Complaints allege mistreatment by New London police

"I was taken from a vehicle and choked by police and given a ticket for no seat belt."

This one-line complaint about treatment by New London police, filed in the spring of 2009 by someone who gave the homeless shelter as their permanent address, is typical of many filed against city police.

Common threads in the allegations are a lack of respect for citizens; a police stop for an innocuous offense, like jaywalking or not wearing a seat belt; and sometimes arrests on charges like interfering with police.

The complaints detail instances of alleged racial profiling, a motor vehicle stop in which someone claims to be targeted because of race, as well as police brutality.

I obtained a few dozen complaints, dated from 2009 to 2010, from the NAACP, which is taking aim lately at city policies, allegations of police misconduct, the alleged planting of drugs on a black resident, and Mayor Finizio's firing of the first black firefighter hired in more than 30 years.

The specific complaints that the NAACP passed along originally were copied and provided by Police Chief Margaret Ackley, and many of the incidents occurred before she became head of the department in 2009.

They have been reviewed by the NAACP and are sort of background noise as the group plans for its second town meeting this year in New London, scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Second Congregational Church on Broad Street, as they again encourage residents to come forward and make known their complaints about city police.

In discussing the record of complaints and the files they have obtained, NAACP officials told me recently that New London has a reputation among departments in southeastern Connecticut for being more prone to engage in racial profiling.

There are certainly no shortage of incidents in the complaints on file with the NAACP of police stops in which the person's race seemed to be a principal factor.

In one of these, for instance, a city resident said he was stopped for riding his bike without lights and was searched.

Another man said he was stopped because of the plastic rim around his license plate, which gives the name of the dealership. The car was searched, while the driver was made to stand, spread eagle, against the side of it, but police found nothing. A drug dog also was called in.

"The only explanation I could see for why I was pulled over was racial profiling," the driver wrote in his complaint, noting the excuse of the dealer's frame around the license. "Despite the fact that I am a law abiding citizen with no criminal record, nor civil one, I was treated like a criminal. Repeatedly asking me whether I had a criminal record made the officers' assumptions transparent."

Someone else who was stopped said police called him a "spook" and said "you fit the description."

One city resident, the son of a minister of a prominent church, said he was confronted for not using a crosswalk while crossing Truman Street to do his laundry. The officer spun him around, threw two consecutive punches and then arrested him, he said.

"I was compliant, dropped my keys and laundry money and lied face down with my hands behind my back," the resident wrote in his complaint. "After I was brought downtown, I heard the officers saying out loud, 'What should we book him for?'"

They deliberated for a while, then charged him with interfering with police and resisting arrest.

One of the worst incidents I saw was a description by someone who says he was stopped randomly while walking down a city street. One officer, who is repeatedly cited in the complaints for using brute force, started punching the individual and pushed him to the ground, kicked him and accused him of trying to swallow drugs, the man said.

"I hope you choke and die," the officer is reported saying.

Again, police apparently found no drugs.

Claims of physical brutality run disturbingly through the complaints, including an assault on a pregnant woman who allegedly spent two nights in the hospital as the result of her injuries. There is a lot of alleged punching, choking, kneeing, arm twisting and other aggressive behavior by police.

One especially horrific incident occurred at New London Shopping Center, where a complainant said he was stopped at gunpoint. Police, he says, took him into a nearby Radio Shack, ordered him into a back room, told him to strip and conducted a body cavity search.

Again, he said, they found nothing and released him out the back door of the Radio Shack.

That incident is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit, pending in Superior Court, against the city.

An internal police investigation, incredibly, found no misconduct.

The way police investigated the matter also bothered the New London Police Community Relations Committee, a citizens' panel.

By a 6-1 vote, the committee concluded the investigation of alleged misconduct by police was neither fair nor adequate.

But then Chief Ackley overruled their objections, saying there was no violation of specific policies.

No wonder the NAACP is worried, if police can drag a suspect into a back room of a Radio Shack for a body cavity search, as alleged, and get away with it.

This is the opinion of David Collins

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