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Ex-Plymouth police sergeant convicted of beating detainee

A former Plymouth police sergeant was convicted on Wednesday in federal court in Boston of assaulting a handcuffed drunken driving suspect in November 2011 and falsifying reports on the incident, authorities said.

After deliberating for three hours, a jury convicted Shawn Coughlin, 47, of deprivation of constitutional rights under color of law and falsifying a record to impede a federal investigation, US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz’s office said.

“Quality policing cannot exist if citizens can’t trust that the police who are sworn to protect them use excessive force and lie about their actions,” Ortiz said in a statement. “It is very important to our entire system of justice that individuals who violate that trust are held accountable.”

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Thomas Drechsler, a lawyer for Coughlin, said his client asserted that he used reasonable force during the booking process.

“There was a videotape of the incident, and the jury made its decision,” Drechsler said. “Obviously, he and his family are very disappointed by the verdict.”

Drechsler said he did not know if Coughlin, who has no prior record and remains free pending sentencing on May 20, will appeal. He faces up to 30 years in prison, authorities said.

According to prosecutors, Coughlin struck John Leighton, now 28, in the head and kneed him in the body and later fabricated official police reports on the encounter.

In a recent court filing, Coughlin’s attorneys argued that “there is not one shred of credible evidence that the alleged victim, John Leighton, suffered any injury. There is no evidence whatsoever that he suffered a cut, an abrasion, a bruise, or suffered any physical pain.”

But prosecutors asserted in court records that Coughlin deprived Leighton of the right to “be secure in his person and free from the intentional use of unreasonable and excessive force of one acting under color of law.”

And, the government alleged, “Coughlin falsely stated ... that [Leighton] continued to resist by attempting to kick at the officers present” while neglecting to mention that he had struck Leighton.

A call to a number listed for Leighton in Plymouth was not returned on Wednesday.

Drechsler declined to say what penalty he might recommend at sentencing.

“Certainly I’m going to ask that the court consider the background of my client, and the lack of any [prior] record,” Drechsler said.

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