OLD SAYBROOK — A town resident is suing Old Saybrook claiming he was assaulted and tackled to the ground by two officers and falsely accused of driving while intoxicated.
The lawsuit, filed June 6 in the U.S. District Court for Connecticut, alleges that the police officers’ actions reflect a pattern in the department of inappropriate use of excess force, poor communication and rushed judgment. The suit also alleges that the town has repeatedly ignored “patterns of possible misconduct by its police officers” and that internal affairs investigations are only prompted after someone either complains or files a lawsuit.
Old Saybrook First Selectman Carl Fortuna declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying only that counsel has been hired. Katherine Rule, the attorney for Zarbo and Simpson, also declined to comment on the complaint. Wolak’s attorney Paul Spinella, Old Saybrook Police Chief Michael Spera and Simpson did not return requests for comment. Zarbo could not be reached for comment.
According to the complaint, town resident Scott Wolak was sitting in a car outside his home around 6 p.m. in late November on a phone call with a hospice nurse. At the same time, officers James Simpson and Joshua Zarbo had allegedly received a call about a white Chevy Silverado that was driving erratically. The lawsuit states Zarbo approached Wolak’s car — a black Cadillac Escalade — knocked on the window, and “falsely accused” Wolak of erratic driving and driving while intoxicated.
Wolak claims in the complaint that he did not believe Zarbo was a police officer because he saw no marked police vehicle in the area and left his car to use the restroom in his house. According to the complaint, Zarbo and Simpson then “violently assaulted the plaintiff, unexpectedly tackling him from behind, and bringing him forcefully to the ground.”
The complaint also alleges that, after Wolak was taken to a hospital, Zarbo “misled” hospital workers to believe Wolak was not injured. The lawsuit states part of Wolak’s hip bone was broken in the assault, as well as additional fractures and injuries to his legs and back. Wolak then spent a night in a detention facility in Old Saybrook.
Zarbo was later fired from the police department in February after an incident where he asked a dispatcher to look up a woman’s license plate to obtain her personal information, in the hopes of getting a date. In April, a judge approved his request for an accelerated rehabilitation program, which could allow the charge to be dropped in one year, according to reporting by CT Insider.
Simpson remains on the force.
The complaint references other allegations of police misconduct in Old Saybrook, including a 2020 incident involving a young man with Down syndrome who was accused by officers and police chief of stealing a street sign. The department has refused to release body camera footage of that incident.
The complaint also references two lawsuits filed by individuals who claimed to have been bitten by an Old Saybrook police dog. The department denied wrongdoing in both incidents. The same officer in charge of handling the police dog was arrested in March for an off-duty fight at an Essex restaurant, and later resigned after admitting to “participating in sexual acts while on duty.”
The lawsuit further claims that the town’s failure to conduct internal affairs investigations “fostered a top down culture of policy violations and related misconduct, particularly when the actual investigations are frequently substandard and based on systemic inadequate reporting by officers.”