2 Bridgeport police officers plead guilty to unreasonable force after man kicked on videotape


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BRIDGEPORT, Connecticut — Two police officers accused of violating a man's civil rights by using unreasonable force, kicking and stomping him in an encounter captured on a videotape, plead guilty on Tuesday.

Elson Morales and Joseph Lawlor pleaded guilty in Bridgeport to deprivation of rights under color of law.

The video showed police officers kicking and stomping Orlando Lopez-Soto after he was shot with a stun gun and fell to the ground in Beardsley Park in May 2011 following a car chase. It's unclear who recorded the video, which was posted online.

Prosecutors said Morales used his stun gun a second time after the man was effectively incapacitated and Lawlor kicked him several times.

"The use of unreasonable force during an arrest is not only a clear violation of an individual's civil rights but also gravely undermines the community's trust in law enforcement," U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly said.

The investigation is ongoing, she said.

Morales, 42, and Lawlor, 41, agreed to resign from the Bridgeport Police Department. They each face up to a year in prison when they are sentenced Sept. 2.

Morales' attorney, Michael Fitzpatrick, said he has "accepted responsibility for his role in the matter."

"We are prepared to proceed to sentencing with the hope and expectation the court will impose a sentence that's fair and just to all parties involved," Fitzpatrick said.

A message was left for Lawlor's attorney.

The city recently settled the case by agreeing to pay $198,000 to Lopez-Soto.

Lopez-Soto said in his lawsuit that he was motionless on the ground and not resisting when the officers kicked and stomped him. He said he suffered pain, a bad cut to his lip that left a scar, body and face contusions and a fracture to his hand.

All three officers seen in the video, which surfaced in January 2013, were placed on paid administrative duty pending a police internal affairs investigation. NAACP leaders at the time called on police officials to arrest and fire the officers.

Lawlor wrote in a police report that Lopez-Soto struggled with officers after falling to the ground when Morales zapped him with a stun gun. Lawlor said Lopez-Soto was wearing a gun holster on his belt, and officers later found a loaded handgun and drugs in Lopez-Soto's van.

Lopez-Soto pleaded guilty to drug and gun charges in July 2012 and was sentenced to five years in prison.

The third officer, Clive Higgins, has not been charged. His attorney declined to comment.

Lopez-Soto agreed with the disposition of the case, said his attorney, Robert Berke.

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