Thursday, May 31, 2007

Police Misconduct Cover Ups

Lawsuit follows acquittal
Connecticut Post Online
Article Created: 8/17/2006 04:42 AM
BRIDGEPORT — Seven city residents who claim they are the victims of a former police officer's rampage through a South End housing complex have filed a civil rights lawsuit against him, the city and the Police Department.

In the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, the plaintiffs — Thomas Barksdale, Rafael Valle, Paula Valle, Giomarie Cardona, Dana Stewart, Nasha Harrobin and Charlotte Wallace, representing the estate of Deanita Smith — claim they were terrorized, assaulted, battered and falsely imprisoned by former officer John Biehn.

They seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

The plaintiffs' lawyer, Tina Sypek D'Amato, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

City spokeswoman Caryn Kaufman also would not comment.

Biehn's lawyer, John R. Gulash, said he has not reviewed the suit. "As was apparent in the recently completed criminal trial, there exists a significant disagreement of what occurred," he said.

Biehn, apparently drunk and enraged about a dispute with his wife's ex-husband, was accused of going to the Marina Village housing complex in the early hours of Aug. 23, 2004, with a loaded gun, intending to take out his anger on minority residents there.

The decorated police officer and Army veteran began at the home of Paula Valle, whose son Biehn had previously arrested.

On May 18, a Superior Court jury found Biehn, 31, not guilty of three counts of attempted murder, three counts of attempted first-degree assault, two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment and two counts of second-degree reckless endangerment.

The jury found him guilty of one count of first-degree reckless endangerment — for leaving a gun where children could find it. He was sentenced to a suspended one-year prison sentence with three years probation.

Three residents, including Stewart and Deanita Smith, testified that Biehn pointed the gun at their heads and tried to shoot them. Smith, who died after the trial of natural causes, said Biehn fired at her car as she sped away. Another witness, Thomas Barksdale, claimed Biehn fired at him as he ran down the street.

The lawsuit states that in the days following Biehn's rampage, the Police Department failed to "memorialize" Biehn's statement of what occurred, lost evidence, and failed to perform gunshot residue testing and "never allowed for a positive identification to be made of Biehn despite numerous outraged and terrified witnesses, including the plaintiffs in this action." It also points out that police charged Biehn with misdemeanors and that it was the State's Attorney's Office that raised the charges against him to attempted murder.

The suit also points out that Biehn was later honored by the city and police department with medals after his arrest. The medals were for his actions before the Marina Village incident.

"All plaintiffs suffered deprivation of their federal civil rights and severe and in some instances permanent emotional pain and suffering, including but not limited to fear, nightmares, sleeplessness, humiliation and trauma, all as a result of the defendant's conduct," the suit states.

Daniel Tepfer, who covers state courts and law enforcement issues, can be reached at 330-6308.

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Justice depends on where you stand
By Charles Walsh

Carolyn Nah in a red and white pants suit with matching shoes, is railing about the absurdity of a justice system — a jury — that could, would, acquit a police officer who tried to kill people in a housing project.

"I hope the people suing the city make it go so broke," she says, "that they have to shut the schools down. It the only way this stuff will ever end."

The stuff Nah, president of the Greater Bridgeport NAACP, is so outraged about is the verdict in last month's trial of police officer John Biehn, who admitted going to Marina Village and wildly firing his weapon, and a ruling by State Police that a young man being chased by Bridgeport police accidentally shot himself in the back of the head.

Nah is sitting behind a long table in the basement of Messiah Baptist Church, which is next to Bridgeport Police Headquarters.

As she rails, the audience of nearly 30 people, mostly black, nod and applaud. They cheer when she raises the question that is on everybody's lips: What would have happened to a black man who went to, say, Monroe, and fired off a clip or two in one of those well-grassed neighborhoods?

The answers from the audience ranges from "he'd still be in jail" to "he'd be dead."

Biehn is neither. After the shooting incident he was released on nominal bond. At his trial on charges that included three counts of attempted murder, a jury of four whites convicted him of one count of reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor. Seems he left his gun where kids might find it.

It is so crazy it would be funny were it not so serious. Some in the Nah's audience laughed ironically.

But then, one person's justice is almost always another's fiasco.

When a jury of three whites, eight blacks and one Hispanic found O.J. Simpson not guilty of murdering his wife and a waiter, the response was pretty much split along racial lines. White people generally scoffed at the verdict. Fiasco, they said. Travesty. The guy was guilty as sin. Just bought his way out of trouble. Him with his fancy, rhyming lawyers out-spent the poor prosecution and snowed the jury. Goes to show, they said, if you've got enough bucks you can gum up the justice system so it doesn't work.

Blacks on the other hand cheered when the verdict was read. Well what do you know, they said, we finally got one. It just goes to show you, they said, a black man's got to be a millionaire to make the justice system work in this country.

Some of the people at the NAACP meeting wondered how four white people from the suburbs ended up on a case about a Bridgeport cop shooting up a Bridgeport housing project. A lawyer for some of the people who were shot at tries to explain the jury selection process, but it doesn't soothe the audience's outrage.

What is and what is not justice tends to depend on which side of the fence you are on.

Last week, when the U.S. Air Force took Abu Musab al-Zarqawi out with a couple of 500-pounders down his chimney (no sense taking any chances) President George W. Bush's take the next morning was that we had "delivered justice to the most wanted terrorist in Iraq."

Zarqawi was a surely a monster of the first order. He undoubtedly got what he deserved (only having his head sliced off on videotape would have been more fulfilling). But getting what one deserves has nothing to do with justice. That used to be called frontier justice.

Maybe the reason we used bombs instead of taking Mr. Z alive was exactly because Bush feared we'd have to give him justice. Bad enough fat and sassy Saddam Hussein is using the Iraqi courts as a bully pulpit. If only that trooper who found him in that spider hole had just dropped a grenade down there. It would have saved everybody a lot of trouble and embarrassment.

Zarqawi got trial by bomb. O.J. got trial by dollars. Former officer Biehn got lucky.

Charles Walsh's column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You can reach him by phone at 330-6217 or by e-mail at

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