Simonetta family settles federal suit against Pittsfield Police, state DCF
SPRINGFIELD — Before a single word of testimony, the federal civil suit against five Pittsfield Police officers and a pair of Department of Children and Families employees was settled.
Testimony in the case was expected to begin Tuesday morning in U.S. District Court in Springfield, but shortly before 10 a.m. lawyers from both sides announced they had agreed upon a settlement.
Details and terms of that settlement are confidential.
The suit alleged that DCF workers arrived at a West Housatonic Street home on Aug. 14, 2008, to take custody of Joseph and Debra Simonetta's granddaughter, identified in court records by the initials E.T.
In his opening statement Monday, the Simonettas' attorney, John Swomley, said the DCF workers arrived unannounced and without a copy of the court order authorizing them to remove the child.
When the couple refused to turn the child over, police were called officers beat and wrongfully arrested the couple and their daughter Joline, Swomley said.
Attorney Nancy F. Pelletier, representing the officers and DCF workers, said the police were enforcing a lawful court order, the elder Simonettas did not have legal custody of the child and they were the ones who escalated the situation with police.
"The best part about this is that this part of the journey is finally over for them," Swomley said.
When asked what changed between 4 p.m. Monday and 10 a.m. Tuesday to facilitate the settlement, he said, "Maybe it was opening statements, I don't know."
"I think it was pretty clear we had the resolve to go to trial," he said.
Following the announcement, Pelletier said, "We're pleased the matter was resolved."
Judge Mark Mastroianni, who presided over the case, dismissed the jury about 10 a.m. and thanked them for their brief service.
In response to a juror's question about whether the panel could be told details of the settlement, the judge said the information must remain confidential as part of the agreement.
The suit alleged negligence, false arrest, malicious prosecution, constitutional violations and negligence.
The family was seeking unspecified damages for legal costs, punitive damages, pain and suffering and emotional distress.
Swomley alleged police kicked in the door of the home, placed Joseph Simonetta in a choke-hold, sprayed him in the face with pepper spray, delivered a series of "knee-strikes," to Debra's groin and slammed Joline to the ground and dragged her by her shackled arms and drew their weapons on her, with one going so far as to point their weapon in her face.
The family was arrested and charged with various crimes, including disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and assault and battery on a police officer.
Those charges were dismissed in January 2010, according to court records.