Black Bridgeport PD captain files human rights suit over racist rant
BRIDGEPORT — Police Capt. Roderick Porter, until recently Bridgeport’s highest ranking black officer and a recent finalist for chief, has filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities over a colleague’s racist rants.
More specifically, Porter has challenged the city’s handling last year of comments by white Capt. Mark Straubel, a close aide of Police Chief Armando Perez, aimed at black officers in general and Porter in particular. Straubel retired Aug. 13 amid the controversy.
Porter’s attorney, Thomas Bucci, told Hearst Connecticut Media, “His claim is he was the victim of these racist remarks, and the city did not thoroughly investigate those issues” under the federal Civil Rights Act.
Instead, Bucci said, “The city took the easy way out and said, ‘He (Straubel) retired. We’re terminating our investigation.’”
Perez placed Straubel, a member of Bridgeport’s Finest for more than 20 years, on paid administrative leave last July after another officer filed a complaint in June with the city’s Office of Internal Affairs. That officer, Ken Kubel, a retired Bridgeport police sergeant, intercepted Straubel’s Facebook messages to a white woman who also worked for Perez and turned them over to internal affairs.
In one of the Facebook messages obtained by Hearst, Straubel allegedly wrote that he had asked an officer of color “if he had seen (the film) Planet of the Apes. He said…yes. I asked him if it made him homesick.”
In another message, Straubel stated that African-Americans are a “cancer” and he hopes for a race war.
In still another message, Straubel allegedly complained about having to march in an unnamed parade that he claimed involved mostly black people, and used a racist term to describe the event.
“No question he was directing many of those remarks against Capt. Porter,” Bucci said. “Any employer’s obligated under the Civil Rights Act to promptly and thoroughly investigate those comments and remarks.”
Bucci said he has seen a copy of the internal affairs report on Straubel and believes the case was “stopped short” when Straubel left the job last August.
Hearst for months has been seeking the report from the city under the state Freedom of Information Act. An initial request was filed on Sept. 12 and denied on the grounds that the Straubel controversy was at the time under review by Bridgeport State’s Attorney John Smriga at the request of NAACP leaders.
The NAACP wanted Straubel prosecuted for hate crimes. Smirga in late October concluded, “The content of the statements and the manner in which these were communicated clearly provided a basis to fire Straubel immediately. But despite their reprehensible nature, these statements do not constitute a violation of any Connecticut criminal statute.”
Following Smirga’s decision, Hearst filed a new FOIA request for the Straubel report on Oct. 29. That is still pending.
Surfaced during search
The Straubel controversy erupted during a national search for a Bridgeport police chief, launched by Perez’s good friend Mayor Joe Ganim, who promoted Perez from captain to acting chief in March 2016.
In late October, Ganim’s office revealed three finalists for top cop: Perez, New Haven Assistant Chief Luiz Casanova and Porter. Ganim announced his choice of Perez in early November and the City Council approved the chief’s five-year contract in December.
Bucci, asked if Porter is alleging that the Straubel case in some way affected his bid for the chief’s position, said, “Not at this point.”
Porter appears willing to move on from Bridgeport, where he currently oversees the police department’s community services unit and the school resource officers. He was was also a finalist in a chief search in Albany, N.Y., last year.
But Porter said leaving the Bridgeport Police Department was not a certainty.
“People who stop aspiring, dreaming or attempting to achieve goals become less effective and valuable to an organization. So I’m always aspiring, dreaming and trying to achieve those goals,” Porter told Hearst this week.
He declined to comment on his CHRO complaint.
Perez in a recent interview acknowledged “rumors” that Porter was looking at positions outside of the city. He said Porter is likely looking to apply somewhere he could be a chief or assistant chief.
“He’s an extremely, extremely bright man,” Perez said. “For me, if he left, it would be a great loss of not only a friend, but a great officer.”
Perez, however, suddenly reassigned Porter last March from his job running the detective bureau. The move came soon after one of the men Porter supervised — Detective Bureau Lt. Stephen Shuck — was arrested in mid-Feb. 2018 for allegedly abusing the payroll and overtime system. Perez at the time insisted “it was just coincidence.”
Were Porter to leave, the department would be back to having just one black captain. Sgt. Lonnie Blackwell is being made captain as part of a pending legal settlement resulting from his suing the city in federal court for discrimination.