Lawsuit filed against Hartford police

This article is by Mark Davis, a staff writer for the Valley News, where it was first published Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013.

Hartford — A former Shady Lawn Motel resident is suing Hartford police, claiming that they charged him in 2010 with assaulting his girlfriend in hopes of deflecting attention from eyewitness accusations that police officers caused her injuries.

Dennis Kucera, who has long criticized police for filing the charge, which was eventually dropped, alleges malicious prosecution, unlawful arrest, false imprisonment and other violations in a lawsuit filed recently in U.S. District Court in Rutland. Kucera is seeking punitive and compensatory damages.

Dennis Kucera stands outside the door to his room at the Shady Lawn Motel in White River Junction in Sept. 2010. Valley News photo by  Jennifer Hauck

Dennis Kucera stands outside the door to his room at the Shady Lawn Motel in White River Junction in September 2010. Valley News photo by Jennifer Hauck

Kucera was arrested two weeks after police visited his motel room, even though police recordings of the initial incident obtained by the Valley News capture officers saying they had no evidence to arrest him for harming his girlfriend, Monica Therrien. In the days after the incident, Therrien, along with three eye-witnesses, accused a Hartford officer of intentionally slamming her to the ground and injuring her after she called 911.

The lawsuit centers on claims that Hartford police, instead of conducting an internal investigation — which they told both the public and witnesses was intended to examine alleged police wrongdoing that night — were instead driven by the “ulterior motive” of trying to gather evidence to pin the blame on Kucera.

“Kucera was unlawfully arrested absent probable cause and then subjected to detention and restrictive conditions of release based upon an affidavit that contained untruthful information and omitted exculpatory information,” Kucera’s attorney, Christopher Dall of Norwich, wrote in the 11-page lawsuit.

“Despite allegedly conducting an ‘internal affairs’ investigation into police misconduct for the injuries sustained by Ms. Therrien, (police) used the interviews primarily, though unsuccessfully, to obtain statements and evidence to use against Mr. Kucera for allegedly assaulting Ms. Therrien,” Dall continued.

The defendants named in the lawsuit are Detective Michael Tkac, who conducted the follow-up investigation, former Hartford Police Chief Glenn Cutting, Deputy Police Chief Leonard Roberts and the town of Hartford.

In court documents, the defendants’ attorney, Nancy Sheahan, has asked for much of the lawsuit to be dismissed, arguing that there is little evidence of wrongdoing. The defendants also contend that they have immunity because they were public officials who acted reasonably.

Sheahan declined to comment on the case yesterday. Tkac, Cutting and Roberts did not respond to messages seeking comment yesterday. (Former Hartford officer Jon Adams, whom Therrien accused of assault, and other officers who responded that night are not named in the lawsuit.)

In 2011, Hartford paid Therrien $32,500 to settle her potential legal claims, which she was preparing to file in court, stemming from the incident. Kucera and Therrien, who moved to Florida several months after the incident, could not be reached for comment yesterday, have long railed against Hartford police and claimed that investigators were trying to blame Kucera for their own actions.

“I’m not going to let them get away with what they did,” Kucera told the Valley News in September 2011. “I’m not going to let them make me their scapegoat.”

Kucera’s lawsuit comes as Hartford police are already fighting a similar lawsuit in federal court: Wilder resident Wayne Burwell sued last year, alleging he was victim of racial discrimination and illegal detention when police beat and pepper-sprayed him inside his own home while responding to an erroneous report of a burglary.

The lawsuit focuses on police actions in the days after a disputed event at the Route 14 motel.

On Sept. 10, 2010, Therrien called 911, and said that Kucera was “trying to beat me up,” according to Hartford police. Three officers arrived and quickly engaged in a testy conversation with Therrien, who was heavily intoxicated and slurring her words. Meanwhile, Kucera denied that he had done anything wrong, and told officers that Therrien was confused.

Therrien tried to show officers bruises on her body, but the officers told her they didn’t see anything. She and Adams argued, their voices rising.

What happened next is a matter of dispute. Eyewitnesses have told the Valley News and Hartford police that Therrien took several steps away from Adams, who then followed her, grabbed near the back of her head, and slammed her to the pavement. One motel witness compared the sound of Therrien’s head hitting the ground to a watermelon splitting open.

Hartford Police Chief Glenn Cutting repeatedly offered a different account: That as Therrien tried to walk away, Adams reached out to stabilize her, and she inadvertently fell to the ground.

Therrien was hospitalized for several days with a concussion and other injuries. At Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Therrien’s blood alcohol level was measured at .48, six times the legal limit.

Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell cleared officers of criminal wrongdoing in the incident.

Officers left that night without arresting anyone.

“I don’t think we have enough for a domestic,” one officer said at the scene, according to one of the recordings, obtained by the Valley News.

“I don’t see any violation here,” another officer agreed.

But two weeks after the incident — after Kucera, other motel residents, and the Valley News began questioning Adams’ conduct — police arrested Kucera and charged him with domestic assault, which carries an 18-month maximum sentence. Cutting was present when officers arrested Kucera, according to the lawsuit.

Kucera remained in prison for three days before awaiting his initial court appearance on Sept. 27, and pleaded not guilty.

Earlier that day, Tkac filed an affidavit with the court laying out the case against Kucera. In that affidavit, Tkac said that Kucera caused injuries to Therrien that led to her hospitalization, but made no mention of witnesses who claimed that Adams caused her injuries.

On March 31, prosecutors dismissed the charge against Kucera, citing, in part, Therrien’s unwillingness to cooperate.

In addition to the investigation and Kucera’s subsequent arrest, the lawsuit accuses police of violating the law in other ways.

Roberts and Cutting allegedly told the manager of the Shady Lawn Motel on several occasions that Kucera could not live at the complex because of a judge’s order. In fact, there was no such order, the lawsuit claims. A judge mandated that Kucera and Therrien not have any contact, but Therrien had temporarily moved out of the room they shared, allowing Kucera to lawfully remain, the lawsuit claims.

Mark Davis can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3304.

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