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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Federal Lawsuit Exposes Ugly Retaliatory Injustice

Federal Lawsuit Exposes Ugly Retaliatory Injustice
The Westchester Guardian - January 8, 2009

A civil rights lawsuit filed last Wednesday morning, Dec. 31st, in United States District Court, White Plains, finally connectsthe- dots in what has been one of the more outrageous miscarriages of justice, first perpetrated in Westchester County Court, and later in Federal Court, against former County Corrections Officer Paul Cote. Cote, a 12-year veteran of the Westchester Department of Corrections, was on duty at the County Jail, Cellblock 1-G, at approximately 5pm the evening of October 10, 2000 manning the salley port doors to the unit which houses inmates known to have psychiatric issues. At that time, a fellow corrections officer, one John Mark Reimer, a 6-foot 2-inch, 270- lb individual, became involved in an altercation with a physically belligerent inmate, Zorn Teodorovic.

Reimer, attempting to place the inmate back into his cell, was punched in the face by Teodorovic, “in the presence of several other inmates also not in their cells.” Reimer reflexively responded by putting Teodorovic into a bearhug, pinning his arms to his sides, and body-slammed him, swinging him through an arc with a radius of some 7 feet, and bouncing the left side of his head “violently” on the concrete cellblock floor. Officer Cote rushed to assist Reimer, who was experiencing considerable difficulty attempting to physically restrain the out-of control inmate. Employing the approved methods, Cote kicked, and side-kicked, the inmate, catching the right side of his jaw with his boot. As Teodorovic continued to struggle, Reimer, who was punching him in the chest and face, once again applied a bearhug around Teodorovic’s waist and fell to the concrete floor with him. It happened that, prior to the Teodorovic incident, Officer Cote had been present, nearly a year and a half earlier, when a fellow officer named Roca, an Hispanic, had been ethnically demeaned and addressed as a “wetback rookie” by Corrections Captain Joseph Polewaski. Officer Roca prevailed upon Cote, at the time, to fill out a report detailing the discriminatory incident, which, in fact, Cote proceeded to do. Roca filed a civil rights suit, Roca v Pozzi, in which Captain Polewaski was named as a defendant.

At the time that Officer Cote made out his report, the Captain attempted to intimidate and dissuade him from doing so. The circumstances created a personal animus toward Cote that the Federal complaint alleges Polewaski harbored with the intention of taking “retaliatory action at such time as the opportunity arose.” Another incident, little more than a year later, in late 1999, involved Joseph Spano who, at the time, was the President of the Correction Officers Union (COBA). Reportedly as Spano was conducting a walk-through of the jail facility, Officer Cote, a Union member, and a member of The Collective Bargaining Unit, took the opportunity to confront Spano with regard to Spano’s and the Union’s failure over a five-year period to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the County, causing a great deal of forced overtime and putting officers at increased risk. The suit alleges that the confrontation was witnessed by a number of officers and inmates, and that “Spano developed and maintained a personal animus toward Cote by reason of which he, like Polewaski, determined to take retaliatory action at such time as an opportunity arose.” The complaint details actions that were taken by the Defendants, including Spano and Polewaski, to implicate and frame Officer Paul Cote when it was learned by them that inmate Teodorovic “had suffered a serious injury to the left side of his head, a result of Reimer’s initial body slam that caused the left side of Teodorovic’s head to violently ricochet off the cellblock’s concrete floor.”

The complaint discusses Officers “Reimer, Polewaski, Jackowiak, and Spano’s retaliatory conduct, and the false testimony they suborned from the inmates” resulting in the indictment of Officer Cote by a Westchester grand jury on a charge of Assault, First Degree. The case went to trial and Cote was acquitted of Intentional Assault, but was convicted of Second Degree Assault, and sentenced to three months in jail. He served his time in the Putnam County Jail and was released November 27, 2001. Officer Cote lost his job, his benefits, his pension and his career. The complaint alleges that the Defendants “pursued their retaliatory plan by encouraging, through the Westchester County District Attorney, and meetings and interviews they personally gave,” the FBI and the United States Attorney to further prosecute Plaintiff Cote. The Guardian was present at FederalCourt, WhitePlains for thepre-trial and jurytrial of Paul Cotelittle more thantwo years ago, beforethe late JudgeCharles L. Brieant.It was obvious,very early on, thatthe great Judge had no use for thecharges lead prosecutor, AssistantUnited States Attorney CynthiaDunne, was bringing againstCote. Teodorovic had died some 14months following the body slam incident.Cote was charged more thanfive years later with “violating hiscivil rights,” and, John Mark Reimerwas the Government’s chief witness.On cross-examination, it was developedthat Reimer required 17 hoursof rehearsal with Prosecutor Dunneand others from the United StatesAttorney’s Office before testifying.

