settlements to go public
By Will Healey, Journal Inquirer
Published: December 19, 2017
ENFIELD — The Town Council on Monday night voted 9-2 to settle the last of a series of lawsuits brought against the Police Department alleging excessive force on the part of various officers during certain arrest situations.
Though the town had kept the terms of the settlements a secret based on advice from its insurance carrier's legal counsel, it made the terms of Monday's settlement known, and Town Attorney Christopher Bromson vowed to release the terms of the previous settlements to the press and the public'as soon as possible.
The lawsuit settled Monday night was brought by a local woman, Amie Olschafskie, on behalf of her son, the late Tyler Damato, who died at the age of 20 of brain injuries following a 2013 car accident.
Olschafskie alleged in her lawsuit that officers' use of excessive force on her son during a "medical assist" call over a month earlier directly led to his death.
According to the terms announced by the council Monday, the town's insurer at the time of the alleged incident, the Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency or CIRMA, will settle the case for $140,000, though the town's commitment is a $25,000 deductible, as it has been for the previous excessive force cases settled.
Council members Edward Deni and Elizabeth Davis were the lone dissenting votes on the matter, which was acted upon during the council's meeting at Town Hall.
Former Police Officer Matthew Worden was one of the officers named in Olschafskie's lawsuit. Worden was fired in October 2014 following an investigation into his use of excessive force during the arrest of Windsor resident Mark Maher in April of that year, though he was later allowed to resign under a settlement with the town.
Video recorded by police cruiser dashboard cameras showed Worden striking Maher several times in the face while he was detained on the ground by two other officers.
Following the investigation, the department sought to arrest Worden - a 10-year-member of the force - on charges of third-degree assault antf fabricating evidence in the Maher case. The charges were rejected by Hartford State's Attorney Gail P. Hardy, who concluded the state could not prove the charges.
After Maher brought a police brutality complaint against the department, 11 lawsuits were brought against the department over the next several months; eight of which named Worden as one of the officers involved.
According to Olschafskie's lawsuit, the actions of Worden and Officer Jamie Yott during a medical assist directly resulted in her son's death.
For historical background, the lawsuit noted that on Oct. 24,2012, a car struck Damato, resulting in injuries that diminished his motor and cognitive skills, forced him to walk with a cane, and led to severe depression.
The lawsuit went on to say that on Christmas Day 2012 Damato called Olschafskle to report that he was having suicidal thoughts. While Olschafskie and other family members brought Damato safely to Olschafskie's house, Damato's grandmother went to the police station to ask for assistance in having him admitted to the hospital for mental observation, the lawsuit says.
Worden and Yott came to escort Damato to the hospital after he agreed to treatment. As the officers walked with Damato out of the house, Damato dropped his cane, the lawsuit states.
When he bent over to pick up his cane, the officers, "without warning or provocation" violently forced Damato to the ground, smashed his head onto the concrete, used a Taser or stun gun on him, and kneeled on his head, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit said Damato was knocked unconscious and taken by ambulance to St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, where he was monitored for such things as "severe head injuries and aggravated traumatic brain injury and severe post-concussive and post-traumatic effects.
The lawsuit said Damato was released from the hospital Dec. 31,2012, and Feb. 8,2013, he was pronounced brain dead following his involvement in another car accident.
Bromson said Monday that the case was the last in a series of lawsuits that the town settled. As he has said before, he said that the town's legal counsel - through CIRMA advised the town to keep the amounts of the settlements private, saying that the cases would be harder for CIRMA to settle if the amoupts were publicly known - even though the same lawyer, Hartford-based A. Paul Spinella, was representing the plaintiffs in most of the lawsuits.
Bromson noted the council's reticence in settling the cases based on what was known of the circumstances of each case, but said seffling was ultimately a "business decision' in the town's best interest.
He said that CIRMA notified the town in this particular case that were it not to vote to settle the case, the town would've had to retain its own representation and go to trial, which was set for Feb. 14. Bromson also said that had the town taken its chances in a trial, it would have been on the hook for any amount over $140,000, as well as lawyers' fees for both itself and Olschafskie, something known as the "hammer clause."
"I think it's really the sledgehammer clause," Bromson said.
Bromson also said that he had requested settlement information for the previous cases from CIRMA's legal counsel, and would share that information with the Journal Inquirer and the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, as soon as he receives it.
The Jl and the ACLU successfully challenged the town over making the information public with the Freedom of Information Commission, though the town appealed the commission's decision.