-- U.S. District Magistrate Judge William Garfinkel
Cool Justice Editor's Note: This column originally appeared in the Hartford-based Inquiring News, followed by New Haven's Inner City News and CT News Junkie. Reprint OK courtesy of Inquiring News and The Cool Justice Report. Photo of coach Tylon Outlaw by Bob Thiesfield.
How Hartford Shafts Brutality Victims, Cops and Citizens at Large
By ANDY THIBAULT
The former college football star will never walk like a normal person and he will never run or jump again. Since just before Christmas 14 years ago, severe pain and all its related maladies have been his ever-present companions.
His crime? Traveling from Wethersfield to patronize a Hartford restaurant.
Tylon Outlaw played college football at Missouri Valley College where he was the top tackler in his conference and an honorable mention All American National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics [NAIA] cornerback. Following that, he also played several years professionally in the Arena Football League. He works as a tutor at Bloomfield High School in addition to coaching the football team to a state championship in 2015.
Now, the city of Hartford is shafting both this beat down victim and the cop stuck with a $454,197 jury verdict for civil rights violations.
This is not an isolated case. A federal magistrate judge has called the city's practice of trying to cut loose cops found liable for civil rights violations "bewildering," questioning "what capable officer, in his or her right mind, would want to work for such a city?" The police union's Twitter account has even cited the judge's remarks.
U.S. Magistrate Judge William Garfinkel wrote the following opinion in a Nov. 13, 2017 ruling in a related case in which the city stiffed both the brutality victims and the cops. Garfinkel's entire opinion should be circulated widely. Of note, Garfinkel previously served as an Assistant District Attorney in New York County and, as a long-time practitioner of martial arts, earned a black belt in Tang Soo Do.
“The City’s position, in addition to being unsupported by precedent, is bewildering. How can Hartford maintain a qualified police force when it is willing to expose its officers to personal liability for compensatory damages for civil rights judgments? What capable officer, in his or her right mind, would want to work for such a city? And what message does this send to the community, the residents of Hartford, when their governing officials promote a position that, in all likelihood, will leave them without full compensation for injuries in the event that they are the victims of a civil rights violation?”
His case sheds light not only on the city of Hartford's unscrupulous legal contortions, but also on its sordid history of willful failure to investigate brutality thoroughly and properly and to hold those responsible accountable. The legal term for this failure is deliberate indifference. In Hartford's practice and policy, we should call it what it is: energetic indifference to the rule of law.
Occasionally a federal judge will have the integrity and sense of duty to call out these practices, as U.S. District Judge Janet Arterton did in 2003, only a year before the unprovoked attack on the coach:
" ... Hartford had a policy or pervasive pattern of deliberate indifference to the possibility that its officers were prone to use excessive force, as demonstrated principally by Hartford's failure to reasonably investigate complaints and the absence of punitive consequences for any accused officer, that such policy or pattern may have emboldened or implanted a sense of impunity in its officers, resulting in the challenged first offense by this defendant, and that the offense would not have occurred had proper investigation and police discipline procedures been in place."
A decade earlier, I was part of a team that documented patterns of unchecked police brutality for a two-part series published by The Hartford Courant. The series, entitled
"Violent officers take toll on public trust, pocketbook" and "Flawed system shields violent officers from detection; Procedures, politics hamper Review board's effectiveness," revealed that no one responsible for keeping police brutality in check in Hartford -- not even the chief of police -- knew how many officers were accused of brutality or who they are.
It's likely they still don't know. It seems abundantly clear to any reasonable person that they don't want to know.
A month before the Bloomfield coach was so severely beaten, the same officer, Michael Allen, actually broke his police baton over the head of another civilian. In subsequent depositions, a former Los Angeles county sheriff and Patrick Hartnett, Hartford police chief from 2004-06, testified they had never heard of an officer striking anyone hard enough to break his baton. Significantly, Hartnett and the Hartford Police Department concluded the shattering blow to the head of the other civilian was "inadvertent" and "necessary / reasonable" force.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, briefed on the various judicial admonitions against the city and the ongoing indemnification brouhaha in the Outlaw civil rights award, offered the following statement late Tuesday: “Our police officers do extraordinarily important work, often in extraordinarily difficult and dangerous situations, and they deserve to know that our city stands behind them. In cases of alleged police misconduct, we defend our officers vigorously, pay for the officers’ legal defense, and if there’s a judgment against an officer, our policy is to indemnify the officer against any judgment in all but the most egregious circumstances. We have an obligation to review each case individually, and we have to consider whether it would be appropriate for taxpayers to bear the cost in a situation that truly involved egregious, willful, and wanton misconduct. As there are still post-trial motions pending in the Outlaw case, I can't comment on that case specifically.”
