PLATTSBURGH — Two City of Plattsburgh residents have settled excessive force lawsuits against the city’s police department within the last year.
The settlements combined for $290,000, most of which the city will have to pay out itself.
One resident, Zachary Butchino, said he was beaten by city police officers while he was detained in a holding cell in August of 2017.
Butchino was arrested outside a downtown bar shortly before he was brought to the police station, where he said he was unable to receive medication for PTSD, which he was diagnosed with after serving in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010 in the U.S. Army.
Inside the cell and experiencing a mental health episode, the lawsuit said, Butchino, seemingly distraught, attempted to choke himself using his shorts by placing one leg over his head and tying the other to the cell’s bars, surveillance video showed.
Officers then transferred Butchino to a cell they believed they could better monitor him from. But before they left, officers ordered Butchino to give them his shorts. Butchino refused.
Chad Welch, an officer named in the lawsuit, then opens the cell door, pulls out his taser and demands Butchino to give up his shorts.
Butchino instead attempts to shut the cell door closed, causing Welch and officers Adam Wood, Joshua Pond and Kristopher Minogue to enter.
For about a minute, Welch, Pond and Wood are huddled over Butchino while Minogue removes the shorts, video showed. After the officers leave, Butchino’s face is bloodied. Butchino claims he was punched about 10 times. The lawsuit also said officers agreed to give Butchino what they called a “secret handshake” before they entered the cell. Wood then proceeded to grab and twist Butchino’s testicles after Minogue is able to take off his shorts, court documents said.
The suit also claims that officers mocked Butchino after the encounter, with one reportedly saying, “I thought you guys who went to Afghanistan were tough.”
No officers admitted to punching Butchino when the police department conducted an internal investigation of Butchino’s claims at first. But video footage and interviews determined that at least one officer, Welch, did strike Butchino in the cell.
Welch was disciplined with 40 hours of paid time off for failing to disclose that he hit Butchino, according to department documents.
Butchino’s lawsuit was settled in March for $140,000. The City of Plattsburgh said its insurance carrier paid $40,000 of the settlement.
Bryce Passino, the second resident to settle a lawsuit against city police in recent months, said he sustained cheekbone fractures, head trauma and abrasions after he was tased, pepper sprayed and struck in the back of the head by officers in August of 2016.
Passino’s lawsuit said he was walking down Oak Street nude and against traffic while hallucinating from LSD when the first responding officer tased him in his back.
Police dashcam video showed the officer, Richard Tucker, is able to eventually drop Passino to the ground shortly before the second officer, Wood, arrives. Video shows Wood exiting his patrol vehicle and immediately rushing to Passino, who he strikes in the back of the head as he is attempting to lift himself from the ground.
As more officers arrive, according to the lawsuit, Passino is pepper sprayed and hit more as officers struggle to put him in handcuffs. When officers eventually do, Passino is taken to a hospital and is treated for injuries. He did not face criminal charges afterward.
Wood was the only named officer in the suit who was recommended for discipline by the police department after the encounter with Passino.
He was recommended three weeks suspension, according to a notice of discipline letter.
The letter said Wood, “immediately struck Passino with a flashlight in the upper shoulder/lower neck area” after he exited his patrol vehicle and that during the struggle to place handcuffs on Passino, Wood “struck him several times in the head area using a closed fist.”
“Although Passino did appear to be resisting arrest, at no time did Passino appear to be actively fighting with or attempting to cause physical injury to the arresting officers,” the letter said.
The letter said Wood violated the department’s use of physical force and necessary force policies.
Passino settled the lawsuit with the city last August. The agreement was worth $150,000, according to a court proceeding transcript. The city’s insurance covered $50,000 of the settlement.
City of Plattsburgh Mayor Chris Rosenquest said he believes the police department has overwent a “transformational shift” in its culture since the two incidents with Butchino and Passino, which has included a “comprehensive plan to reevaluate and modernize our policing policies.”
“I remain confident that with the right leadership in place we’ll continue to improve and make the shift that our community demands of us,” Rosenquest said. “It’s our responsibility to do so not only because that’s our charge but because it’s the right thing to do.”