By Mikaela Porter, Hartford Courant
Published: December 22, 2017
Nearly $800,000 was paid to settle lawsuits filed against the police department and former officer Matthew Worden, according to documents released by the town Friday.
The 10 lawsuits were settled for a combined total of $792,500, records show. All of the lawsuits involving Worden have now been settled.
Earlier this week, town officials publicized the final settlement figure, complying with state Freedom of Information laws after nearly 15 months in which officials maintained that those figures should not be made public. The town paid $25,000 per settlement — a total of $225,000 — to its former insurance carrier CIRMA. CIRMA covered the remaining balance of the lawsuit settlements to the recipients.
The Windsor man who prompted the onslaught of lawsuits against Worden, Mark Maher, received $250,000. In dashcam footage of the 2014 arrest, Worden can be seen punching Maher at least three times while detaining him.
Eric Avalos, who sued the town after he was shocked by a stun gun outside the Holiday Inn near the Massachusetts line in 2014, received $90,000. Hotel staff said Avalos and his family were being too loud and were asked to leave. Avalos alleged he was shocked while he was in handcuffs.
Twins Frank and Ronnie Salas, who sued the town after what they described as an altercation with Worden in 2011 while he was off duty, received a combined $85,000 — $60,000 for Frank Salas and $25,000 for Ronnie Salas. They said they approached Worden and complained about how he treated residents and was subsequently wrestled to the ground and received injuries after his face was slammed into the pavement. Both were charged with interfering with an officer and assaulting a public safety officer.
Zachary Trowbridge sued the town after Worden’s police dog allegedly bit him when he was leaving his home with his arms raised as police were serving an arrest warrant in 2013. Trowbridge, who now lives in Maine, received $27,500.
Barbara Crowley, who sued the town after she sustained injuries she said occurred after Worden detained her outside the Mount Carmel Society in 2011, received $125,000.
Christopher McDaniel, who sued the town after he was bitten by Worden’s police dog outside Sylvia’s Restaurant in 2014, received $25,000.
Christopher Demski sued the town, saying he said he was sleepwalking in 2013 and walked into a neighbor’s house, who called police. Several officers responded and shocked him several times, and then while he was handcuffed, released a police dog that bit his already injured Achilles tendon. He received $25,000.
In response to a December 2014 civil lawsuit naming Worden, Aime Olschafskie is to receive $140,000, according to Town Attorney Christopher Bromson. Olschafskie filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of the estate of her son, Tyler Damato, who died in February 2013 at the age of 20. Olschafskie alleged that Worden and other police officers used unreasonable, excessive force, displayed negligent conduct, engaged in reckless conduct and inflicted emotional distress during an incident on Dec. 25, 2012.
“The town itself acted responsibly to get these cases behind them and my hope is this will bring about structural changes in the department especially with a new administration coming in,” Attorney Paul Spinella said.
Spinella, who represented all 10 people who sued the police department, said the settlements should serve as a “spark” for changes including improving the internal affairs process, a better review of citizen complaints when they come in and a better screening of potential police officers.
In a press release Friday, town officials said Maher was the only person to file a complaint in the lawsuits. After investigations into the other complaints, the complainants allegations “were found to be unsubstantiated.”
The ACLU’s legal director was critical of Enfield’s decision to withhold those records and release them en masse on Friday, saying it was a “failure on multiple levels,” a disservice to Enfield residents and should not have occurred
“Nothing in the town’s reasoning for delay has an atom of legal merit,” ACLU legal director Dan Barrett said. “It was entirely frivolous and should not have occurred. It should not have taken journalists and the ACLU to dislodge really basic information that’s plainly available under our public records laws simply because the town preferred to avoid oversight.”
Monday night’s council meeting was the first time settlement figures associated with the nearly dozen lawsuits alleging police brutality and excessive force by former officer Worden were publicly released.
In June, the Freedom of Information Commission ruled that Enfield officials were to request the settlement information from the town’s insurance carrier and provide them to the ACLU and Journal Inquirer, which filed complaints to the commission. Later that month, Bromson appealed the decision, saying the documents are exempt because they are maintained by CIRMA.
Last October and November, the ACLU requested settlement information for three police brutality lawsuits and town officials said they did not possess the information since CIRMA was handling the caseload.
On Tuesday, Bromson said the town only kept the settlement figures confidential because CIRMA said if those figures had been made public it would have “adversely affected” any future settlements. The town has since dropped its appeal on the FOI ruling in June.