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Instead of eating cake and celebrating with friends on his 18th birthday, Gary Cohen became a “victim of the hysteria” that followed the Columbine school shooting, according to the Westbrook, Conn., man’s defense attorney, Glenn M. Conway. Conway, of New Haven, Conn.’s Knight & Conway, recently lost his bid for summary judgment when U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Bree Burns ruled in favor of the three police officers who arrested Cohen after statements he allegedly made about shooting up his high school. Burns found the officers had probable cause. Burns granted summary judgment for the officers on Cohen’s claim that his civil rights were violated when he was arrested and his automobile searched without probable cause on April 22, 1999 — a day that was not only his birthday but that came just two days after the horrific Columbine shooting. According to Burns’ memorandum of decision, Cohen was arrested on charges of breach of peace and threatening for his alleged remarks about a school shooting. Some of the witnesses that police interviewed said Cohen had made comments like “maybe I would not kill them, but I would torture them,” and that he had a “safe list” of people who wouldn’t be hurt. Cohen had also allegedly said that if he received a suspension from school, “the school would have hell to pay.” The defendants in the case, Jeffrey Dubec, a Connecticut State Police trooper, and Douglas Senn and Michael McKenna, both Westbrook, Conn., police officers, investigated the statements made by witnesses and later arrested Cohen, fearing a possible “copycat” killing following the Columbine incident. On April 20, 1999, 12 students and one teacher were gunned down in the Littleton, Colo., school by fellow classmates Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who committed suicide after their rampage. “Dubec averred in his affidavit in support of these motions that, based on the information received from these witnesses and the public uproar and fear that these threats caused the parents of Westbrook High School, he believed he had probable cause to arrest Cohen,” the court document read. Conway criticized the officers for giving credibility to the witnesses, including several girls who were still at the place where Cohen worked and where he apparently made the statements. The officers were also faulted for not viewing a videotape running at Cohen’s worksite, which might have corroborated the allegations. Conway also questioned why the officers did not get a search warrant for Cohen’s home if they took the witnesses’ claims so seriously. The charges against Cohen were eventually dropped because of a lack of evidence, Conway said. “It was very stressful for him,” Conway said of Cohen.

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