By Andy Thibault
@cooljustice on Twitter
Published: Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Connecticut's newest federal judge, Michael Shea, got off to a bad start.
Shea ran smack into a huge pile of "deliberate indifference" and "inadequate supervision" and blew it off.
In a decision finalized earlier this month, Shea let the city of Meriden and its police chief off the hook on a $1.5 million judgment against a cop who allegedly raped a minor at least twice in 2007 and never was arrested. Indeed, some of Shea's statements in his ruling echo the outrageous and inadmissible claims by the city about the plaintiff's sexual history and reputation, suggesting that she brought the rape upon herself.
The Meriden Police Department has established itself as among the more brutal and corrupt in Connecticut. Beatings, taser death and cover-ups are part of the regular menu. Prosecutors and judges can't be accused of doing anything effective about it.
In one notable case, the department suppressed a video for three years showing that an officer pistol whipped and beat a suspect after falsely reporting a collision and shots fired. Ultimately, this officer received the harsh punishment of a suspended sentence.
In another case, a lawyer for an abused prisoner pressed New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington to pursue perjury charges against Evan Cossette, son of Meriden Police Chief Jeffry Cossette. That plea went nowhere. Dearington even defended the actions of the younger Cossette, who pushed a handcuffed prisoner backwards into a holding cell, causing him to strike his head against a concrete bench. Cossette moved the man numerous times trying to prop him up, then left the cell. The man's skull was fractured.
As Cossette returned to duty, Meriden Police issued a formal report stating there was no nepotism in the department. Two other officers who raised the issue faced disciplinary action.
Evan Cossette was not brought to justice by local police or state prosecutors. Rather, the feds had to step in. Cossette was convicted in June of violating the prisoner's civil rights and obstructing justice. He faces up to 30 years in federal prison at sentencing next week.
The rape case is so bizarre and heinous as to be mind-boggling even for the seasoned observer of police and prosecutorial malfeasance. Meriden Police learn early and often that officers are above the law. That training is reinforced by prosecutors and judges.
The city did not deny the rape allegations or that the plaintiff was 15 years old and unable to give legal consent. However, in court documents, the city claimed the girl "seemed very proud of having sex" with the officer and that she "dressed like a prostitute."
Officer Raymond Barnes, the alleged rapist, also escaped arrest for theft of city services and threatening of a neighbor and a tow truck driver, according to court records. As detailed in the federal lawsuit, Anonymous v. City of Meriden, Raymond Barnes and Jeffry Cossette, it appeared the police department had a de facto policy of failing to supervise, discipline or train officers adequately. Barnes was given a "counseling letter" for telling a tow truck driver he was not going to tow Barnes's or anyone else's unregistered vehicles and for warning his neighbor, "If you want to start this, I'm going to finish it."
Barnes also got paid for "patrolling" or sleeping at his own residence on at least a dozen occasions, making him late for backup calls for fellow officers. He reported his location as on street patrol when he actually was at home. Jeffry Cossette signed the disciplinary letter in which Barnes was docked three days pay and suspended for 15 days.
The lawyer for the 15-year-old rape victim, Paul Spinella of Hartford, argued that gross negligence by the city left Barnes free to continue to abuse his power, position and privilege. Witnesses said Barnes visited the girl's residence about 40 times off duty, sometimes on duty and in uniform, even bringing a friend along for shared sex with the teenager.
Despite all that, Judge Shea ruled the plaintiff "failed to submit evidence raising a triable issue that the city's and the chief's allegedly inadequate supervision of Barnes reached the point of deliberate indifference … "
Hey, who might have imagined this guy was inclined to continue a pattern of criminal activity? Or, as Judge Shea put it so brilliantly: "Officer Barnes's past misconduct was of a different kind and magnitude than his later assaults."
A Meriden detective applied for an arrest warrant related to the sexual assaults. Why wasn't the rape warrant served? I called State's Attorney Dearington about that last week and left a message asking about the case. "After a review we did not sign it," was all Dearington would say Monday.
In exchange for his resignation and a liability release, the city gave Barnes a $5,000 payment in 2008.
Before gaining a lifetime appointment to the federal bench by President Obama last December, Shea handled and supervised complex litigation for Day Pitney, including the defense of St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center regarding its "oversight" of pedophile doctor George Reardon.
"At most," Shea wrote in an order absolving the city of Meriden and Chief Cossette of damages, "Officer Barnes's past misconduct put the city on notice that he was a lazy and dishonest police officer with a temper. It did not put the city on notice that he was likely to sexually assault a minor."
Good luck collecting that $1.5 million or getting justice for the rape victim.
Andy Thibault is a contributing editor for 21st Century Media's Connecticut publications and the author of Law & Justice In Everyday Life. He formerly served as a commissioner for Connecticut's Freedom of Information Commission. Reach Thibault by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cooljustice.