SPRINGFIELD — The City Council on Monday approved spending $450,000 to resolve a police brutality case in which a jury previously ruled the city was “deliberately indifferent to the civil rights of its citizens.”
The payment to Lee Hutchins Sr. follows a successful lawsuit in U.S. District Court in which he accused police of using excessive force during a domestic disturbance. The Boston jury awarded $250,000 to Hutchins in February, and he filed a subsequent claim for more than $200,000 in attorneys’ fees and trial-related costs.
Springfield City Solicitor Edward Pikula said the settlement was negotiated after the judgment. The city faced a potential payment of $600,000 when considering the judgment, interest on the judgment, attorney fees and other costs.
The suit was initially filed in U.S. District Court in Springfield, but was transferred to Boston.
The Springfield City Council recently met in private with the Law Department to discuss the proposed settlement, but did not discuss the specifics in public until Monday. Funds for the settlement were transferred from the city’s fiscal 2018 budget surplus, known as its “free cash” account.
Hutchins claimed three officers used excessive force again him when he was pepper sprayed and struck with a baton at his home on Jan. 20, 2013.
The jury found one officer, Thomas Hervieux, used excessive force. The verdict slip from the jury said the city “was deliberately indifferent to the civil rights of its citizens through a policy or custom of inadequately supervising or disciplining its police officers.”
Lawyers for Hutchins said the city was to blame for the rising cost of the lawsuit by dragging out the case rather than reaching a settlement. They said the prolonged case led to more than 500 hours of work on Hutchins’ behalf.
“In short, the City never made any serious effort to resolve the litigation,” wrote Northampton attorney Luke Ryan, one of the lawyers representing Hutchins.
Councilors have been critical of police misconduct lawsuits and city funds needed to settle them.
Council President Justin Hurst, in previously commenting on the judgment, said, “Unfortunately, this case is just the tip of the iceberg that last year cost taxpayers over a million dollars in settlements, and if this case is any indication, citizens will be paying even more money this year.”
The vote was 10-2 in favor of the settlement, with Councilors Orlando Ramos and Adam Gomez opposed, and Councilor Tracye Whitfield absent.
Pikula said judgments must be paid if not successfully appealed or settled.
On Oct. 1, 2018, the City Council approved a settlement of $885,000 to four men who claimed they were beaten by off-duty police officers in 2015 outside Nathan Bill’s Bar & Restaurant. Of that amount, $750,000 was awarded to Herman Paul Cumby, who suffered a concussion, fractured ankle and damaged teeth in the attack, according to a lawsuit he filed against the city.
In April, 13 current and former Springfield police officers were arraigned in Hampden Superior Court on allegations that they either participated in or helped cover up the beating.
“Springfield City Council approves $450,000 for police brutality settlement”, https://www.masslive.com/news/2019/06/springfield-city-council-approves-450000-for-police-brutality-settlement.html