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December 21, 2015
MEGAN SPICER, The Connecticut Law Tribune.
The year 2015 was filled with encounters between police officers and black men that did not having happy endings. But here's one that at least had a silver lining.
A Norwich man who claimed to have been roughed up by local police filed an excessive-force lawsuit and won. Now his attorneys in the case have decided to give their fees to the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut. That total comes to $50,000. ACLU of Connecticut legal director Dan Barrett said he was "knocked over" by the donation from the Stamford plaintiffs firm of Silver Golub & Teitell.
"From school desegregation to adequate funding for indigent criminal defense, the ACLU of Connecticut has a long history of litigating for broad reforms," Barrett said. "I'm very excited that Silver Golub & Teitell has recognized the value of our impact litigation and given us a gift that will allow us to pursue more cases in 2016."
Steven Hyppolite said that as a black man living in Norwich, he has been "targeted" by police. "I brought this case as a matter of principle," Hyppolite said. "I did not sustain lasting physical injury as a result of this incident. But, as a black man in Norwich, I've been subjected to constant harassment and improper use of force against me."
In November 2009, Hyppolite was sitting in his friend's car outside his home. She had driven him home and they were having a conversation in the car when two Norwich police officers drove by, shined their light into the car and stopped. They started questioning Hyppolite and his friend, who is white. Both told police there was no problem, but they were merely sitting and talking. However, the situation escalated.
The two officers, apparently unsatisfied with the answers they were receiving, told Hyppolite to be quiet or they would "make him," according to the lawsuit filed in 2011. They allegedly threatened to pull him out of the car. Hyppolite asked why they were doing what they were doing. He also told them he thought his constitutional rights were being violated.
The officers responded by pushing Hyppolite down onto the hood of the car. He claims they started searching him, looking for a gun and drugs. Finally, they told Hyppolite that he would be arrested if he called an attorney following the encounter.
Following a three-day trial, the officers were found to have violated Hyppolite's rights by using unreasonable force against him. He was represented by Silver Golub attorneys Jonathan Levine and Peter Dreyer.
"Our firm accepts appointments in this, and other cases, under the pro bono program, because we recognize that litigation plays a critical role in checking government excess and misconduct," said Dreyer. "We agreed to take this case not to profit from an award of attorney fees but to help vindicate important constitutional rights."
Hyppolite collected $61,460, plus the attorney fees. "It is our hope that this donation of our attorney fees award [to the ACLU] will encourage other law firms to support the ACLU's efforts to improve police accountability in Connecticut," said Levine.
The ACLU has been active in developing police accountability measures to reduce the type of encounters that Hyppolite was involved in. The organization lobbied for a law enforcement reform package that was enacted by the General Assembly in June which, among other things, provides state funding for body cameras and establishes a right for civilians to record their interactions with police.
"I am pleased that my attorneys are donating their fees for the police accountability to the ACLU of Connecticut," Hyppolite said. "I hope the donation will help reduce incidents of police misconduct so that what happened to me doesn't happen to other innocent people."