In pre-trial hearings, Judge Brieant had made his feelings about the Prosecution’s case very clear in a sidebar when he told Dunne, “If your case fails, I will not be sad.” At trial, the jury, which had sat expressionless throughout the proceedings, took far less than an hour, on September 20, 2006, to return a verdict of guilty. It was obvious to this observer that they had never really plugged into the preposterousness of the “bill of goods” the Government had fed them, and were merely going through the motions. Judge Brieant, however, wasn’t fooled for a second, and, on April 4, 2007, in response to a Defense motion, granted Cote a Judgment Of Acquittal, conditionally granting him a new trial in the event that the judgment was reversed on appeal by the Government to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. For reasons that only recently have become clear, in a Michael Garcia puff piece interview in another local weekly newspaper, the then United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in an unusual move, took it upon himself to make the oral argument against Judge Brieant’s courageous and clearly justified and correct action in having overturned Paul Cote’s conviction “as inconsistent with the evidence presented at trial.” In his interview, Garcia revealed his intense personal interest, over a period of more than eight years, in securing a conviction and punishment of a veteran correction Officer who he knew very well, was not the individual who had delivered the injury that resulted in inmate Teodorovic’s ultimate death from brain trauma. ■


Anonymous said...

Wow, "Retaliatory Injustice" says it all. This Westchester Guardian newspaper needs to go statewide.

Anonymous said...

get that judge and mold him in plastic. every once in a while a great judge pops up on the scene.

the courts should have more judges with the courage to overturn wrongful jury convictions instead of hiding behind the shield of a jury verdict.

All I can say to the judge is that is why you have lifetime tenure and that is what you are getting paid for - to see that justice is done.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone explain why it is that when it comes to our police/justice/corrections systems, there is no video recordings?

In NYC, the taxis and their drivers have more accountability than these officials who can take away you life, liberty and property.

Government uses technology to catch people speeding and running red lights, but can't get a camera into a police car. How many times are private individuals and companies relied upon to provide their surveillance to tell what really happens?

Nobody really knows what occurred here, and even a video of the incident, may not tell the whole story, but would be more objective. The Guardian ran the article about the woman who was body slammed by the YO PD. It was the tape that told the story.

After having just been in traffic court where a rookie police officer, who had lied on the summons and then created more lies during his testimony in court, and the judge helped him through his perjured testimony, which was all contrary to substantive, objective evidence produced, I would have welcomed a camera in that patrol car.

NY should catch up with the rest of the country.

Anonymous said...

NY has no intention of catching up to America, using Kaye removed them for many years from the courtrooms and uses them only recently with restrictions!

Corruption cannot succeed to the extent that NY STATE desires, with video proof available all over the internet..just ask Albany!

If you want it yourself.
Carry a cell camera at all times and a small tape recorder...esp if you have a court appearance.

I recently gained knowledge that an upstate court reporter changed her notes to reflect testimony that would be detrimental to me. The OCA witness who testified at the original hearing.... stated in a federal court deposition that she said exactly what my notes reflected and the opposite of what the court reporter diminished and removed from her notes. This action is a criminal charge for the reporter and anyone who forced her to change it, along with the automation person who originally changed it via the computer and sent it to the union attorney. By the way automation person, the lie you told at the deposition that you knew me from only fixing my computer 1-2 x over the 3 yrs you worked, should have stated without your PERJURY...that you knew me from about 400 plus encounters, as you waited for me at the parking lot everyday for 2 1/2 yrs and from your daily visits during work hours... to my judge's chambers to visit his secretary. Why do you think I cannot prove you so massively wrong?? Prison looks likely for you.

The investigation into this atrocity should prove interesting and will involve some very high level OCA judges and employees, along with other documents altered.

NY state and it's judicial system are to be exposed to the taxpayer for the sins of their activities. So... the federal court and people of NY shall determine the extent of what OCA has really participated in and then determine the punishment!

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