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Report backs claim that Derby cop made ‘derogatory/racist’ remark

November 23, 2018

DERBY — A claim that a Derby police detective made a racist comment during a July encounter with a group of teens was found to be substantiated in part, according to a copy of the an internal affairs investigation obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media.

This was one of several claims in a complaint filed by Jessica Matthews against four Derby police officers. Matthews said her 16-year-old son and a group of “primarily African American” friends were harassed and racially profiled after the July 3 Derby-Shelton fireworks.

The complaint alleged and the internal affairs investigation confirmed that Detective Benjamin Bartone said, “white boy wants to be like them,” to Matthews’ son, who is white.

“Yes, I did say ‘white boy wants to be like them,’” Bartone said in a statement to Lt. Stanko, who led the internal affairs investigation and has been Bartone’s supervisor for 11 years, according to the report.

Bartone’s statement goes on to add, “I meant that he wanted to act like the rest of the crowd which was disobeying the officers. He started to act like them, being loud, unruly and walking in the street and not listening to officer’s commands ...”

Stanko’s report said the claim that Bartone “made derogatory/racist comments is sustained in part.”

Stanko recommended a written warning for Bartone. Instead, the detective got a half-day suspension without pay after the investigation, according to a letter from Chief Gerald Narowski, who did not respond to request for comment Friday.

Stanko said that while the context of the statement, “certainly connotes racial and discriminatory intent (e.g. the white boy wants to act black) ... I do not feel that it was motivated by race, bias, or discrimination.”

Matthews did not respond to request for comment Friday. Bartone could not be reached for comment.

Stanko said claims against the other officers involved were unsubstantiated.

“The only ‘profiling’ that occurred was that of targeting groups of people, albeit juveniles, who were congregating in the streets, blocking traffic and disobeying commands,” Stanko said in his conclusion. “Race was not a factor in any of those actions.”

Bartone has been with the department for 15 years and has never had complaints filed by or against him related to racial discrimination/bias, the report said.

But Stanko said, “the use of ‘white boy’ in this context was unprofessional and not within the expected standards of how a Derby Police Officer should address members of the public.”

On the night in question, police were flagged down by a group of mothers and their children near Fifth and Elizabeth streets who claimed a group of juveniles were “threatening to shoot them,” the report said.

The report indicated the officers repeatedly asked the juveniles — some of whom the officers recognized as having criminal histories — to clear the area, adding that they were blocking the sidewalk and spilling over onto the roadways, which had been reopened to traffic after the fireworks display.

Though initially the officers were dealing with a small group of youths, at some point they joined another larger group, making it around 30 to 40 people, according to the report.

“It was very hectic and stressful. No one was listening to our commands,” Bartone said in a statement provided in the report.

Several teens recorded their interactions with the officers on cellphone videos that were reviewed by Stanko for the internal affairs investigation. In one video, Bartone said he didn’t have to give his badge number, the report said. Stanko said that was a violation of the department’s policy.

In a statement to Stanko included in the report, Bartone said, “I felt that being a police officer in uniform, with my name tag on the front of my uniform, was enough to identify who I am.”

Stanko recommended in his report that Bartone — and the rest of the department — get additional training on the requirements of officers to identify themselves when asked, tactics in crowd control, de-escalation techniques and peacefully dealing with demonstrations.

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