Put simply, there is no valid or competent oversight of the Hartford Police Department. Instead, there is negligence and malfeasance on a grand scale.
The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that an annual report from the so-called Civilian Police review Board -- mandated by Hartford city ordinance since 1992 -- apparently has been issued only once, in 1994.
"The record suggests that annual reports were not prepared for the other years," the U.S. Second Circuit found.
The federal appeals court noted: According to the 1994 Report, the Review Board's early meetings were met with “mass protest by the police union”; officers “jeered and insulted both the Board and complainants” and threatened some with “bodily harm.” (1994 Report 2, 12-13.) The Board also reported difficulties in carrying out its duties, since “[r]epeated requests to the Chief of Police regarding ordinance mandated data ha[d] been met with marked, delayed responses ... or no response at all”; and the data that were received were “woefully incomplete.” (Id. at 4.) The 1994 Report stated that the IAD seemed unable “to complete investigations in a timely manner,” as a result of which a “public perception that officers w[ould] not be appropriately disciplined [wa]s reinforced.” (Id. at 7-8.) And the IAD investigation files often gave the impression “that the complainant rather than the officer ... [wa]s being investigated by IAD.” (Id. at 7.) In its first 17 months, the Board reviewed 26 cases, 18 of which involved complaints of excessive force. Of the 18 excessive-force complaints, the Board sustained 14; IAD had sustained only two.
The Hartford Courant series also showed that brutality happens in the afternoon in the shadows of the governor's office or in the middle of the night in a housing project. It happens when an officer has a victim alone, and it happens in front of crowds of witnesses. The victims are men and women, black and white, poor and prosperous, criminals and law-abiding citizens. People have been beaten for making smart remarks, for asking why they are being arrested, for asking an officer why he is beating someone else -- for doing anything that seems to question an officer's authority.
"I think we have a problem," said the chief at that time, Ronald Loranger, a 27-year veteran of the force. "I think we've had a problem for a long time. I think there are bad apples on this job that when given the chance will use excessive force. ... I think you're talking less than 5 percent of the force."
More than 40 current and retired officers interviewed agreed that the department has a brutality problem. Some force is necessary to maintain control of potentially dangerous situations, they said, but between 10 percent and 25 percent of the officers go beyond that.
This was the maelstrom that coach Tylon Outlaw walked into on Dec. 17, 2004.
The coach had gone to a Hartford restaurant to meet with friends regarding a proposed business venture. Upon leaving, he spoke with several other friends he recognized in a taxi cab.
An undercover Hartford detective driving an unmarked car yelled at the coach, "Hey motherfucker."
Perceiving this to be an informal urban pleasantry, he responded in kind.
He fell to the ground, yelling for help. On his back he curled into a fetal position as he was repeatedly struck in the head, arms and legs with a baton and kicked in the back and stomach. As he tried to cover his face, officer Michael Allen hit him in the right knee with the baton, breaking his kneecap.
Among the eyewitnesses, a ballroom dance instructor described the scene this way: "A crowd of people 10 converged on what looked to be one person ... seemed to be multiple people, five or six, again, beating somebody up pretty badly, kicking, throwing punches … it was pretty brutal.”
Upon entering a nearby restaurant, the witness exclaimed: “You should see what’s going on outside, the police are really wailing into somebody ... “Holy shit guys you should have seen them. I mean, there’s Hartford, the Hartford cops are beating the shit out of some guy outside… yeah, man, it’s freaking crazy.”
Clearly, there were more than two officers involved in the beating of the coach, either as participants or witnesses. It is not unusual for the city of Hartford to hide the identities of cops in these matters. Indeed, in an unrelated case filed in 2011, the late U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz wrote: “Discovery is not supposed to be a shell game, where the hidden ball is moved round and round and only revealed after so many false guesses are made and so much money is squandered ... Defense counsel is not entitled to transform discovery of the names of police officers ... into a game of hide-and-seek."
From a reading of court records, it appears possible police had mistaken the coach for another person involved in a different incident. Indeed, once the coach was taken to the Hartford Hospital he was booked under a false name. His family and friends could not find him or talk to him for some time.
During a brief lull in the beat down, Allen placed the coach face down on the pavement, cuffed his hands and dragged him for 60-odd feet and threw him to the pavement between parked cars, where the coach landed on his face. Blood was dripping from his head and face.
