Old Saybrook refuses to release police lawsuit settlement

OLD SAYBROOK – A civil lawsuit alleging a police dog bit a woman after an officer tackles her to the ground has been settled, federal court records show, but the city will not release the settlement.

Police have denied any wrongdoing in court records, but First Selectman Carl Fortuna declined to provide a copy of the settlement, a decision that has drawn criticism from public records advocates.

The federal lawsuit filed in June 2020 alleged that a local woman, who police said escaped arrest following a 2019 dispute with a relative, was bitten by a police dog in the toilets at a local marina, according to court records.

After the lawsuit was settled, Fortuna rejected a Feb. 2 registration request for a copy of the settlement on the grounds that the city was “not in possession” of them, claiming in an email that he was in custody of a lawyer.

“I don’t have copies and we don’t keep them here, so I don’t intend to ask for any,” Fortuna told a reporter in a follow-up email.

Fortuna also said in an email that no one “employed by the city” has seen the settlement.

Asked about the lawyer who has custody of it, Fortuna said the Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency, which serves as the insurance company for Old Saybrook, hires a law firm to represent the city.

In an unrelated case in 2016, the city of Enfield rejected requests for records detailing settlements in police pursuits, saying it did not keep records maintained by a lawyer and CIRMA. The refusals were appealed and, the following year, the National Commission for Freedom of Information twice recommendations adopted ordering Enfield to release the files on the basis that the city “owned” or “used” them, and had the right to obtain the attorney’s files.

After reviewing the Enfield decision, Thomas Hennick, spokesperson for FOIC, said it appeared to be good case law and “had not been overturned”.

“If they never had them and they never saw them and they never had any use for them… Question Saybrook.” What is clear is that you cannot take such documents and give them to the lawyer and say, “We are not going to give them.” “

Under state status, CIRCA registrations are not submitted to FOIA. But in this case, David Schulz, who heads the Freedom of Media and Information Clinic at Yale Law School, suggested in a phone interview that it doesn’t matter if a lawyer or even the insurance company has the Old Saybrook settlement because they “act as agents of the city.”

“This is clearly against the freedom of information law… they are trying to evade their legal obligations,” said Schulz. “They have control over these documents and they have a legal obligation to make them available under FOIA … Someone in town has the power to call in and say, ‘I need to. a copy of that. “”

Fortuna did not return a request for a response to Schulz’s comments.

Old Saybrook Police Department

Hearst Connecticut Media File

Police Chief Michael Spera did not respond to media inquiries regarding the trial and whether the allegations in the trial resulted in disciplinary action. A Feb. 9 request to the New Haven Register for body camera images of the incident and other recordings remains pending.

The trial

Both parties agreed in Federal Court records that on August 31, 2019, plaintiff Danielle Dilley was in a local marina washroom when Police Sgt. Stephen Hackett and Constable Tyler Schulz, who have been named accused by the town of Old Saybrook, entered this facility.

Schulz did not return multiple requests for comment, and Hackett declined to comment.

But in court, the defense claimed Dilley escaped police following an alleged dispute with a relative, “resisted arrest and refused to comply with legal orders, resulting in a bite of a K9 patrol after several warnings, “according to a court report summarizing the parties’ two arguments.

Dilley, however, claimed that she was not committing any crime and claimed that the police had no reasonable suspicion of following her into the bathroom, according to her. amended complaint, which was filed last summer in federal district court.

She alleged that Hackett ordered her out of the toilet and tackled her when she said she had to use the facilities, according to the amended complaint, which accused Schulz of entering the toilet and using “excessive and unreasonable force against the plaintiff by allowing his dog to bite” twice on the thigh while she was “placed on the ground”.

The lawsuit also accused Hackett of not intervening.

These allegations were all denied in the defendants’ response at trial, which claimed Dilley was not approached or ordered to leave the bathroom. It was filed in court in July by attorney David Yale.

Tony Sheffy, Dilley’s attorney, said he could not comment on “any aspect” of the trial.

Dilley’s civil lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice after being “settled in full”, according to the Federal Court file.

Asked to comment on the lawsuit, Fortuna wrote an email to the registry claiming that “allegations in a lawsuit are just that: allegations.”

“Because a lawsuit is settled, it doesn’t necessarily mean wrongdoing has been committed,” he wrote.

Fortuna did not provide information on whether any disciplinary action had been taken against the officers.


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Rosemary S. Bishop