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Bridgeport police union wants some accused cops exempt from hearings

April 14, 2019

BRIDGEPORT — The city’s police union is turning to federal court in an attempt to allow 11 of the 19 officers named in an Office of Internal Affairs report to face discipline by the police chief instead of Bridgeport’s Police Commission.

The commission, which oversees hearings for any officer found to have violated department policy through an internal affairs investigation, has already denied the request. Sgt. Chuck Paris, president of the union for the Bridgeport Police Department, said the union filed an injunction in federal court to have a judge decide who should discipline the officers.

Paris said the union would appear in court in an upcoming open session to give its position, and that the city’s legal representatives could rebut the union’s standpoint on behalf of the commission.

Paris said he has been president for nine years and involved with the union for 22 years, said has never seen a ruling like this go to federal court before.

“We haven’t done this before — not with a Barros complaint,” he said.

A Barros complaint is any civilian complaint against officers. The term, known formally as the Barros Decree, began in 1973 with an established policy for the public to file complaints against police. The decree requires an Office of Internal Affairs investigation into the incident in question.

There were two Barros complaints in this case, filed on Oct. 23, 2017 by two men arrested at a party on Colorado Avenue two days earlier.

Their complaints, later supplemented by video footage, detailed what the men said was was excessive force by officers who responded to the party after a noise complaint. The excessive force continued, the two claimed, in the police department’s booking area, after eight people were arrested.

Police Chief Armando Perez requested the Office of Internal Affairs investigation into the actions of the officers involved, with an “initial specific focus” on Officer Thomas Lattanzio and Sgt. Paul Scillia.

It took more than a year for investigators to compile the 405-page report into the actions of 17 police officers and two civilian detention officers at the scene of the party and in booking at police headquarters, where eight partygoers were taken after their arrests to be processed and formally charged.

The Police Commission is expecting all available officers — two committed suicide before the investigation report was released to the public and another has since retired — to have hearings in front of the panel. Daniel Roach, chairman of the Police Commission, said the union wanted the officers to be subject only to discipline by Perez.

“Basically, (the union is) claiming that they’re not subject to discipline hearings from the board because these officers weren’t the subject of the citizens’ complaints,” Roach said.

But the commission and Bridgeport’s city attorney ruled that even though those officers weren’t specifically named in the citizens’ complaints, they still had to be present for a hearing.

“If the investigation leads to other aspects that bring in other officers, they are subject to hearings in front of the board as a result of those investigations stemming from a citizen’s complaint,” Roach said.

Paris said the union sees it differently.

“Their position is they still believe it should still be held in front of the Board of Police Commissioners, and we respectfully disagree,” he said.

Perez said in a previous interview he could not comment on the actions of the union.

Hearings for the other officers named in the investigation are set to begin in early May, Roach said.

He said the proceedings would be similar to what goes on in a courtroom: opening statements, witness statements, rebuttals and closing arguments. Each hearing could last up to three days, Roach said; some might take just one or two.

Officers have the chance to appeal any decision the board makes to the state, Roach said, but discipline would start immediately, even during such an appeal.

The internal affairs report details the night of Oct. 21, 2017, in various ways, providing a timeline and reports from the officers involved — including some who were not cited for misconduct. The report illustrates department policy violations, including excessive force, inaccurate reporting of the events of that evening and, for those higher-ranking officers involved, failure to supervise.

While the probe was ongoing, Lattanzio and Sgt. Mark Belinkie died by suicide. Lattanzio took his own life on Dec. 4, 2017, and Belinkie on March 2 of this year. There has been no link established between their deaths and the investigation.

Lattanzio was found by the internal affairs investigation to have used excessive force and to have been untruthful in reporting the events of that evening. Belinkie was found to not have provided medical attention to an injured person in booking, and to have failed to supervise.

Lt. Robert Sapiro, found to have failed to supervise officers that night, retired in March after being promoted to captain.

The internal affairs officer in charge of the investigation, Lt. Brian Dickerson, was transferred to a position with “less stress” in March.

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