ENFIELD — The Town Council on Monday begrudgingly approved settling a federal lawsuit for $30,000 filed by a local man in 2015 who claimed police used excessive force in arresting him on four different occasions.
The council voted 7 to 1 at its meeting at Town Hall in favor of settling the lawsuit, despite multiple council members wishing the town could fight the lawsuit at trial.
Councilwoman Donna Swezczak, who is also deputy mayor, was the only council member who voted in opposition, stating that a decision like this should never be “unanimous.”
The lawsuit filed by Patrick Ward named as defendants the town, the Police Department, former Police Chief Carl Sferrazza, Sgt. John Carney, Officer Marianne Christensen, Officer Michael Emons, and two unidentified officers, claiming they violated his constitutional rights and used excessive force in arresting him.
Ward was arrested in August 2012, January 2012, September 2012, and September 2014.
Following the lawsuit, an internal affairs investigation conducted by the Police Department found no evidence to support Ward’s claims.
In each of the four situations — in which Ward was charged with various infractions, including separate claims of assault and one instance of illegal dumping — the internal affairs report stated that the officers interacted with Ward without incident, requiring no use of force, thus negating the need to file use of force reports.
The report also mentions Ward never filed a complaint with the Police Department, but Hartford lawyer A. Paul Spinella, who represented Ward and other plaintiffs in lawsuits filed against the department, previously stated that his clients failed to file complaints due to intimidation from officers and threats of being arrested.
Councilwoman Gina Cekala said she wanted people to understand that the settlement of Ward’s lawsuit wasn’t an easy decision, but her fiscal responsibility to the town and the taxpayers outweighed her personal feelings on the issue.
“Believe me, no one wants to try some of these cases more than me, but it’s not always in the best interest of the residents in this town to fight something that’s going to cost exponentially more to fight than if you settle it,” she said.
Mayor Michael Ludwick explained that due to an insurance policy clause known as the “hammer clause,” if the town didn’t settle, it would have to incur the costs associated with going to trial for both the town and Ward.
He added that if the town lost the case at trial, it could be on the hook of upwards of $250,000.
“Sometimes making bad policy is the right thing to do,” he said.
As much as Ludwick said he would have loved to go to trial, the financial conservative in him couldn’t risk forcing the taxpayers to pay that kind of money.
He said that the facts of the case are that the police acted appropriately.
“We support our police 100 percent, but on the advice of the potential and realistic additional costs that we simply don’t have, we decided to settle,” he said.
Of the $30,000 settlement amount, the town will pay $25,000 and the its insurance company will pay $5,000.
Councilman Joseph Bosco said it was “really sickening” having to vote for something that’s not right, but it was a Catch 22 situation, and this was the best outcome for the residents.
Ward’s lawsuit was just one of 11 cases claiming excessive force brought against the department after an April 2014 incident between officers and Windsor resident Mark Maher.
While the department found that former Officer Matthew Worden had used excessive force in detaining Maher, Sferrazza had repeatedly defended the department, denying any sort of trend of bad behavior.
Ludwick said that Ward’s lawsuit was the last of the cases to be settled.
Spinella could not be reached for comment.
“Enfield council begrudgingly settles police brutality lawsuit for $30K”, https://www.journalinquirer.com/towns/enfield/enfield-council-begrudgingly-settles-police-brutality-lawsuit-for-k/article_b588346a-eddc-11e8-97fd-875303ab55af.html