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Lawrence brothers sue ex-officer and city for police brutality

Two Lawrence brothers have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against an ex-police officer and the city, alleging police brutality.

The suit comes nearly three years after the brothers said they were beaten by the officer.

Moises and Rubenito Fernandez also accused the city and the Police Department of "tacitly condoning mistreatment of prisoners" by ex-officer Kyle Wilcox. Their allegations came in a 14-page complaint filed yesterday in Federal District Court.

"The Lawrence Police Department, the Mayor and the Chief of Police are also aware of individuals being physically mistreated, beaten and otherwise abused by police within the walls of the Lawrence Police Department by Mr. Wilcox and other members of the force," the lawsuit reads, in part.

Wilcox, 31, a four-year member of the police force, was convicted last year of two counts of assault and battery on the Fernandez brothers after a week-long bench trial before a Worcester District Court judge. He received a suspended one-year jail sentence and a year probation for each offense.

The Fernandez brothers accused Wilcox of beating them after their arrest during a tenant dispute on Myrtle Street on Dec. 22, 2006. Rubenito Fernandez, 44, said Wilcox forced him to the ground in the vehicle bay of Lawrence police headquarters. Fernandez said he later received 26 stitches to close a cut on his face.

Moises Fernandez, 41, said Wilcox hit him across the head with a hard object while he was handcuffed in a basement holding area known as the "pink room."

The Fernandez brothers faced a variety of charges stemming from their arrest, in which Wilcox said the pair threw a tenant's property outside and resisted arrest. Those charges were later dismissed by a judge because prosecutors and police failed to provide critical information to a defense attorney in a timely manner.

"The city and supervisors of officers in the police department have demonstrated deliberate indifference to the rights of the Fernandez' brothers," the lawsuit reads.

"This has fostered and perpetuated an understanding within the ranks of the Police Department that gratuitous, violent abuse of persons by officers would not result in discipline, and, indeed, may be done with virtual impunity," the suit continued.

Also named as defendants are the city, Mayor Michael Sullivan, police Chief John Romero, police Lt. Scott McNamara and officers Terrance Pennington, Ryan Guthrie and Fabian Guerrero.

Worcester lawyer Hector Pineiro said the lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, which his clients want determined in a jury trial. The lawsuit noted that Wilcox and the city are defendants in several other federal lawsuits, but said the city has done little to address the problem of police brutality.

"The Mayor, the city, Chief Romero and other officers knew of Wilcox's dangerous propensities, but failed to do anything about it," Pineiro said yesterday.

"These failures in training, disciplining and supervision caused Moises and Ruben to be deprived of their constitutional rights," he said of his clients.

Romero declined comment on the lawsuit, but defended his department's efforts to remove Wilcox from the force.

In fact, the chief noted that the city tried to fire Wilcox in July 2007, when the mayor terminated him for mistreating a prisoner in a holding cell at the police station early that year.

That firing was overturned in February, when a civil service hearing officer concluded there wasn't enough evidence to support the prisoner's allegations.

Wilcox was fired again last year after being convicted of abusing the Fernandez brothers.

He appealed the firing, But the arbitrator ruled in the city's favor this time.

Source: Eagle Tribune

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