Civilian detention officers given warnings for Colorado Ave. incident
BRIDGEPORT — Two civilian detention officers at the Bridgeport Police Department were given a warning for their involvement in a melee back in 2017, according to officials, but apparently face no other disciplinary measures.
Thirteen police officers, two sergeants, one detective, one lieutenant and the two detention officers were cited for policy and procedure violations in a lengthy internal affairs investigation into how officers broke up a party on Oct. 21, 2017, and handled those arrested after the fact.
The officers involved — other than two who died by suicide and one who has retired — were referred to the Police Commission for disciplinary hearings. Those hearings have been ongoing for more than a year.
Testimony for the remaining officers still with the department wrapped up last month, according to Dan Roach, chair of the commission.
Civilian detention officers Jose Figueroa and Paul Humphrey — who were working in booking that October 2017 night — gave their testimony before the commission Sept. 17 for issues that Roach described as “very minor.”
“Now that the underlying facts have come out, we trust the Police Commission will make the right decision when they issue further rulings,” Sgt. Brad Seely, president of the police union, said in a statement. “The officers involved in this case have spent the last three years protecting our residents and neighborhoods. They deserve closure to a case that has dragged on for too long.”
The internal affairs report said Figueroa used excessive force in poking a partygoer in the chest hard enough to press him back into a chair after Figueroa claimed the man made a rude comment about his wife. When asked if the partygoer posed a threat to him or anyone else, Figueroa told investigators that the partygoer was “being a jerk,” the report said.
The report said Humphrey violated public contact when he repeated back a profanity that a partygoer said to him.
“Both sides agreed to a simple warning for them,” Roach said. “Charges were ultimately dismissed on those two.”
The internal affairs report painted a chaotic scene, with scores of officers descending on a Colorado Avenue home where a Halloween party was being held after a noise complaint escalated into a call for all available officers in the city to respond for backup.
Two partygoers filed complaints with the department, citing claims of excessive force and other issues during the night. An internal affairs investigation began soon after.
A sixth federal civil rights lawsuit was recently filed against city police stemming from the incident. Carmelo Mendez, one of the partygoers seen on video apparently being hit and kicked by officers while handcuffed, was granted a $342,500 settlement from his suit. Mendez’s sister, Wanda Mendez, and partygoer Jose Alvarado are also receiving settlements.
Internal affairs investigators said in the report that they found violations ranging from failing to call for medical attention to excessive force.
Roach said deliberations for the remaining officers are expected to start soon.
“It’s just a question of getting the material organized to get committee members together,” he said.
The disciplinary hearings were halted last year after the union that represents the city’s police force tried to get an arbitrator to rule to have 11 of the officers removed from hearings in front of the commission. Instead, the union wanted their disciplinary actions to be handed down by the police chief.
Ultimately, a decision was reached to proceed with the police commission hearings.
The hearings were delayed earlier this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Roach said the commission wanted to ensure they were able to hold the hearings, which were done in closed-door executive sessions, in person because of their complexity and importance.
Sometime the commission can reach rulings quickly — like in the case of the civilian detention officers. But Roach said the extended case is different; typically, the commission is only deliberating on one officer’s actions.
“Sometimes it’s just a matter of hours before we’re ready to make a decision,” Roach said. “I’m not anticipating anything to be done all that quickly.”
He said that the commission, understanding that the incident happened nearly three years ago at this point, also wants to try to speed things up.
“We’re expecting a minimum of a few evenings to go over all the transcripts and review the testimony,” Roach said.
While penalties for the officers will likely differ, Roach said the commission is still deciding whether it will announce its rulings on the remaining officers as they are made, or at the end.
Once each officer has been given a ruling — unless it is agree upon by both sides — Roach said the officers have the opportunity to appeal the decision.