Timeline: How McDonald's hash brown spurred police civilian review board proposal in Westport

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A proposal for a Westport police civilian review board began in 2018 when a man was issued a distracted driving ticket. The man claimed the police officer mistook his hash brown for a cellphone.

A proposal for a Westport police civilian review board began in 2018 when a man was issued a distracted driving ticket. The man claimed the police officer mistook his hash brown for a cellphone.

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WESTPORT — Establishing a civilian review board in town is an effort that has been in the works for more than two years. The initiative hit a roadblock Tuesday when Westport’s Representative Town Meeting voted down an ordinance that would establish the board.

According to a presentation by the effort’s chief petitioner, Jason Stiber, most other Fairfield County towns have some type of police commission or review board.

Fairfield, for instance, has a police commission that “works with the police chief on matters concerning and affecting the Police Department,” according to the town website. Ridgefield and Darien were other towns Stiber mentioned with commissions. Greenwich was the other major Fairfield County town without a police commission or review board, but Stiber said its Board of Selectmen “handles all discipline including the investigations into civilian complaints.”

“Westport is behind the times,” Stiber said in his presentation.

Here is a timeline of some of the key events in the Westport’s civilian review board ordinance proposal:

April 11, 2018: Stiber is issued a $300 ticket by Westport police for distracted driving after police mistake the McDonald’s hash brown he is eating for a cellphone.

April 2019: Stiber is found not guilty after months of fighting the distracted driving charge in court. Shortly thereafter, he begins pushing for Westport to establish a citizen review board, which meets with mixed response.

July 2019: The RTM’s moderator reverses an earlier decision to withhold a proposed ordinance creating a civilian review board from an upcoming meeting, after several members argued town law was being violated. The moderator had originally expressed concerns that the ordinance conflicted with the town charter.

June 2020: First Selectman Jim Marpe annouces the creation of the Civilian Review Panel, a five-member board appointed by the First Selectman. According to the town website, the panel is charged with working “closely with the members of the Police, Fire and EMS Departments to diversify hiring, oversee the investigation of civilian complaints, and evaluate opportunities to improve transparency and accountability.” The panel includes TEAM Westport Chair Harold Bailey and selectwomen Jennifer Tooker and Melissa Kane, who were all appointed by the first selectman.

Stiber continued pushing in the summer and fall of 2020 for a civilian review board, because of the perceived weaknesses in the First Selectman’s proposed panel.

Oct. 5, 2021: After more than four hours of discussion, the full RTM votes 32-1 to defeat a proposed ordinance to create the board, with one abstention.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Stiber continued pushing for a civilian review board after the first selectman created the Civilian Review Panel.