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Cecchini v. Schenck

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 29, 2016



Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

The plaintiff, Sean Cecchini, is a police officer for the Town of Bloomfield, Connecticut. He brings this case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Town of Bloomfield, its Town Manager, the Chief of Police, and several employees of the Bloomfield police department. In his six-count Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 28), Cecchini claims that (1) the defendants retaliated against him in violation of the First Amendment, (2) the defendants intentionally inflicted emotional distress, (3) the Town of Bloomfield violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, (4) the defendants are liable under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-557n, which, inter alia, makes political subdivisions of the state responsible for certain negligent acts by their agents, (5) the defendants committed the tort of aiding and abetting, and (6) the defendants retaliated against him in violation of the First Amendment after he filed this lawsuit. The plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, a declaratory judgment, nominal damages, attorney‘s fees under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, attorney‘s fees under the common law, the costs of this action, and other equitable relief.

For the reasons discussed below, the defendants‘ motion is granted in part and denied in part. Count One is dismissed against the individual defendants in their official capacities. Count Two is dismissed as to all of the defendants except for Richard Bowen. I do not dismiss Count Three because the defendants moved to dismiss only the equal protection claim in that count, which the plaintiff subsequently has withdrawn. Counts Four and Five are dismissed in their entirety. Finally, I grant the motion to dismiss Count Six as to Phillip Schenck and deny the motion as to the remaining defendants.

The following counts remain: the claim in Count One against the Town of Bloomfield and the individual defendants in their individual capacities, the claim in Count Two against Bowen, the claim in Count Three against the Town of Bloomfield under the First Amendment, and the First Amendment Claim in Count Six against the Town of Bloomfield, Hammick, Hajdasz, Willauer, Fredericks, and Bowen.

I. Background

A. Factual Allegations

As best as can be determined from the erratic chronology in the Second Amended Complaint, the plaintiff makes the following allegations.

1.The Parties

Sean Cecchini has been a police officer for the defendant Town of Bloomfield and a member of the local police union since 1996. (ECF No. 28 at ¶¶ 6, 18.) He was a "union steward" from 2003 to 2004 and union president from 2005 to 2010. (Id. at ¶ 65-66.) Phillip K. Schenck, Jr. is the Town Manager of Bloomfield. (Id. at ¶¶ 7, 16.) Paul B. Hammick is the chief of police for the Bloomfield police department. (Id. at ¶¶ 8, 17.) Stephen Hajdasz is a captain for the Bloomfield police. (Id. at ¶ 9.) Matthew Willauer is a lieutenant for the Bloomfield police. (Id. at ¶ 10.) Richard Bowen was a police officer who later became a sergeant for the Bloomfield police. (Id. at ¶ 12.) Arthur Fredericks is a lieutenant for the Bloomfield police. (Id. at ¶ 11.)

2. Cecchini Reports Misconduct in the Police Department

In 2011, the plaintiff saw Bowen stop a car with three young black teenagers, grab the genitals of one of them, and threaten the teenagers that a police dog would attack them if they did not produce marijuana, which Bowen falsely accused them of possessing. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-22.) The plaintiff told the teenagers that the police dog would not bite them. (Id. at 23.) Bowen and two officers then unsuccessfully looked for marijuana in the car. (Id. at 24.) The plaintiff described Bowen‘s conduct to the shift supervisor, Sergeant Bolden, who told the plaintiff to write a report. (Id. at ¶ 25-26) After the plaintiff reported the incident, Bowen entered false information into the ''computer dispatch and report system.'' (Id. at ¶¶ 27-28) Chief Hammick and the patrol division commander did not act on the plaintiffs report. (Id. at 29.)

Next, Willauer confronted the plaintiff about whether the plaintiff told the NAACP about Bowen‘s alleged misconduct. (Id. at 30.) As a result, the plaintiff was ''harassed and intimidated from speaking to anyone'' about what he saw. (Id. at ¶ 31.) The plaintiff complained to Schenck and Bloomfield‘s human resources director who refused to end the ''retaliation.'' (Id. at ¶ 32.)

3. The Defendants Treat Cecchini Poorly and Deny Him Promotions

In 2012, unlike every other officer, the plaintiff was not issued a new bullet-proof vest. (Id. at ¶ 39.) Willauer said ''I don‘t care if [the plaintiff] gets shot.'' (Id.) That same year, the plaintiff sat for the ''Sergeant examination, which was a corrupt process in which the plaintiffs score and position were inexplicably and maliciously changed, preventing him from obtaining the promotion.'' (Id. at 84.) In 2013, three officers, including the plaintiff, applied for promotion to detective. (Id. at 85.) One applicant was promoted to sergeant, ''leaving only two applicants for detective, which included the plaintiff.'' (Id. at 86.) The plaintiff was not promoted because Hammick ''falsely claimed the'list‘ for detective was no longer valid because there were not three candidates . . . .'' (Id. at ¶¶ 85-87.) At some time in 2014, the plaintiff was one of two applicants seeking to become a sergeant but the plaintiff was not promoted because Hammick ''falsely stated that the promotion list was invalid.'' (Id. at ¶ 88.) The actual reason, according to the plaintiff, was that Hammick wanted to retaliate against the plaintiff for his union membership and other speech activities. (Id. at ¶ 90.) The plaintiff also alleges that all of the defendants coordinated to deny the plaintiff a promotion to sergeant and detective, although he does not say how. (Id. at ¶ 78.)

