MERIDEN — A trial is scheduled for early next year in a civil lawsuit filed against the police department on behalf of Erica Moreno, a 29-year-old city woman who hanged herself in a holding cell in January 2016.
The two sides are nearing completion of the case’s discovery phase, according to Attorney Steven J. Errante, who is representing Moreno’s estate. Six officers have given depositions and the city is expected to depose expert witnesses in the next two months, he added.
The plaintiffs rejected the city’s settlement offer, according to Errante. Moreno has two surviving children.
“The only question is what would be considered fair and reasonable damages for her children,” he said
The lawsuit, filed in June 2017, alleges police negligence for failing to properly monitor Moreno in the holding cell, including not removing the drawstring she used to asphyxiate herself.
Police spokesman Sgt. Christopher Fry, in an email, wrote that it’s the city’s policy “not to comment on any pending lawsuits.” The suit names eight officers as defendants, along with Police Chief Jeffry Cossette.
An internal affairs investigation concluded two officers, Jimmy Fong and Margaret Smusz, violated policy by failing to remove the drawstring and properly supervise Moreno. They were given 30-day suspensions, with 15 days held in abeyance for two years.
Most of what happened that night was recorded on video, according to Errante.
The lawsuit is seeking compensation "substantially more than $1 million,” Errante told the Record-Journal in 2017.
The plaintiffs have argued the Police Department had numerous interactions with Moreno and was aware that she suffered mental illness and behaved erratically at times. From 1997 to 2016, police responded to 107 incidents involving Moreno, which resulted in 36 arrests and three citations, according to documents provided by police.
Some of the officers that interacted with Moreno that night personally knew of Moreno because they previously responded to incidents involving her, according to Errante.
As part of their case, the plaintiffs also called Charles Drago, a decorated former law enforcement officer and police training instructor in Florida, as an expert witness. Drago testified that officers did not conduct a proper search of Moreno’s person before leaving her in the cell and failed to sufficiently monitor video surveillance of the cell.
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