Meriden police officer Evan Cossette made his first appearance in federal court Tuesday and pleaded innocent to charges of police brutality.
Cossette was released on a $75,000 bond co-signed by his parents, Meriden Chief Jeffry Cossette and Suzanne Cossette. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Jan. 2.
Cossette, 25, was indicted last week following a grand jury investigation into a May 2010 incident in which the officer was videotaped pushing a handcuffed prisoner named Pedro Temich backward into a holding cell, causing him to fall and injure his head.
Cossette was charged with use of unreasonable force and obstruction of justice. He faces a maxiumum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted. Cossette said little during his brief court appearance Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Joan Margolis, other than "not guilty" when asked how he pleads to the two charges.
One of the conditions of Cossette's bond is that he undergo a mental health evaluation. His attorney, Raymond Hassett, objected to the condition, saying such an evaluation is "premature." Margolis ordered Cossette to undergo any mental pr physical evaluations the probation department deems necessary.
The federal investigation began after a videotape of the incident became public when fellow Meriden officers Brian Sullivan and Donald Huston wrote a scathing letter to city officials claiming that Evan Cossette was receiving preferential treatment within the department because of nepotism.
The videotape shows Cossette pushing Temich backward into the cell, causing Temich to cut his head on the concrete bench. The indictment calls Cosette's action a "firm shove" of the "compliant and handcuffed" Temich.
The tape then shows Evan Cossette entering the cell at least six times and moving the unconscious Temich around, twice propping him up against the bench and another time putting him back on the floor so that the man's handcuffs could be removed. There is blood visible on the floor where Temich fell.
A dispatcher who saw the unconscious Temich in the cell made the first call for medical help. The indictment said that Cossette intentionally deceived emergency personnel by downplaying Temich's injuries, telling them that he had not lost consciousness when the tape showed he clearly had.
Temich was taken to MidState Medical Center in Meriden and required 12 stitches in the back of his head. He was found to have a blood alcohol level three times over the legal limit.
The incident wasn't reported to police administrators until six weeks later. An internal affairs investigation found that Evan Cossette had used unnecessary force.
But at an administrative hearing, Deputy Chief Timothy Tupolos overruled that finding and issued a letter of reprimand instead. Cossette was ordered to take four hours of training on the use of excessive force.
After that ruling, Evan Cossette had six more internal affairs complaints filed against him, including three complaints alleging excessive force, records show. None of the complaints were sustained.
Two of the men who filed excessive force allegations, Robert Methvin and Joseph Bryans, have been interviewed by FBI agents and have filed lawsuits against the city, as has Temich. All three lawsuits are pending.
Evan Cossette is on paid administrative leave from the department pending the outcome of the federal case.
The other officer in the holding cell area that night, Sgt. Leighton "Buddy" Gibbs, has retired on a disability pension.
Gibbs is a key witness in the case.
He originally backed up Evan Cossette's version of events when interviewed by internal affairs officers, saying that Temich was uncooperative and that "it really wasn't that big of a push." But when he appeared before the grand jury investigating Cossette earlier this year, Gibbs changed his story, saying that "he didn't notice any struggle occurring" and that he heard Cossette yell profanities at Temich and "warn him to sit down five to seven times," according to a notice of intent to sue the town filed by Gibbs.