4.Cecchini Testifies for the Police Union

Around February 2013, all of the defendants, besides Schenck, subjected police officer Donald Rajtar to discipline for working unauthorized overtime. (Id. at ¶¶ 67-70.) The plaintiff ''grieved'' Rajtar‘s discipline because department policies required officers to obtain permission to work overtime but also required them to complete certain reports even if that meant working extra hours. (Id. at ¶¶ 67-70.) The plaintiff signed a statement that Rajtar circulated, which stated:

Currently, in the Patrol Division there are certain cases (i.e. arrests, missing persons, criminal domestic disputes, other serious cases, etc.) that when assigned to me, I am aware that I must complete the initial report even if I go beyond the end of my normal shift. This will be paid overtime and could be without the request of or by supervision.

(Id. at ¶ 71-72.) Later, the plaintiff testified at Rajtar‘s hearing on behalf of the union. (Id. at ¶ 74.)

After the hearing, the defendants would not provide accurate or timely performance evaluations of the plaintiff (Id. at ¶ 75.) The plaintiff complained but the defendants would not process his grievance. (Id. at ¶ 75.) This was intimidating and harassing to the plaintiff and was ''facilitated'' by Hajdasz, Hammick, and Schenck. (Id. at ¶ 76.)

5. Cecchini Is Investigated and Reprimanded for Misconduct

Schenck allegedly ''refused to afford plaintiff his rights under the collective bargaining agreement and conspired with Hammick and Hajdasz to retaliate against the plaintiff'' (Id. at ¶ 77.) The defendants sought to prevent him from receiving a promotion and would not investigate the plaintiffs claims about corruption within the department, even though they were aware of it. (Id. at ¶ 78.)

In April 2013, Willauer and Bowen brought disciplinary charges against the plaintiff after Bowen found a uniform shirt that did not belong to the plaintiff in the plaintiffs locker. (Id. at ¶ 79-81.) Willauer questioned the plaintiff ''excessively and without notice or union representation.'' (Id. at ¶ 82.) The plaintiff met with Haljdasz to complain about the internal affairs investigation into whether the plaintiff was in possession of another officer‘s uniform. (Id. at ¶¶ 33). Hajdasz told the plaintiff that the investigation should be stopped because it was retaliatory. (Id. at ¶ 33.) In May 2013, the plaintiff was suspended for one day ''in abeyance, '' given a written reprimand, and required to return his ''Field Training Officer Pin.'' (Id. at ¶ 96.)

6. Bowen and Willauer Bully Cecchini

A year later around May 2014, Bowen removed the plaintiffs gun from his locker and gave it to another officer ''to give back'' to the plaintiff (Id. at ¶ 35.) At an unknown time, the plaintiff filed a grievance about his performance evaluation. (Id. at ¶ 36.) Willauer said that he would ''shove the fucking evaluation down your throat.'' (Id.) Bowen and Willauer repeatedly told the plaintiff that they did not care about his safety on duty. (Id. at ¶ 37.) Bowen waived his gun in the plaintiffs face. (Id. at ¶ 38.) When Willauer removed the plaintiff from ''Street Survival'' training, he said that he ''didn‘t care if [the plaintiff] got hurt.'' (Id. at ¶ 37.)

Around May 1, 2014, Bowen said to the plaintiff ''would you mind getting the fuck away from my desk?'' (Id. at ¶ 58.) At some other time, Bowen saw a note about karma that the plaintiffs wife had attached to the plaintiffs coffee cup. (Id. at ¶ 59.) Bowen insinuated in front of several officers and the plaintiff that the plaintiffs wife was having an affair with a captain of the Avon police department. (Id. at ¶ 59.) Bowen also called him a ''fat shit.'' (Id. at ¶ 60.)

7.Cecchini Reports Misconduct and Is Investigated for Providing False Information in an Investigation; Bowen Is Placed on Administrative Leave

Around May 19, 2014, the plaintiff complained to Willauer, Hajdasz, and Hammick about Bowen and Willauer‘s comments. (Id. at ¶ 57.) On May 20, 2014, the plaintiff sent a memorandum to Hajdasz about Bowen‘s alleged misconduct during a motor vehicle stop a month earlier. (Id. at ¶ 46.) The plaintiff complained that Bowen discarded evidence and falsified a report after the plaintiff found a knife and a straw with white powder on a suspect. (Id. at ¶ 47.) He gave the evidence to Bowen, but Bowen did not mention the evidence in his report. (Id.) Hajdasz ordered Willauer to investigate the plaintiffs complaint. (Id. at ¶ 48.) Based on Willauer‘s findings, Hajdasz told Hammick that the plaintiff provided false information during the investigation. (Id. at ¶ 49.)

On June 5, 2014, Hammick ordered Hajdasz and Willauer to begin an internal affairs investigation of the plaintiff, noting that the plaintiff gave inconsistent statements about whether Bowen called the plaintiff a ''fat shit '' or a '''piece of shit‘ needing suspenders.'' ( ¶¶ 51, 53, 61.) Even though there was allegedly no reason to investigate the plaintiff, Hajdasz and Willauer continued to seek to discipline the plaintiff ( ΒΆΒΆ 55-56.) While that investigation was pending, ...

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