BARRE — City councilors agreed this week to settle two federal lawsuits — one over alleged city police misconduct and the other a class action over a water shut-off policy that was ruled unconstitutional.
Details of the settlements were not released pending court approval, but sources familiar with the terms indicated the city’s insurer — the Vermont League of Cities and Towns — will pay the plaintiffs and their lawyers a total of nearly $140,000.
Those settlements, which councilors approved after a nearly hour-long closed door meeting with VLCT lawyers Tuesday night, come on the heels of a similar payout involving sexual harassment claims that former call firefighter Rachel Wyatt made against members of that department. Wyatt and her lawyers were paid $250,000 in a settlement that was reached a little more than a month ago.
In all three cases the cost to Barre taxpayers is identical: a $500 deductible.
Mayor Thomas Lauzon made that point clear when reading the first of two carefully crafted motions.
“The Vermont League of Cities and Towns in recognition of the expense involved in defending the lawsuit has recommended that the lawsuit be resolved,” Lauzon read from the prepared motion involving the case David Mares filed against the city, former police officers Zak Winston and Mark Stupik, and Police Chief Tim Bombardier.
One of the conditions of the deal is that the city’s share be “limited to its deductible of $500,” according to Lauzon, who said it should be “expressly understood” that the city was admitting no wrongdoing.
According to court documents, Mares, who is said to be due $50,000 in the pending settlement, initially alleged that he was handcuffed and “intentionally kicked and hit repeatedly” by both Winston and Stupik when the two responded to his call June 21, 2010, for emergency medical assistance.
Court records indicate Mares claimed that he told the officers to leave his home while he waited for the ambulance that he had summoned to tend to an injured guest, but was instead handcuffed by Winston and then beaten by both officers.
“The excessive use of force by (Winston and Stupik) caused (Mares) to suffer a severe concussion, bruised ribs, multiple lacerations and contusions, and a broken nose,” Judge William K. Sessions III wrote recounting the substance of Mares’ allegations.
After the incident Stupik was the subject of a state police investigation ordered by the Vermont attorney general’s office. He was dismissed from the department in 2010, though city officials did not comment then on the alleged misconduct that led to his firing.
Winston was not let go, though he voluntarily resigned after he was arrested in a bizarre burglary in Montpelier in January 2011. Winston was charged with taking a still-boxed 42-inch flat-screen television from a neighbor’s Elm Street apartment.
In addition to the $50,000 payment to Mares, the settlement will cover his legal fees — roughly $18,000, sources said.
The lawyers will pocket the bulk of the second settlement the council approved Tuesday night.
Lawyers for Vermont Legal Aid will be paid nearly $60,000 for their work on the class action lawsuit they filed against the city on behalf of former resident Brenda Brown and one other renter.
Brown will be paid $10,000. The city shut off water to her apartment based on her landlord’s failure to pay his water bill. Earl Brooks, another renter who received a shut-off notice but never lost his water service, will be paid $500.
Earlier this year Judge Christina Reiss ruled Barre’s water policy was unconstitutional because it did not provide renters with an opportunity to appeal shut-off notices. The city has modified the ordinance to address that concern.
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