Burglar sues town of Weare, two police officers over alleged abuse, lies
A Manchester man who broke into an auto repair shop in Weare two years ago is suing the town and his arresting officers, claiming they attacked him and then covered up the incident by falsifying their police reports and destroying a surveillance video from the scene.
The complaint, filed this week and seeking unspecified damages, alleges that one of the two officers, Kenneth Cox, used a stun gun repeatedly on the man, Shane St. Onge, despite St. Onge having complied with his verbal commands. Cox and the other officer, Kimberley McSweeney, then “slammed” St. Onge’s head against a concrete floor and Cox punched or kicked him while he was in handcuffs, according to the suit.
St. Onge, who has since served a year in prison for the break-in, was taken to a hospital immediately after the incident and treated for seizure-like symptoms, as well as burns, scars and bruising to his head, face, neck and upper torso, the lawsuit states.
Weare police Chief John Velleca said he had yet to read the complaint, which was filed Wednesday in Hillsborough County Superior Court, and could not discuss pending litigation. Both officers are still employed by the department; Cox is a sergeant, McSweeney a patrol officer.
The arrest occurred about 2 a.m. March 14, 2012. Cox and McSweeney were called to the business, Route 77 Motors on Concord Stage Road, after a security alarm there was tripped. Cox, entering from the rear of the building, found St. Onge hiding under a vehicle inside.
According to the suit, St. Onge stood up with his hands in the air and palms forward, as directed. Cox is then accused of firing his Taser anyway, stunning St. Onge at least four times and commenting as he did, “Do you like that?” “Does that feel good?” and “Maybe next time you will not break into someplace you are not supposed to.”
St. Onge dropped to the floor during the initial shock and stayed down during each subsequent charge, the suit contends.
The complaint further asserts that Cox and McSweeney falsified their reports and testimony of the incident before a grand jury, planted a weapon at the crime scene before taking photographs of it and destroyed footage of the incident from a surveillance camera in the building.
At the time of the arrest, it was reported that surveillance equipment had been damaged in the incident, though the reason was not made clear.
St. Onge was charged with burglary, criminal mischief, resisting arrest and possession of burglary tools. He pleaded guilty to burglary, according to court records. The other charges, all misdemeanors, were dismissed.
The complaint, filed by Epsom attorney Tony Soltani, accuses the town of not properly supervising or disciplining its police officers. “Superior officers are retaliated against if they undertake an internal investigation, are ordered to cease and terminate investigations or alleged misconduct,” it states. “Thereby the officers are encouraged to disobey supervisory and command personnel and are free to do as they wish.”
The department has undergone a series of evolutions since the 2012 arrest, many of them coming in the past eight months, in the wake of an officer-involved shooting that left a Manchester man dead and which is currently under state investigation. Velleca, who was hired in November, said last month that officers continue to carry Tasers and have been trained in how to properly use them. He said he plans to eventually require each officer to wear a body camera while on patrol.
In February, the attorney general’s office identified Cox as one of the five officers involved in the August shooting. Though it did not specify which two officers had fired their weapons at the man, a suspected drug dealer, payroll records obtained last month by the Union Leader show that Cox and Nicholas Nadeau, a patrol officer, saw their overtime plummet in the months immediately following the incident, when officials said the two shooters had been placed on administrative leave.
The results of the state’s investigation are expected any day.
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, email@example.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)