediately following the attempted murder of two innocent citizens by an off duty officer, he immediately retained a defense lawyer and sought the advice of his sister (a lawyer in the City Attorney’s Office), all of whom anticipated attempted murder charges. Instead, the State’s Attorneys’s office did not even bother to investigate: more distressing, the Police Department’s so-called Internal Affairs Unit found no wrong-doing after a minimalist investigation that included no forensics or ballistics investigation, and the absence of discussions with nearly all essential witnesses, including the victims’ themselves. More incredibly, the only criminal prosecutions were brought against the two shooting victims; ultimately these charges were dropped, but only after the statute of limitations for suing the City was apparently (mistakenly) by the State’s Attorney’s Office to have run out. Consistent with a police culture in many essential ways similar to an urban gang, the Department acted at every level to protect one of its members (in this case, an officer with a long family history of police officers) from official sanction, by testimony at every important juncture which was either misleading, false, or unavailable. The thin blue line extended to every level of the police community, including so-called experts who failed to investigate or simply issued opinions without factual basis. 2. Police gangs with no one to look over them: The second prominent issue of municipal corruption involves the nearly total absence of police oversight in Connecticut. These are three possible avenues to make police accountable, all off which are absent in Connecticut as demonstrated in the present case. The first public institution for investigating and prosecuting wrong doing is the State’s Attorney’s Office (the United State’s Attorney’s offices has a long tradition of avoiding any involvement in the prosecution of municipal police departments). Because of the in-bred relationships of local prosecutors with municipal cops, who are relied upon to prosecute day-to-day criminal cases before sitting juries, the idea of prosecuting these cops is beyond imagining. How about internal investigations by police departments themselves? As an ingrained, self-referential, insular culture with an absolute “us-against-them” mentality, any action with even a perceived possibility of causing harm to another officer is considered an act of treason. For this reason there is no effective IAD procedure in any Connecticut police department. As for Civilian Review Boards, forget about it- they don’t exist in Connecticut- any attempt to establish one has been attacked by police department lobbies, their proponents painted as traitors in the time of war. The only power of accountability is with attorneys who are willing and capable to take on City Hall and the police departments they answer to. Unfortunately, independent civil right lawyers who are willing to take on these fights, for powerless citizens at their own initial expense, are virtually non-existent. Fortunately for the public good they do exist. We are such a firm that take these cases and fight each war, often for years at a time, with diligence and vigor. The following case is typical of such a battle. II Factual history In the first words of many versions of the old vaudevillian joke: “A guy walks into a bar ...” In our case, a black comedy version of the old joke, begins with an inner-city cop with a psychiatric history armed to the teeth, walks into a bar know to be a criminal hang out in plain clothes after work, hangs up his nine millimeter hand gun and holster behind the bar, pours himself a drink and proceeds to get drunk. It is a scene appropriate to same lawless frontier in an 1850 cowpoke town in the America West - a lawman carrying only a gun and a badge without uniform proceeds to “kick butt”. The next scene follows an equally similar storyline: a fight breaks out. The plainclothes lawman, rather than calling for help or walking away, grabs his gun and walks into the crowd. Tragedy then takes form in the initial innocent unsuspecting steps taken by the first of the two brothers about to encounter the closest possible exposure with a violent death. Without warning or reason the outstretched hand of the police officer now in possession of the nine millimeter handgun retrieved from his holster behind the bar, is pressed against the chest of the innocent brother and fired at point blank range. The nine millimeter moves next to another innocent bystander, the second of the two brothers moving quickly to assist his brother. Another shot is fired at a distance of less than five feet again directly into his chest. A 911 call is made followed by the arrival of police who, upon arrival, focus first on the police officer who is hustled away in a squad car, and shortly thereafter a criminal defense lawyer in a meeting arranged by a relative who is employed as an attorney in the City Corporation Counsel’s office. As for the two brothers, they are eventually brought to the local hospital and in a stroke of enormous good fortune are treated by a brilliant emergency room doctor who saves their lives. Incredibly, the State’s Attorney’s office makes no investigation of the cop, instead relying on the police department’s conclusion of no misconduct after having conducting no meaningful investigation of their own. A true miracle of modern medicine next takes form in the shape of the Yale-New Haven Hospital emergency medicine team. After surviving treatment by a first class trauma team followed by months of therapy, both brothers now lead normal lives although they struggle with permanent disabilities of many kinds. No sanctions were brought against the police officer of any kind, the result of a police investigation that was barely conducted. As for prosecutions, no charges were brought against the police officer-incredibly, the only persons charged with crimes were the two victims. After their arrest, the prosecution was allowed to lapse until after the statute of limitations was thought (incorrectly) to have lapsed, following which the case was dropped. We filed a civil rights claim in the Federal District Court against the police officer (and another officer who failed to intervene), along with the City and their police department. Thereafter we retained a team of experts who conducted the ballistic, forensic, and factual investigations that were never pursued. We also hired a nationally known expert on police policies and procedures who reviewed years of civilian complaints and internal affairs investigations, along with the entire history of police department misconduct; such as the refusal to terminate rogue police officers with long histories of misconduct. The trial continued for nearly six weeks and exposed a police department that was horribly dysfunctional, and a police officer who was allowed to commit an act of criminal violence without sanctions. The jury deliberated for several days, with five of the six members heard arguing violently with a single hold out. The hold out eventually was allowed to be excused at his request for “medical reasons”. Unfortunately there were no alternate jurors available and the court declared a mistrial. The jurors later stated that they had agreed to return a verdict in excess of 20 million dollars. The case was later settled on confidential terms.
 
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