This post comes to us from a reader in the Connecticut area. It was originally written by Robert Koch at thehour.com.
NORWALK — The city is prepared to pay the Rev. Paul Juchniewich $20,000 for him to drop his civil rights lawsuit against the Norwalk Police Department stemming from his arrest before his congregation in September 2008.
On Tuesday night, the Common Council gave the city’s Corporation Counsel authorization to reach a settlement in the case of Juchniewich v. Harry Rilling, Chief of Police, et al.
The settlement amount is $20,000, according to sources who spoke to The Hour on the condition of anonymity.
Council members approved the authorization request, which was in the form of a letter, unanimously without discussion as part of the their consent calendar — agenda items upon which the council’s Democratic and Republican caucuses agree.
The Hour filed a Freedom of Information request with the city immediately after the approval to obtain the letter. The Hour had been denied permission to review the letter.
In response, Corporation Counsel Robert F. Maslan, Jr., said the letter is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act as part of “strategy and negotiations with respect to pending claims or pending litigation.”
Maslan did speak generally about the council action and what it means for the case.
“We have authorization to settle, and we’re proceeding in that fashion,” Maslan said Thursday. The council action “authorizes us to proceed toward finalizing a settlement, but the case is not yet closed.”
Juchniewich, head of Calvary Chapel at 25 Van Zant St. and known by his congregation as ‘Pastor Paul,’ was arrested while conducting services in the chapel Sept. 7, 2008, by two Norwalk officers, who called him from the pulpit and handcuffed him while his congregants watched, a congregant said.
Winthrop Baum, majority owner of 25 Van Zant St. Condominium, Inc., told The Hour afterward that he had called police after a staff member received a complaint about Juchniewich from a parking attendant.
Juchniewich later was found not guilty of breach of peace by Norwalk Superior Court.
He maintained that his summons and on-site arrest were at the direct behest of Baum because he had recently won $510,400 in a civil settlement against Baum.
Baum and Juchniewich have a history of landlord-tenant disputes and have filed lawsuits against one another.
Juchniewich, who represented himself in the subsequent civil rights suit, said earlier this week that he was under a non-disclosure agreement and couldn’t “say too much” about the pending settlement with the city.
“There’s a non-disclosure in place, so we can’t say any side won or lost,” Juchniewich said. “We just came to a mutual agreement, and we’re putting this behind us.”
In the lawsuit, filed with United States District Court on Aug. 12, 2010, Juchniewich alleged that the city “effectuated a false arrest, malicious prosecution, and a false imprisonment for the purpose of gaining the smallest conviction to allow cause for the 25 Van Zant Street Condominium Association as per its by-laws to deny Juchniewich access to his church.”
The lawsuit named the city, Rilling and Norwalk Police Officers Greg Riley and Lisa Cotto as defendants. Rilling retired as the city’s police chief in July after 41 years service with the city’s Police Department.
Juchniewich said Calvary Chapel has not been at 25 Van Zant St. for several years, and that he is currently on sabbatical.
While it’s good that those who acted in the wrong have been called-out for the kidnapping of Pastor Paul, it’s unfortunate that it’s not them, but people in the community who are financially penalized. The $20,000 settlement didn’t come from the individuals who caged Pastor Paul but from those they claim to serve. Just like their salary, which is taken at the barrel of a gun, so too is the settlement. And while it’s not a stretch to say that Pastor Paul will utilize the coin better than would the organized criminal outfit known as the Norwalk Police Department, this incident clearly demonstrates the inherent flaws of a system that allows certain people to make others accountable for their misdeeds. Only when individuals are held responsible for their actions will real accountability exist. -Pete