WORCESTER – City lawyers and a local civil rights attorney have settled three cases alleging excessive force in recent months, including a case in which the city required removal of a booking video posted online by the alleged victim’s lawyer.
According to agreements provided upon request, the city spent $118,000 to settle the cases. The agreements stipulate the city is not admitting to wrongdoing by settling.
The highest settlement was $75,000 for a case in which a judge, in a preliminary ruling, said questions of the consistency and timing of officers’ accounts were appropriate for a jury to consider.
U.S. District Court Judge Timothy S. Hillman declined to throw out a civil conspiracy charge filed by Ricardo A. Ramirez, a city man who alleged police broke his jaw and fractured his teeth during a July 2011 arrest near his home on Murray Avenue.
Judge Hillman, bound in his pretrial ruling to consider the case in the light most favorable to Mr. Ramirez, said while there was no evidence of an “express” conspiracy agreement between the officers, “there is adequate circumstantial evidence to infer such a conspiracy.”
Mr. Ramirez was arrested by two plainclothes vice squad detectives who said they saw him conduct a drug deal in a vehicle. The officers said the man took a swing at them after they identified themselves and approached him; Mr. Ramirez alleged they failed to identify themselves and punched him in the face twice when he, fearing he was being mugged, pulled away from them.
Mr. Ramirez’s attorney, Hector E. Pineiro, noted in court documents that neither officer filed reports disclosing use of force. Judge Hillman noted one officer didn’t file a report at all until after the lawsuit was filed years later.
The reports appeared to conflict, Mr. Pineiro argued, while the police officers, Dana Randall and Larry Williams, denied noticing Mr. Ramirez was injured in depositions.
Mr. Ramirez sustained broken teeth and a broken jaw that needed to be wired shut. A witness who was friends with Mr. Ramirez said in a deposition that he saw the man bleeding from the mouth.
Judge Hillman in his ruling wrote that a “reasonable fact finder might, in weighing the credibility of the officers’ versions of the event, consider the consistency of their accounts, the timing of the completion of written reports on the incident, and whether or not the officers’ observations were sufficient and complete with respect to the injuries that the plaintiff appears to have sustained.”
Mr. Pineiro posted a police video of Mr. Ramirez’s booking to YouTube several years ago that appeared to show him in pain before starting to complain of being struck by police.
“OK, right - OK, that’s fine. I got it,” the booking officer says before calling someone to report the complaint.
A condition of the settlement between the city and Mr. Ramirez is that Mr. Pineiro remove the video from YouTube, and he has done so.
In his lawsuit, Mr. Piniero alleged police broke their own protocol by failing to investigate the oral complaint. He said the department only opened an internal affairs investigation after a formal complaint was filed.
A police policy attached to the lawsuit says the department is supposed to investigate complaints of serious bodily injury without exception.
According to court records, then-Chief Gary J. Gemme informed Mr. Ramirez in a letter in March 2015 that a portion of his complaint had been sustained, a portion was not sustained and a portion resulted in exoneration.
“Appropriate administrative action has been taken,” wrote Chief Gemme. He did not define what action took place or say what infraction had been sustained.
Mr. Ramirez testified in a deposition that he has never been sentenced to jail. He served pretrial probation in connection with his arrest, including for charges of assault and battery on a police officer and resisting arrest.
A former heroin addict who suffers from mental illness, Mr. Ramirez testified his fear of police and social anxiety rose dramatically after his arrest, in addition to numbness in his mouth and trouble eating.
The other cases settled by the city were for $35,000 and $8,000. In the $35,000 case, John Hickson of Worcester alleged he was thrown into a cell while handcuffed during a 2011 arrest, causing him to land on his face and requiring seven metal staples to close a gash in his head.
Video of the alleged incident does not exist. Police in recent years have added cameras the city says cover “every inch” arrestees travel in the station, but those cameras were not in place in 2011.
Mr. Pineiro posted Mr. Hickson’s booking video to YouTube several years ago. In the video, which is still on the website, Mr. Hickson can be heard, while making a telephone call, alleging that police assaulted him.
In the last case, Michael A. Morris of Worcester settled for $8,000 after allegations that a police officer slammed his head into a chain-link fence during a June 2013 arrest.
Police, who arrested Mr. Morris after he criticized their response to a 911 call, said the officer arresting him placed him against the fence to stabilize him while handcuffing him, but did not slam him against it. Witnesses gave varying accounts.
Police and the city law department declined to comment for this story, as did Mr. Pineiro.