Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Officer Jeff Vernatti Has Faced 3 Prior Civil Rights Lawsuits

The Belleville police officer being sued after arresting a man wearing a T-shirt printed with the word "Police" has faced three prior federal civil rights lawsuits since 1999 -- two since he's worked for the Belleville Police Department.

Both of those suits resulted in settlements for the plaintiffs.

Last week, Adam Weinstein, of Missouri sued Belleville police Officer Jeff Vernatti, who is president of the police officer's union, after Weinstein's arrest at a Christmas party on Dec. 23, 2006, at Crehan's Bar in Belleville.

Weinstein's lawsuit accuses Vernatti of abusing and falsely arresting Weinstein.

Weinstein, 36, was wearing an undershirt with the word "Police" on it.

The officers asked Weinstein, an emergency medical technician and licensed security officer, for his police credentials and when Weinstein told them he didn't have any, he claims Vernatti, 39, placed handcuffs tightly around his wrists, twisted his wrists, then shoved him against a police car and into the back seat.

Weinstein was ticketed for impersonating a police officer, but that charge was later dropped.

Belleville Police Capt. Don Sax declined to comment on the suit on the advice of the department's lawyer. He also said he couldn't comment on whether Vernatti ever faced discipline at the department because it was a personnel issue.

Weinstein's suit was filed in circuit court in Belleville, but the three other suits were filed in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis.

In 2005, a Belleville man sued Vernatti after he alleged Vernatti used a Taser on him after a rollover accident. Bryan Joseph Schmittling's suit alleged Vernatti failed to provide medical attention for Schmittling's broken shoulder after the one-car crash on Dec. 20, 2004.

The suit further alleged that Vernatti, then the department's Taser trainer, called Schmittling obscene names, then used the Taser on him three or four times until Schmittling, who stated he was not resisting arrest, lost control of his bowels.

Four years earlier, Arben Milleson, of Mascoutah, filed suit, alleging he was beaten by Vernatti and six other officers after an arrest on Feb. 15, 2000.

Milleson and Schmittling settled their cases and signed a confidentiality agreement not to disclose the terms of the settlement.

Vernatti also was sued in 1999 when he worked for the Shiloh Police Department, but that suit was dismissed after the plaintiff, Tommy Lee Maxwell Jr., failed to file an amended complaint.

Vernatti has worked for the Belleville Police Department since 1999.

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