Judge: Towns responsible in fatal 2008 police raid
Published 6:23 pm, Monday, September 3, 2012
Taxpayers in Easton, Monroe, Trumbull, Darien and Wilton may be asked to open their purses at little wider next year after a federal judge last week ruled their towns are still responsible for the alleged wrongdoing of a 2008 police raid that killed an unarmed Norwalk man in Easton.
Even though the raid was called for and planned by former Easton Police Chief John Solomon, U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton ruled the other towns also are responsible for the end result because their officers were on the raid team.
"The other municipalities are all on the hook because of the way the team was formed and administrated," said Gary Mastronardi, who represents one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the towns. "There is a lot of exposure here from what I see."
On May 18, 2008, heavily armed members of the Southwest Regional Emergency Response Team, staffed by officers from the five towns, at Solomon's request, raided the home of Ronald Terebesi at 91 Dogwood Drive, Easton.
Guizan had been watching television in the home with Terebesi when the 21-member police team, armed with automatic weapons, broke down the door and threw flash grenades inside. No guns were found in the home, and police recovered only a small quantity of drugs.
According to his pretrial testimony, Solomon decided to call in SWERT after an exotic dancer who had earlier been at the home told officers she saw Terebesi and Guizan take "something" out of a small tin, place it in two small glass smoking pipes and smoke it. She never told officers there were weapons in the home.
The raid came days after a neighborhood group, including the former first selectman who hired Solomon, had complained to Solomon about Terebesi. Raid members later testified they were told Terebesi had guns and was considered dangerous.
The judge, in her decision refusing to dismiss the lawsuit brought against the towns by the Guizan family and Terebesi, stated: "The evidence showing possible drug use in Terebesi's home, or evidence that Terebesi owned two guns is countered in the record by evidence that Terebesi had no prior record, that the warrant only called for seizure of two crack pipes and personal use quantities of drugs, that the Easton officers who had previously interacted with him found him to be nonviolent and cooperative with police and that Chief Solomon knew that Terebesi had not previously been aggressive against any law enforcement officer."
The plaintiffs are seeking more than $10 million in damages and legal experts said a punitive verdict can be higher than compensatory damages.
The five towns carry insurance for lawsuits, but because municipalities can't generally be sued for punitive damages, they aren't insured for them. In this case, lawyers said the towns would be liable for paying the damages against their individual officers who are being sued for punitive damages. Then there is the cost to each town for their legal representation.
The town of Monroe is especially implicated in the case, the judge ruled, because they ratified officer Sweeney's actions in killing Guizan by later naming him Officer of the Year for his actions.
The lawyers are scheduled to meet with Arterton on Tuesday afternoon to set a trial date for the case.
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