The town of Enfield, facing scrutiny for not releasing financial information related to a string of settled police brutality cases involving one former police officer, announced this week that it has settled a ninth and final case for $140,000.
The most recent settlement stems from allegations that police officer Matthew Worden smashed Tyler Damato’s head into asphalt multiple times after responding to a call for a suicidal subject. Damato was also shocked by a stun gun twice, according to a lawsuit. Worden was responding to a call from Damato’s mother, who said her son was expressing suicidal thoughts.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of Damato’s estate said he suffered a prior brain injury as a result of a car accident. Damato, 20, in February 2013 suffered a second car accident two months after his encounter with Worden. His estate claimed the previous injuries caused by Worden contributed to Damato’s death.
Worden was at the center of all of nine police brutality cases. He was fired in 2014, but the firing was changed to a resignation after he appealed.
The total settlement for all the cases “far exceeds $225,000,” said town attorney Christopher Bromson, who disputed published reports that said the town has paid that amount to settle the nine cases.
The exact number is still unknown because Enfield had refused to release the details of the settlement at the request of its insurer.
The eight previous settlements were the subject of a ruling by the Freedom of Information Commission, which found the town had to release the monetary damages paid out to the families. The crux of the case was whether the public had a right to the information despite claims by the town that disclosing the details could financially jeopardize it in other litigation.
Bromson said Enfield was following the recommendation of the attorneys for its former insurance carrier, Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency, which feared releasing specific settlement amounts would lead to other plaintiffs wanting to get more money.
Bromson said he delivered a request to CIRMA attorney James Tallberg asking for the release of all related settlements. “I expect that information soon. The releases should be readily available,” he said.
Dan Barrett, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, said Enfield should not have withheld the information in the first place, and accused the town of dragging its feet and playing games.
“It should not have taken this long to get basic information,” he said. “We do not believe there was any merit whatsoever to the town’s position in withholding this information. We were looking forward to having a court rule on this.”
Bromson said Enfield has always publicly released settlements that involved a single case. He called the nine police brutality cases “a unique circumstance.” Bromson said making the settlements public is “a gray area of the law,” adding CIRMA is exempt from the state’s open record laws.
“It’s the first situation like this where we had a cluster of lawsuits [involving the same individual]. I cannot remember a case like this within the police department in my 20 years as town attorney,” Bromson said.
David Jaffe, the attorney for Damato’s estate and most of the plaintiffs in the previous lawsuits, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Jaffe is with Brown, Paindiris & Scott in Glastonbury.