Springfield agrees to pay $885,000 to four black men who alleged they were beaten by off-duty officers
The city of Springfield has agreed to pay $885,000 to settle federal civil rights lawsuits brought by four black men who alleged they were beaten by off-duty Springfield police officers outside a popular bar in 2015, and then denied justice because of a police coverup.
The suit brought by Paul Cumby, 50, was settled for $750,000, the city said in a statement Wednesday.
Cumby, a lawn sprinkler installer who grew up in Springfield, has been out of work since he broke his leg, dislocated his ankle, and had four teeth knocked loose during the confrontation outside Nathan Bill’s Bar & Restaurant during the early morning hours of April 8, 2015, his lawyer said.
This past April, he sued the city, its Police Department, and some of its officers and supervisors.
The city said it also settled a lawsuit brought by Cumby’s cousins, Jackie and Jozelle Ligon, and their friend, Michael Cintron, for $135,000. The Ligons and Cintron, who also reported being beaten, filed a separate lawsuit in April.
Cumby’s attorney, Michelle S. Cruz, said Cumby hasn’t healed from attack.
“He’s still physically disabled. He still suffers from PTSD,” Cruz said Thursday. “He still lives with the daily reminder that he was terribly beaten and assaulted and left with lifelong disabilities.”
Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno said in a statement Wednesday that department disciplinary proceedings against officers implicated in the incident will continue.
Cruz said Cumby wants an overhaul of the Police Department. Since 2006, Springfield has spent nearly $5 million to settle lawsuits and pay judgments over allegations of police misconduct, city records show.
Separately, the US Department of Justice is conducting two investigations involving Springfield officers. One is a criminal probe by the FBI focused on Officer Gregg Bigda, who was accused in a federal civil rights lawsuit of kicking two teenage suspects in the face while they were handcuffed and on the ground in 2016. The suit is pending.
The other investigation, announced in April, is a civil review of whether the Police Department’s narcotics unit routinely used excessive force and violated people’s civil rights.
“We hope that Mr. Cumby’s case marks a sea change in the longstanding tolerance for police corruption in the city of Springfield,” Cruz said in statement released Wednesday.
Cumby also filed lawsuits against Nathan Bill’s and American Medical Response Inc., the ambulance company that responded to the scene. Those cases are pending, Cruz said.
Cumby’s ordeal began while he was drinking with his cousins, and Cintron, at the bar on Island Pond Road.
Jozelle Ligon whistled to the bartender to get her attention. But Daniel Billingsley, an off-duty Springfield police officer at the bar with colleagues, thought Ligon was cat-calling his girlfriend, another off-duty officer, according to Cumby’s lawsuit.
Ligon said he offered to buy Billingsley a drink to clear the air, but he refused.
“We’re police officers, we have a tab, and we don’t want your drinks,” Billingsley told them, according to the lawsuits by Cumby and his cousins. Later, words were exchanged outside.
Cumby said he tried to defuse the situation, but when he turned his back to Billingsley, he was struck from behind and knocked out.
In July 2015, Cumby met with Springfield police investigators, who asked Cumby to identify the attackers and presented him with more than 2,600 photographs to consider, including one of Billingsley among 658 photos of Springfield officers. The same thing occurred when Cumby’s cousins met with investigators.
The men couldn’t conclusively identify their attackers from the vast photo array. In February 2017, Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni declined to press charges because no one could positively identify an assailant.
Ryan Walsh, a Springfield police spokesman, said Thursday that reviews of the incident by federal investigators and major crimes supervisors at the Springfield Police Department didn’t result in criminal charges. The state attorney general’s office is conducting a probe, he said.
“The settlement is not an admission of liability and cannot be admissible in court,” Walsh said in an e-mail.
City Solicitor Edward Pikula said the city will continue to cooperate with “outside agencies reviewing the incident.”
“While we may not know all the facts of what happened that night until all ongoing hearings are complete, this is a fair and reasonable conclusion to the civil lawsuits,” he said in a statement Wednesday.
Attorney Joe A. Smith III, who represents the Ligons and Cintron, didn’t respond to requests for comment Thursday.
The city said Wednesday that it had also resolved two other legal claims.
The city has agreed to pay $75,000 to the estate of Jerry Bradley, who died in Springfield police custody in September 2015, and pay $175,000 to the mother of a child who nearly drowned in a pool at a city camp last year, the statement said.