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$160,000 Paid by Norwalk, Connecticut, to Settle Police Beating of COPD Patient

by Mark Wilson

The City of Norwalk, Connecticut, paid $160,000 to settle false arrest and excessive force claims against several Norwalk Police Department (“NPD”) officers.

At about 5:40 a.m., on September 8, 2011, William Irwin was asleep in his bed in a Norwalk apartment he shared with Peter Sandri. NPD officers Cisero, DePanfilis, Sedlock, Sixto, and Blake entered the apartment looking for Sandri to execute a search warrant.

The officers knew Sandri was a low-level drug dealer and drug addict. They also knew Irwin was not involved in Sandri’s drug-related activities and had been crime-free for 10 years.

Before executing the warrant, NPD officers attended a briefing to review a layout of the apartment. Sandri’s room was on the first floor and Irwin resided on the second. Officers also reviewed photographs of Irwin and other known occupants. Irwin was not suspected of any criminal conduct.

Upon entering the first floor, police found Sandri on the couch and arrested him without incident. Sandri admitted that the drugs in the residence were his and that the other “guys” in the residence “had nothing to do with it.”

Nevertheless, NPD officers DePanfilis, Perez, Cisero and Sedlock entered Irwin’s room while he was sleeping and began yelling for him to get on the floor. Officers pointed their guns in Irwin’s face.

Irwin suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (“COPD”) and alerted DePanfilis that he was having difficulty breathing. He voluntarily held his hands out and asked to be handcuffed in front so he could breathe better.

DePanfilis holstered his gun, threw Irwin to the floor and began beating, kicking, hitting and suffocating him. Irwin was gasping for air and wheezing during the beating. He repeatedly said he could not breathe.

Perez, Cisero and Sedlock joined DePanfilis in kicking, punching and striking Irwin in the head, neck and body, while suffocating him.

In his September 8, 2011, report, Cisero admitted that he struck Irwin in the right shoulder with a closed fist. Perez admitted that he kicked Irwin in the torso with his left foot. Finally, Sedlock admitted that he struck Irwin in the head with a knee strike and punched him in the ribs several times with a closed fist.

Irwin offered no resistance. Officers handcuffed Irwin and searched his room. They dumped his personal belongings on the floor and generally trashed his bedroom.

Irwin’s injuries were so bad that he was rushed by ambulance to Norwalk Hospital, where he remained in the intensive care unit for one week. He had a boot mark on the back of his neck and suffered neck and low back pain, anxiety and severe shock to his nervous system.

Doctors diagnosed Irwin as sustaining seven rib fractures; acute exacerbation of COPD; left pulmonary contusion; left pneumothorax; a laceration to the center of his forehead; bruising around his head, neck, face, body, both arms and abrasions to his left wrist; right periorbital ecchymosis; and soft tissue infiltration of right periorbital region and temporalis muscle and subcutaneous tissue.

Officer Sixto came to the hospital, photographed Irwin’s injuries and falsely accused him of interfering with a search warrant. He served Irwin with a summons for that crime.

The officers attempted to cover up their wrongdoing by preparing false and misleading incident reports. The also made false and misleading statements to their superior officers and prosecutors. During Irwin’s trial on the interference charge, the officers provided false and misleading sworn statements. Nevertheless, Irwin was acquitted.

NPD Police Chief Harry W. Rilling initiated a September 19, 2011, internal affairs investigation into the officers’ excessive force against Irwin. During that investigation, the officers continued to make false and misleading statements regarding their unlawful arrest of Irwin. Sixto also suppressed the color photographs he took of Irwin’s injuries at the hospital.

Irwin brought federal suit against the officers on August 5, 2013, alleging: excessive force, assault and battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, malicious prosecution, Brady v. Maryland violations, and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He sought an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys’ fees and costs.

On June 10, 2014, the City of Norwalk agreed to settle all claims against the NPD and its officers by paying Irwin $160,000. See: Irwin v. DePanfilis, USDC No. 3:13-cv-01122 (JCH)(D. Conn. 2014).

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Related legal case

Irwin v. DePanfilis



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