BRIDGEPORT – Criminal charges were dismissed Tuesday against a city man whose October 2017 arrest during a pre-Halloween party led to disciplinary action against 17 police officers accused of using excessive force and lying on police reports.
“After a year and a half, I finally got justice and it feels great,” said Carmelo Mendez, as he left the Golden Hill Street courthouse. “I said all along that the police were the aggressors and now a court has seen it, too.”
Superior Court Judge Frank Iannotti dismissed the charges of interfering with police and breach of peace pending against Mendez as the case was about to go to trial. Prosecutors had entered a nolle in the case in which they were discontinuing the prosecution without comment and the judge then granted a motion to dismiss the charges from Mendez’s lawyer, Robert Berke.
The dismissal now sets up a lawsuit against the city and the Police Department.
City spokeswoman Rowena White said late Tuesday that the City Attorney’s office was unaware of the dismissal.
“Mr. Mendez has filed a lawsuit, and so we cannot comment on pending litigation,” she said.
Berke confirmed later that he will be filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and Police Department but declined further comment.
“I’m going to sue the city,” Mendez said. “I need to get justice for what they did to me.”
He said he suffers from permanent eye damage as a result of the incident.
Mendez and his sister were arrested on Oct. 21, 2017, after police responded to a noise complaint at the sister’s home on Colorado Avenue. Eventually, 45 officers responded to the scene.
A report by the city’s Office of Internal Affairs, obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, found that 17 officers involved in the case violated police rules and regulations including using excessive force on Mendez who had been taking video of the police response.
The OIA report states that video from the party shows Officer Michael Stanitis strike Mendez multiple times in the side of the head with the butt of his flashlight as Mendez was held on the ground by other officers. “Officer Stanitis stated he did not see any injuries on Mr. Mendez, offering that he was unable to ‘even see him at all.’” The report states that Mendez had an “S” imprint on his face consistent with the butt end of the flashlight carried by the officer.
Mendez and his sister, Wanda Mendez, were arrested. His sister was charged with assault on a public safety officer, interfering with police, inciting a riot and breach of peace. Her case is still pending.
Last week, the city’s Board of Police Commissioners began closed hearings against each of the accused officers in the case.
At his last court hearing, Carmelo Mendez told the judge he wanted a trial and Berke filed a motion for a speedy trial. Jury selection in the case was to begin Tuesday.
Last month, Carmelo Mendez sued the police department on behalf of his 8-year-old son and 13-year-old niece who he claims witnessed officers beating him up.
“They both were traumatized as they stood by and watched police beating me up,” Mendez said. “My son didn’t want to celebrate Halloween again after what happened.”