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Bridgeport police union wants fewer cops subjected to disciplinary hearings

March 22, 2019

BRIDGEPORT — Eleven of the 19 people cited in an internal investigation might not face Police Commission hearings about their conduct during a 2017 incident, if the cops’ union has its way.

Rather than face the seven-member volunteer commission, 11 of those cited in an Office of Internal Affairs report for violating police policies would be disciplined at the discretion of Chief Armando Perez.

Some people aren’t happy with that.

“The first point of concern is them asking that almost all of the officers be taken out of any type of hearing,” said Callie Heilmann, president of social action network Bridgeport Generation Now.

The report concluded that 19 Bridgeport Police Department members broke various rules after cops were called to a house party on a noise complaint. When the Internal Affairs report was released earlier this month, it said the city’s Police Commission would have jurisdiction over disciplining those 19.

But Sgt. Chuck Paris, president of Bridgeport’s police union, said the group’s attorneys reviewed the Internal Affairs report and decided the violations cited for most of the officers did not meet a threshold to necessitate a Police Commission review.

As of Friday, Paris said he had not heard back from the commission about the union’s request for a reduction in hearings. He also said he did not have a list available of the 11 people for whom the change was being requested.

Police Commission Chairman Dan Roach limited his comment on the matter, saying, “Like any request, it will be reviewed.”

Paris said the union would avail itself of all legal recourse.

“We’re ready to take additional measures, which includes possibly going to federal court to have this reviewed,” he said. “We’re going to support our officers.”

Perez said Friday he couldn’t comment on the decisions of the union or its attorneys, but he said that what happens next would be up to the Police Commission.

Those Police Commission hearings that are held are to be conducted in private, as with other disciplinary cases in the department. But Heilmann said her organization is working to meet with the commission to talk about transparency.

“There’s no reason why the Police Commission can’t release a report outlining their findings,” she said.

The Office of Internal Affairs investigation was launched on Oct. 24, 2017, following two civilian complaints about officers who intervened as a party on Oct. 21, 2017. Two officers were initially dispatched for a noise complaint “that got out of control,” Perez said Friday.

As tensions escalated, police put out a call for more response. Forty-six officers ended up at the party, and seven people were arrested.

The Internal Affairs investigation, completed last November but not released until this month, found that two civilian detention officers and 17 cops violated department policies related to supervision, use of excessive force and truthfulness that night.

Three of those named — Officer Thomas Lattanzio, Sgt. Mark Belinkie and Lt. Robert Sapiro — already will not be subject to Police Commission hearings. Lattanzio killed himself on Dec. 4, 2017. Belinkie committed suicide on March 2. Sapiro retired earlier this month.

The Internal Affairs investigation began Oct. 24, 2017. The results were released to the chief and Mayor Joe Ganim on Nov. 13, 2018, by OIA Officer in Charge Lt. Brian Dickerson, who was transferred this month to a position with “less stress.” The results were obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media on March 6, after a January Freedom of Information request.

Perez said he was worried that with the Internal Affairs report being released before the hearings, the officers might be prejudged by the public.

“I think that (the report) went out premature and it hurts everybody,” Perez said. “It hurts the police department, it hurts the public, it hurts the people that are involved.”