A civil trial seeking millions in damages for police brutality after a Norwalk woman was punched in the face by a Stamford policeman during a parking dispute before an Alive @ 5 concert in 2009 began at the Stamford courthouse Wednesday.
The woman, Brenda Mazariegos, 44, and friends Sandra and Nelson Solis are suing Zach and the city of Stamford for a number of civil offenses including negligence, recklessness, assault, battery, false arrest and infliction of emotional distress.
The incident occurred on June 25, 2009, when Mazariegos and Sandra Solis were trying park in the Palms nightclub parking lot at lower Summer Street at about 3:55 p.m. Zach, who was working an extra duty job before the concert, refused to let them park.
He eventually let them through. Husbands Nelson Solis and Feliciano Mazariegos owned the Palms nightclub and Brenda and Sandra worked there.
As they tried to park, Zach demanded to see Mazariegos’ driver’s license, which she didn’t have. He ordered her from the car, grabbed her arms and pushed her into the car and told her she was under arrest.
According to Mazariegos’ lawsuit, Zach pushed Nelson onto the cement in front of a passing truck, which stopped before hitting him. The officer then pushed Sandra onto the cement before punching Mazariegos. The lawsuit alleges Zach “pummeled” Mazariegos after she fell onto the ground.
Zach handcuffed Mazariegos and left her in the back of a police cruiser. Her lawsuit alleges Mazariegos was bleeding from her nose and mouth and “had a hematoma on her forehead the size of an orange.”
During testimony Wednesday, a man who was driving a pickup truck about 20 feet away from where Zach and Mazariegos were arguing said he saw Zach hit Mazariegos four or five times in the face.
Under questioning by Mazariegos attorney Antonio Ponvert, Lt. Nick Montagnese testified that he heard Zach call for help over the radio and as he was running to the scene he saw both Zach’s and Mazariegos’ hands flailing about.
He said that he then saw Zach use his right fist to punch Mazariegos in the head once and saw her drop. Montagnese said he could not tell exactly what was happening before he saw the punch thrown. Presenting a huge photograph of Mazariegos showing a huge lump on her forehead, Ponvert asked Montagnese if that is what Mazariegos looked like after the assault and Montagnese said yes, it did.
When Ponvert asked Montagnese if the six-foot Zach punching the five-foot Mazariegos could be a potential lethal use of force, Zach’s attorney Elliot Spector objected, saying that the question called for speculation.
Montagnese said he only saw Zach push Sandra and Nelson Solis backward following the punch, not before. It appeared to him as though Zach was clearing his zone of arrest after the Sandra and Nelson Solis came rapidly came up behind Zach.
Montagnese said Zach complained to him that Mazariegos clawed his face and arm. During cross examination Spector showed pictures of Zach’s cut lip and scratched left forearm and asked if that is what Zach looked like after the incident. Montagnese said the picture was an accurate portrayal.
Zach is scheduled to take the stand Thursday morning and testimony in the case may end as early as Friday after Mazariegos takes the stand to tell her own story.
Prosecutors ended up dropping all charges against Mazariegos that included a felony charge of assaulting a police officer. Zach was placed on administrative leave a month after the allegations of police brutality surfaced.
Zach was eventually suspended without pay for about two months and was required to meet certain provisions –that included attending anger management classes- before returning to his job as patrol officer.