Amid Training Lapses, Video Shows Handcuffed Detainee Punched
LOWELL -- The video isn’t clear enough to show police prisoner Stephen Tatarouns allegedly spitting in the face of a civilian detention attendant, but it does clearly show the right hook that attendant landed on Tatarouns’ head.
Tatarouns, an admitted IV drug user who was handcuffed at the time, was knocked to the floor by a punch that landed hard enough to possibly break the attendant’s hand, according to reports.
Video of the Nov. 3, 2016, incident was released this week in response to a public-records request from The Sun.
The incident once again raises questions about training at the Lowell Police Department, which reached a six-figure settlement three years ago in another case that exposed a lack of training.
Tatarouns, a homeless man with a six-page criminal record, was arrested Nov. 2, 2016, on a default warrant, and spent the night in lockup.
Tatarouns told detention attendants he was going to spit on all of them, according to an internal-affairs report.
In the morning, as prisoners were being readied for court, Tatarouns became “irate” that he was not allowed to take his backpack with him to court, according to a report.
He took his anger out on detention attendant Paul Hadley, allegedly spitting in Hadley’s face -- hitting his cheek and mouth -- as he walked toward him.
“According to (Hadley), his immediate reaction to being spit on was to hit Tatarouns to ‘stop the situation’ because he didn’t want Tatarouns to ‘bite or spit on any of his fellow officers,’” internal affairs investigator Lt. Greg Hudon wrote in a report.
Tatarouns eventually got back on his feet, and was taken to court to face both the default warrant and a new charge of assault and battery on a public employee for allegedly spitting on Tatarouns.
That case remains pending because Tatarouns failed to appear in court for a hearing on March 7 last year, and hasn’t been back to court since, according to court records. The attorney representing Tatarouns on the case did not return a call seeking comment.
Hadley went to the hospital due to exposure to Tatarouns’ bodily fluids. He learned later that he had a “boxer’s fracture” in his hand, though it is unclear whether the injury was preexisting or from punching Tatarouns, according to a report. Hadley filed a worker’s compensation claim, which the city denied.
That worker’s compensation claim led to police brass to order an investigation.
Hadley was cleared of using excessive force by an internal investigation that determined neither he nor other detention attendants were trained in use of force, as they should have been under department policy.
Superintendent William Taylor has said it’s “very likely” Hadley would have been found to have used excessive force if he had been properly trained.
Taylor said on Monday that the training has since been provided to all detention attendants.
Detention attendants make about $34,000 per year, roughly $20,000 less than the lowest-paid police officers. Taylor said using civilians for the job saves money and keeps more sworn officers on the streets.
But the attendants have been embroiled in controversy before in another incident that exposed a lack of training.
In 2015, the city paid $232,500 to settle a lawsuit filed by the mother of Alyssa Brame, a 31-year-old Lowell woman who died two years earlier of alcohol poisoning in the lockup after going 66 minutes without being checked on.
Investigations into that incident revealed detention attendants were not trained on first aid or proper protocol for checking prisoners. They have since been trained.
While Hadley was cleared of excessive force, he was found to have been “untruthful and innacurate” in his statements about the incident, because he initially said he pushed Tatarouns, according to reports.
Hadley admitted to punching Tatarouns only later, when interviewed by internal affairs, according to a report.
“Hadley’s immediate response was to push Tatarouns off of him and away from him, which caused Tatarouns to fall to the floor,” Dawn Beauchesne wrote in a police report.
Beauchesne was an officer when the report was written, and has since been promoted to sergeant. She was investigated by internal affairs for potentially being untruthful.
But Beauchesne was cleared because she relied on Hadley’s description of events in writing the report. She was in the room when the punch was thrown, and can clearly be seen in the video, but told investigators another prisoner blocked her view of what happened.
“After viewing the video and being asked what she thought happened, Officer Beauchesne stated she thought DA Hadley hit Tatarouns and did not push him as he originally told her,” Hudon wrote in his report.
Taylor declined to comment on what discipline Hadley faced for being untruthful because it is a personnel matter. Hadley continues to work for the department. He has not returned messages seeking comment.
Taylor said the incident was not referred to the district attorney’s office for possible prosecution of Hadley because investigators determined the punch was a use of force in response to Tatarouns’ assault on Hadley.
“The investigator’s decision was that it was a continuation of an assault that the individual did against the detention attendant by spitting in his face,” Taylor said.
Howard Friedman, a civil rights attorney who represented Brame’s mother, was contacted by Tatarouns about a possible civil lawsuit, but said this week that Tatarouns needs to take care of the criminal case connected to the incident first.
“I don’t think you need to be trained to know you shouldn’t punch someone who has their hands cuffed behind their back and who is defenseless,” Friedman said. “This is the sort of thing we learn in first grade. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and hitting someone who is defenseless is wrong.”
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