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Bridgeport police officer charged with using unreasonable force, violating man's civil rights

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NEW HAVEN, Connecticut — A Bridgeport police officer has been charged with violating a man's civil rights by using unreasonable force during an arrest captured on video, prosecutors said Friday.

A grand jury indicted Clive Higgins, 48, the U.S. attorney's office said. Higgins pleaded not guilty Friday in New Haven federal court and was released on $50,000 bond.

His attorney, federal public defender Paul Thomas, declined to comment beyond his client's plea.

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 2011 following a car chase. It's unclear who recorded the video, which was posted online.

Prosecutors say that after another officer deployed his stun gun, Higgins approached the man, who was lying prone on the ground, and kicked him in the head and neck.

Higgins, a Bridgeport police officer since 2002, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. He was placed on unpaid suspension Friday, a police spokesman said.

"The use of force is an issue that both the city and the police department take very seriously," Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and Police Chief Joseph Gaudett said in a joint statement. "We expect a lot from our officers and the overwhelming majority of our officers do their job extraordinarily well. But when they violate the public trust, they need to be held accountable."

Bridgeport officials say they've implemented a series of measures, including attending a conference on the best practices in use of force policies, upgrading to new stun guns that have internal safeguards that prevent a deployment from lasting more than five seconds, and reinforcing reporting requirements when force is used.

The other two officers, Elson Morales and Joseph Lawlor, pleaded guilty in June to deprivation of rights under color of law. Morales and Lawlor agreed to resign from the police department and each face up to a year in prison when they are sentenced Sept. 2.

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

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

The victim 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 bruises and a fracture to his hand.

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.

All three officers seen in the video, which surfaced in 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.

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

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