Chief says police de-escalation efforts fell short at Bridgeport party
BRIDGEPORT — De-escalation tactics should have kicked into high gear, Bridgeport’s police chief said, when 46 officers responded to a 2017 house party that ended up erupting into a violent confrontation.
The call came in for a noise complaint — loud music — that October Saturday evening.
“This was a nothing incident,” Police Chief Armando Perez said Friday. “It’s not an unusual call.”
But this specific noise complaint quickly turned “chaotic,” according to a report by the Office of Internal Affairs that cited 17 officers and two civilian detention officers for violating department policies and procedures that night.
“You’ve got to have strong supervision,” Perez said. “The supervisors should have been more aware of what was going on. When they got there, they should’ve pulled everyone back.”
Doing so, he said, possibly could have helped relieve some of the chaos after a call went out for all available officers to respond.
De-escalation is something police academies and departments teach. Tone of voice and keeping distance between an officer and member of the public are things that matter, according to Louise Pyers, founder and executive director of Connecticut Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement, which offers training to police on de-escalation and crisis intervention.
“It’s important officers learn tools to be able to slow things down with a person, being able to talk softly, being able to calm the person,” Pyers said.
A lieutenant and a sergeant who went to the Colorado Avenue party were found to not have supervised the officers as they made their arrests, according to the OIA report, which details the timeline of events, including use of excessive force and various other violations.
The internal investigation began at the request of the chief, following two civilian complaints. During the investigation, which was completed on Nov. 13, 2018, 54 police officers were interviewed and several sources of video footage were examined.
Ten officers were found to have been untruthful about that night, according to the report. The investigation also found that six officers had used excessive force.
Two of the 19 people named in the report to have violated department policies and procedures were Officer Thomas Lattanzio and Sgt. Mark Belinkie. Lattanzio killed himself on Dec. 4, 2017, and Belinkie was found dead from suicide on March 2. There has been no link established between their deaths and the investigation.
The other 17 officers listed in the OIA report will now undergo hearings before the Police Commission, which Perez said are expected to begin later this month and would be open to the public.
‘Send all officers’
Tensions that October night escalated quickly — from a routine noise complaint to which two officers responded, to a cop calling for a 10-32 — code for an officer in need of immediate assistance.
“It’s one of the scariest, hazardous, dangerous situations a police officer can respond to,” Perez said. “It means there is a police officer in fear of his or her life, in imminent danger. It’s one of the most serious calls.”
The chief said officers often don’t know what they’re walking into when they respond for those types of calls. Sgt. Chuck Paris, president of the police union, said a 10-32 call is made when “all hell breaks loose.”
Initial backup was called within minutes of the two officers being on scene. Soon after, another officer that responded as backup got on the radio waves.
“Bring them, 10-32, send all officers over here, we have non-compliant individuals over here who are threatening police officers, send more officers now,” the officer told the police dispatcher, the report said.
The internal affairs report said the officer who called the 10-32 was threatened by one of the partygoers. When that code rings out, every available officer in the city responds.
“It’s all hands on deck,” Perez said. “Everybody drops what they’re doing.”
Forty-six officers responded to the party, which had about 25 people in attendance, according to testimony from one of the two civilians who filed complaints about police conduct that night. Perez confirmed the number Friday.
Months before the Colorado Avenue house party, the fatal police-involved shooting of 15-year-old Jayson Negron on May 9, 2017, drove the public to push for the department to have additional de-escalation training.
“Every member is trained in de-escalation,” Perez said. “Since implementing the additional training it has yielded positive results.”
The chief recalled an incident in September 2018 when two officers used their de-escalation training in what could have been a fatal outcome.
“Two officers on the midnight shift are in a parking lot near Rosedale (Street) and there’s someone with a gun,” Perez said. “They chased him and caught up and he says, ‘One of us is going to die here tonight. It’s either going to be me or you.’ ”
Perez said one of the officers was able to calm things down, disarm the gun and they were able to safely arrest the suspect.
“That’s de-escalation at its best,” he said.