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Oneonta Police officer accused of brutality fired, attorney filing appeal
ONEONTA, N.Y. (WKTV) - On Tuesday evening, following a year of accusations, hearings, and even a settlement to the tune of over $100 million, the City of Oneonta says it has brought to a close a police brutality case that began with the claims of an Oneonta man pulled over in January and ended with the termination of one of the city's police officers.
On Tuesday, the city's Common Council stated that it accepted the recommendation of the appointed hearing officer that Michael Breen, who had been on paid administrative leave from the Oneonta Police Department since last March, be fired.
Officer Breen was at the center of a police brutality scandal that stemmed from a traffic stop at the beginning of the year. A man named Bradford Shanks claimed that when he was pulled over in January, Officer Breen hit him several times on the head with a closed fist. Shanks filed a $12 million lawsuit against the city, the police department and several of its officers, including Breen. In October, they settled out of court with a $135,000 payout from the city's insurance carrier.
According to the Mayor's Office, the process conducted by the hearing officer, generally known as an Article 78 proceeding, found that Officer Breen had "forfeited his right to be a police officer" by striking Shanks repeatedly in the face and lying under oath about the matter. The hearing officer also stated that they did not find sufficient grounds to find Breen responsible for placing Shanks in a choke hold and denying him requested medical treatment, as Shanks claimed in his lawsuit.
Breen's attorney, E. Robert Keach III, says otherwise.
"That is a patent lie," Keach said during a phone interview Wednesday morning. "The hearing, under Section 75, the city gets to select the hearing officer. The hearing officer is paid by the city and he's going to do the city's bidding. For reasons that I believe are nefarious, they wanted to get rid of this man and they hired a kangaroo court to take care of it and that's what occurred. What the hearing officer decided was that Officer Breen and several of his colleagues lied and that other people involved were all telling the truth. Basically, all these police officers that defend the citizens of the City of Oneonta, lied. But only Mr. Breen is being penalized for this, apparently. I think that speaks volumes, as well."
The settlement out of court may have brought the civil end of the matter to a close, but according to the City Mayor, the firing of Officer Breen brings the matter's disciplinary phase to an end as well. However, Breen's attorney says the believes the entire hearing procedure should be questioned, since the hearing officer was appointed by the City of Oneonta - whose mayor and former Police Chief, Keach says, had it out for Breen from the beginning.
"Mr. Breen didn't lie about anything," Keach said. "He went before a kangaroo court that was controlled by the City of Oneonta, that was paid for by the City of Oneonta, that did what the City of Oneonta wanted, which was to get rid of a good cop...at the behest of the accusations of the town scumbag who they paid $135,000 of taxpayer money to. There is clearly something wrong with this picture."
Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller released the following statement after the decision to fire Breen:
"The findings of the hearing officer confirmed decisions and judgments made by the common council and me in late winter of 2011," Mayor Miller states in a press release. "In the city's perspective, this is the final chapter of an unpleasant incident. The Oneonta Police Department and its leadership have been moving since last spring and we believe that having this matter behind us will only accelerate that progress."
"You don't need to look beyond the circumstances that's occurred here," Keach said. "Officer Breen has no personnel history, has no problems on the job, yet the City of Oneonta made it their mission in life since Day One to get rid of the man, and they did that publicly and said that publicly before the hearing officer was appointed, and before Mr. Breen was provided with any due process."
Attorney Keach says that, without a doubt, he is planning to appeal this decision for his client.
"You have to sit back and scratch your head and say 'why are they spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to get rid of someone with no personnel history, and to basically expose their police department to liability, expose their police officers to continued lawsuits,' unless they really got it out for the guy," Keach said.