A just-retired Meriden police sergeant has filed a notice to sue the city, charging that he has been harassed by fellow officers after he changed his story when interviewed by federal investigators about the details of an incident that led to a grand jury investigation of the chief's son on brutality charges.
Leighton "Buddy" Gibbs has told federal investigators that he originally lied about what he saw on July 6, 2010, when Officer Evan Cossette brought a handcuffed Pedro Temich into the booking area following his arrest for fighting with officers at an accident scene, according to the notice of intent to sue filed Thursday by Gibbs' attorney, Frank Cannatelli.
Gibbs is now 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 the filing.
"Officer Gibbs then saw Officer Cossette move his arms quickly as if to push the suspect. Then Officer Gibbs heard what sounded like a melon splitting,'' the notice said.
A videotape of that incident shows Cossette pushing a handcuffed Temich backward as he enters the cell. Temich fell and cracked the back of his head on a concrete bench. He eventually was transported to Midstate Medical Center for treatment, but not before Cossette entered the cell several times and moved the injured man around.
An internal affairs investigation was conducted months later, and even though Cossette was found to have violated police policies, he received only a letter of reprimand.
The incident has now become the center of a federal grand jury investigation into Cossette's actions that night as well as into whether he has received favorable treatment when it comes to disciplinary issues because his father, Jeffry Cossette, is the police chief.
The filing not only indicates that Gibbs changed his story about the Temich incident but also accuses several police union officials of pressuring Gibbs and other officers to "stick to their stories" when interviewed by federal authorities. The filing alleges that once Chief Cossette and union officials found out that Gibbs had changed his story, they constantly harassed him and threatened to fire him.
"Officer Gibbs has been tormented by the union, encouraging other officers to single him out, and file internal affairs complaints against him for coming to the aid of criminal defendants who have been brutalized by fellow police officers,'' Cannatelli wrote.
The harassment led Gibbs to file for a disability retirement, Cannatelli said. The city's pension board last week approved a disability retirement for Gibbs after more than 11 years with the police department.
The notice of intent said that Gibbs' original statement to internal affairs officers was based solely on what Cossette had told him to say. Cannatelli said that Cossette handed Gibbs a copy of his own report and told him to just write down the same thing.
Sources said Gibbs had told federal authorities that he believes the videotape of the incident was altered or deliberately erased to protect the chief's son. As The Courant first reported last April, there is a 6- to 10-second gap in the security tapes that could have showed what happened when Cossette escorted Temich through the sally port doors and walked him over to a holding cell less than 20 feet from those doors.
Sources said that Gibbs told federal authorities that Cossette was screaming expletives at Temich as he pushed him toward the holding cell.
That is a much different story than what Gibbs said during an internal affairs interview done by Sgt. Leonard Caponigro, who also has since retired. In that interview, which lasted barely three minutes, Gibbs defended Cossette's actions in the Temich arrest.
Gibbs said that he heard Cossette bringing Temich in from the sally port area and decided to stick around in case he needed help.
"He [Temich] appeared like he didn't want to listen to us, he had to be physically moved because he wouldn't keep going, he would stop and almost face off even though he was handcuffed,'' Gibbs said.
He went on to tell Caponigro that he saw Cossette lead Temich into the cell and at least 10 times tell him to back up or sit down.
"In fact, at the last minute I saw the gentleman take a step forward and that's when I saw Officer Cossette push him,'' Gibbs said. "Personally, I didn't think it was that big of a push, just a get back."
The videotape of the incident shows Cossette entering the jail cell numerous times and moving Temich around even though he had suffered an obvious head injury and there was blood visible on the floor.
Cossette removed the handcuffs before emergency medical personnel arrived. At one point on the video, Gibbs can be seen walking into the jail cell briefly, starting to approach Temich, hesitating, and then backing out.
Gibbs told Caponigro that he didn't see Temich fall or know that he was possibly injured. Caponigro did not ask Gibbs why he went into the jail cell, or why he didn't try to help Temich, or why he didn't question Cossette about what had happened.
Gibbs ended his internal affairs interview saying, "I didn't see anything that I thought was improper, he [Cossette] was just trying to control this guy who didn't want to listen."
Gibbs also has been interviewed by Hartford attorney Thomas Daily, who was hired by the city to conduct an independent investigation of the Temich incident.
Sources said that Gibbs told Daily that his original version was not true and reiterated what he told federal authorities about Cossette's screaming at Temich as he walked him toward the holding cell.
Cannatelli said that after the interview with Daily, the police department opened an internal affairs case against Gibbs for changing his story. The Courant has previously requested a copy of the internal affairs investigation and has been told that it is still an open case.
Cannatelli said that the internal affairs case was held over Gibbs' head for the past few months and was part of a pattern of harassing Gibbs at work once police officials heard that he had changed his story.
"He [Gibbs] has been singled out for not protecting the chief's son, Evan Cossette,'' Thursday's filing said. "He has been retaliated against for communicating police abuse in the department and for cooperating with federal law enforcement.''Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun