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Attorney: Man shot by New London police to get $2 million settlement

New London — The man shot multiple times by a New London police officer after stealing and crashing an ice truck in 2011 has secured a $2 million settlement with the city’s insurance carrier, according to an attorney involved in the case.

The settlement for Curtis Cunningham comes as the two sides neared a trial, said New Haven attorney Joel Faxon, who represented Cunningham in the federal civil lawsuit filed against the City of New London and New London police Officer Thomas Northup.

The City Council, following a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, unanimously gave its consent to the settlement being proposed by the insurance carrier, the Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency.

New London Risk Manager Paul Gills said Wednesday that the city will pay the $25,000 deductible and wash its hands of what he considers the biggest pending case against the city in terms of potential exposure.

Public records show the civil case was dismissed on Wednesday.

On Aug. 24, 2011, Northup shot Cunningham four times following a chase through the city that led to a crash at the intersection of Jefferson Avenue and Bank Street.

Cunningham, 27 at the time, was standing in the overturned ice truck when Northup yelled for him to drop his weapon.

Cunningham was unarmed, but Northup told investigators he had refused to move his hands away from his shirt, which protruded in an outline he believed could have been a gun.

Tests showed Cunningham had PCP in his system at the time.

The state’s attorney’s office declined to prosecute Northup though he was later fired by Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio after an internal police investigation determined Northup had violated department policy on use of excessive force.

On appeal, the decision to fire Northup was criticized by the state Board of Mediation and Arbitration. Northup was eventually rehired.

Faxon said the city was released from the civil suit and a jury, had the case gone to trial, would have been left to “determine whether shooting of an unarmed African American man in an overturned ice truck amounted to excessive force.”

Faxon said one of the bullets lodged in Cunningham’s spine, leaving him paralyzed and wheelchair-bound.

“He is ready to move forward with his life ... which is one reason he agreed to a settlement,” Faxon said. “He’s disabled but hopeful to make the most of what he has to build a business.”

Gills said the Cunningham lawsuit was one of the factors that led to a higher deductible and insurance premiums for the city.

The $25,000 deductible paid in the case has risen steadily since 2011 to $500,000 this year, which Gills said could be “devastating” to the city should the city have to approve a settlement.

Gills said the city is making better progress, however, in settling pending cases and avoiding new ones.

On June 9 the city settled with family of Floyd G. Smeeton, a man who died after Jan. 30, 2014, after falling into the trash compacter at the city transfer station.

The Smeeton estate, represented by Synodi & Videll LLC of Waterford and Dean Golembeski of Holth, Kollman & Golembeski of New London, had threatened a wrongful death suit.

Gills said the undisclosed six-figure settlement came after mediation and payment of a $50,000 insurance deductible.

The city is currently working to resolve another federal civil suit in which a 32-year-old Reuben J. Miller claims police used excessive force and allegedly beat him on Dec. 14, 2011, during his arrest outside the Southeastern Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence detoxifcation center.

Gills said he remains an advocate of a police force equipped with body cameras, which can reduce liability and bolster the city’s position in cases where complaints against police are inconsistent with the video.

g.smith@theday.com

Twitter: @SmittyDay

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