After surgery at the hospital, police shackled his legs to his bed.
The coach was falsely charged with breach of peace, being intoxicated in a roadway, threatening a police officer and assault on a police officer. This tactic is standard operating procedure after a beat down.
To get rid of the case, he took a plea for the infraction of "creating a public disturbance." This disposition shows prosecutors recognized the case for what it is -- the beat-down of an innocent man.
The federal court found that conflicting testimony by Gordon and Allen was "not credible."
The court found that "the testimony by Detective Gordon that the Plaintiff struck him, or, as Officer Allen testified, that Plaintiff grabbed the detective by his coat, is not credible and not true. Plaintiff is more credible when he testified that he was accosted by an unknown man on a dark street whom he feared was holding a gun. Without warning, he was kicked in the midsection by Detective Gordon and then struck from behind by Officer Allen. This testimony is corroborated by the testimony of the witnesses in the cab, as well as the undisputed testimony that it was Detective Gordon who got out of his car and approached Plaintiff without identifying himself as a police officer."
The court found further that "Officer Allen's testimony that Plaintiff fought with Detective Gordon and then continued to try to kick Officer Allen after being knocked to the ground by a blow to the head is not credible. Officer Allen struck Plaintiff at least four times with a police baton -- drawing blood with the blows to the head and later breaking Plaintiff's knee. Plaintiff's version that he was struck from behind by Officer Allen, fell to the ground, attempted to protect his head where he had already been hit, and was then struck on the knee is more credible than Officer Allen's version of events."
In a deposition on Jan. 4, 2016, Dr. Christopher Lena, an orthopedic surgeon, testified about the coach's fractured kneecap [patella] and lacerations over his face. Some of the lacerations required stapling.
"The patella is ... a small bone that sits in the front of the knee," the surgeon said. "It is required for extension of your leg. It's what helps you to ascend, descend stairs. It helps you getting up from a seated position. It bears a lot of weight, and the cartilage over it is somewhat sensitive ... he developed significant post-traumatic arthritic changes over the years secondary to the fracture that he sustained and the decrease in blood supply to the cartilage, which has led to his bone-on-bone contact ... We have been putting him off [for knee replacement] as long as we can ... [because of his relatively young age] ... he has consistently over the years been coming back to us discussing and having continued problems."
The city of Hartford's ruse of flip-flopping on the question of covering or indemnifying police officers for civil rights violations was characterized by The Hartford Courant in another case -- in which a Hartford cop shot and killed a dog in front of a 10-year-old girl in 2006 -- as a negotiating tactic. In 2016, the city finally paid a total of about $885,000 in damages after flip-flopping on the indemnification issue in the dog case.
The third case [Edwards v. Cornell] involves a $410,000 jury award from an excessive force incident in 2012. This case is still being litigated on issues including indemnification.
Hartford has taken the position that because an officer acts “intentionally,” where a civil rights violation is found by a jury, they are not required to indemnify. However, state law requires the city to indemnify the officer for a civil rights violation. The city only gets off the hook legally if the officer’s conduct is found to be willful or wanton / malicious.
Among Hartford’s delaying tactics in paying: equating an “intentional act” with a “malicious act.” Sometimes, legally, these are one and the same, but not necessarily.
"Under two state statutes and court precedent, a municipality remains liable to indemnify any public employee found liable for civil rights violations unless they notify the parties and the courts [ahead of time for actual malicious conduct] that they won't pay." said Hartford attorney Jon Schoenhorn, who prevailed in the dog killing case. "Any claim to the contrary is specious."
Indeed, just as the officers involved in the dog case were compelled to sue the city to enforce compliance with state indemnification laws, a lawyer for officer Allen in the beat down case filed a similar action in May of this year. That lawyer, Patrick Tomasiewicz, did not respond to repeated calls and messages.
In his May filing, Tomasiewicz wrote: "The City's obligation to indemnify is a mandatory rather than a discretionary duty; the plaintiff has a clear legal right to have the obligation performed; and, there is no other adequate remedy at law ... The City's refusal to indemnify him is contrary to law."
"Most cities want to encourage out-of-town people to patronize local business," said one of the coach's lawyers, Raymond Rigat. "Here, the message seems to be: 'Welcome to Hartford, catch an old fashioned police beat-down, go to the hospital -- it's your problem not ours.' This is another reason it is so puzzling to me why Hartford refuses to make this right."
Via CT News Junkie’s EXTRA! EXTRA!