Stamford to settle suit; officer denies charge

New Haven - The city of Stamford has agreed to pay $230,000 to settle a lawsuit by a woman who accused a city police officer of punching her, attorneys for the woman and city said Wednesday.

The out-of-court settlement resolves a lawsuit against Stamford and officer Greg Zach by Brenda Mazariegos of Norwalk, said her attorney, Antonio Ponvert III. Zach denied wrongdoing.

A trial resulted in a hung jury last year on some charges while others were dismissed. A second trial was to begin this month.

The city did not admit wrongdoing.

"The city is glad the matter is resolved," said Kathryn Emmett, Stamford's director of legal affairs, who confirmed the settlement. "It was the determination that it was in the city's interest to resolve the case in advance of another trial and the uncertainty of that."

Mazariegos was trying to drive into the parking lot of her employer in 2009 when Zach ordered her out of her car and repeatedly punched her in the face, head, neck and shoulders, then left her bleeding, crying and shackled in a sweltering police cruiser, according to her lawsuit.

Zach testified that Mazariegos walked away and when he grabbed one of her wrists she began to punch and scratch him, The Advocate of Stamford reported. Zach said he punched downward and did not mean to hit her in the face or head and only wanted to stop her from attacking him, the newspaper reported.

Other officers took Mazariegos to the Stamford Hospital, where she was treated for serious wounds to her head and face, Ponvert said.

"This vicious and unjustified assault is every citizen's worst fear about a police force run amok," Ponvert said. "Officer Zach's excessive force against a tiny woman should have landed him in jail. Instead he is back on the job, wearing a uniform and carrying a gun, being paid at taxpayers' expense."

The lawsuit accused the Stamford Police Department of inadequately training its officers and supervisors and failing to terminate Zach as a result of previous incidents and complaints.

Attorneys for the city called Ponvert's statements "extremely misleading," saying the plaintiffs were unable to convince the jury that their claims were valid. The jury found in favor of Zach on all the claims brought by two other plaintiffs who witnessed the incident and claimed Zach had used excessive force on them, deadlocked on three claims by Mazariegos and ruled in favor of Zach on four other claims by her, city attorneys said.

The city was optimistic about a favorable verdict at the second trial of the remaining three claims, city attorneys said. The settlement figure was less than what was offered to Mazariegos before the first trial, they said.

Zach said Wednesday he believes he would have prevailed at a second trial. He said 37 of the 40 claims by the plaintiffs were dismissed in an earlier trial.

Zach said the woman and two others attacked him and that he punched the woman once. "They were absolutely the aggressors," he said.

"I would have taken this to trial all day," Zach said, calling the claims lies that the jury saw through.

Zach said he has a clean record and any previous complaints were frivolous and unfounded.

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