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Settlement creates questions for councilors

Date: 8/7/2015

CHICOPEE – While the city of Chicopee may have reached a settlement in the alleged police brutality case involving Maylene Maldonado, the City Council voted to delay approving the settlement until they can have their questions answered by the city attorney assigned to the issue.

The council had to approve the allocation of $135,000 – the settlement amount – at its Aug. 4 meeting, but a slender majority of the councilors said they were uncomfortable about approving the amount until they had their questions answered.

The matter will be referred to the council’s Finance Committee, which will conduct an executive session meeting. Then a special meeting of the council will be called to vote on approving the settlement.

Other councilors, such as James Tillotson and Robert Zygarowski, believed voting for the settlement was the only course of action for the council.

During the mayor’s briefing preceding the formal meeting, Tillotson asked Assistant City Solicitor Thomas Rooke “In your judgment is this the best way for the city to take?”

Rooke said the initial amount was $1 million. He added, “This is a great deal for the city. Please don’t deny this settlement. It’s a grand slam in my opinion.”

The lawsuit named the city of Chicopee, Sgt. Daniel Major, Officer Ryan Moran, Officer John Birks, Sgt. Jeffrey Godere, Officer Travis Odiorne, Officer Andre Remillard, Capt. Mark Gilbert and former Police Chief Thomas Charette.

The lawsuit charged that on Feb. 17, 2013, Maldonado was “unjustifiably choked and beaten by Chicopee Police Sergeant Daniel Major” while Birks, Godere, Moran and Remillard watched and did not intervene. Gilbert was the commanding officer so the midnight to 8 a.m. shift.

The video of the incident gained national attention.

Mayor Richard Kos announced the settlement through a press release on July 30. Kos stated,  “An important factor in settling now is the number of defendants and the cost for legal representation to the city as this matter continues. It was determined to be in the city’s best interest to resolve this claim at this time.”

Joel McAuliffe, Kos’ communications and special projects manager, said the mayor would not make any other statements about the settlement. He noted that none of the officers in question received any disciplinary action for the incident that happened during the previous administration.

All of the officers except Major and Charette are still with the department.

The Police Department recently installed a new video recording system in the booking areas as well as the elevator from the garage to booking.

During the meeting, the discussion about approving the settlement became heated at times. Tillotson pounded his desk with his fist several times to accompany his points. He asserted the court costs would rise “astronomically” if the settlement is withdrawn and the case goes to court.

Councilor Timothy McLellan also used the same dramatic effect when he said, “I think this is a bad deal for the city.”

Councilor Adam Lamontagne said, “Sure we can send a check, but I think it sends a wrong message … it’s a slippery slope if we approve this tonight.”

Zygarowksi, citing his own experience as a police officer, insisted, that even though his colleagues’ questions may be answered to their satisfaction, “We’re still going to have to pay that amount of money.”

The alternative is taking the case to court and Councilor William Zaskey noted the fees for the attorneys needed might well exceed the $1 million that Maldonado was originally seeking.

Former Mayor Michael Bissonnette, under whose administration the incident happened, also opposed the settlement. Writing on his Facebook page, he said, “We often took cases to trial because we had an experienced litigator on staff and we prevailed saving the taxpayers millions in settlements and legal fees. This settlement exposes our officers on the street to abusive behavior from the next criminal who thinks it is okay to attack them. With crime rampant this week in Chicopee  – Dairy Queen robbery, Mr. Docarmo brutalized, the convenience store on Springfield Street by Dana Park robbed for the fourth time this year – is this really the message we want to be sending?”