Council, community leaders want accountability in probe of Bridgeport cops
BRIDGEPORT — “Thank God for cameras.”
That was Councilman Ernie Newton’s reaction when he learned that 17 police officers were facing discipline for rule violations and possible criminal activity related to their response to an October 21, 2017 house party.
In total, more than 40 officers responded to what was described as a chaotic scene.
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Internal Affairs report cites 17 Bridgeport cops for misconduct
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According to a 405-page report by Bridgeport’s Office of Internal Affairs, which the city finally released to Hearst Connecticut Media on Wednesday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, “Multiple recordings of video footage surfaced which resulted in concerns over allegations of misconduct relative to physical force” used by a handful of the responding cops.
“It painted the picture of what happened,” Newton said Thursday morning.
It’s a picture that for over three months was kept from the public, community leaders and some elected officials. The report was completed on Nov. 16, 2018.
Newton said City Council members were only now learning about the details of the Internal Affairs report, and that he wants a copy forwarded to the Public Safety Committee, of which he is a member, “So we can look at it and make some changes as a legislative body.”
’The council should never be left in the dark,” Newton said.
Council President Aidee Nieves said Thursday morning that she was still digesting the report and Hearst’s coverage and declined immediate comment.
Internal Affairs wrapped up its probe of the house party three days after Mayor Joe Ganim swore in his longtime friend, Armando Perez, as Bridgeport’s permanent police chief, following a national search.
Perez had been acting chief since March, 2016. He and Ganim both declined to issue statements on the 17 officers Wednesday because one of them — Sgt. Mark Belinkie — killed himself in his Milford home Saturday and was being laid to rest.
Belinkie was accused in the report of failing to supervise other officers involved in the incident and of failing to provide medical attention in the police department’s booking area to a man arrested in the incident.
The Rev. Cass Shaw, head of the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport, has been part of a coalition pressuring the 3-year-old Ganim administration to implement policing reforms, particularly after a rookie officer shot and killed 15-year-old Jayson Negron in May 2017. Shaw had also encouraged Ganim during last year’s chief search to replace Perez.
“My initial thoughts are that none of us should be surprised that this happened,” Shaw said Thursday. “To have 45 officers respond to a noise complaint, and then have it develop into a chaotic scene... If the situation escalates when 45 officers show up, there’s something fundamentally wrong with the culture and training of the Bridgeport police force.”
Shaw said the news of the internal affairs report left her “very discouraged.”
“I do believe there are good people trying to make a difference, and would count Chief Perez as one of them,” Shaw said. “But he has not demonstrated the kind of leadership that has made a substantial change. And he’s got a very difficult road in front of him and needs to marshal the efforts of the entire community to address this.”
Hearings to come
State Rep. Christopher Rosario, D-Bridgeport, said Perez must be held accountable.
“At the end of the day this is happening under the chief’s watch,” Rosario said.
Rosario said he was troubled by the fact that the report found 11 cops were not truthful regarding the information they provided about the house party incident, particularly since the civilians involved were “people of color.”
Rosario also wondered why it is taking so long for the police department to punish those officers involved. Internal Affairs’ recommended that the 17 cops be referred to the mayoral-appointed Police Commission and to Perez for disciplinary action.
The Police Commission, however, has yet to schedule any hearings for the 17 officers. Commission Chairman Daniel Roach, a Ganim aide, said he does not comment on pending cases.
This is the Police Commission’s most complicated case in recent memory. And the large number of officers also means several defense attorneys will likely become involved.
John Gulash, a criminal defense attorney who has represented clients before the Police Commission in the past, said Thursday the current situation could “be a logistical nightmare” and that the volunteer commission members have limited hours they are all available to meet. But, Gulash added, in his experience the commission has always done a good job of getting hearings done.
He said it is possible some of the officers may reach disciplinary settlements with the board so that there are not “seventeen bitterly contested” cases.
“What remains to be seen is to what extent any of these matters are resolved ... by some agreement between the disciplining board and the accused,” Gulash said.