Norwich fires police officer

Norwich - Norwich police on Monday terminated the employment of suspended veteran officer Douglas Morello for "non-disciplinary" reasons, according to a brief press release from Police Chief Louis Fusaro.

Morello, a 16-year veteran Norwich police officer, was suspended without pay for 90 days beginning Jan. 2, but remained on unpaid leave until Monday for reasons throughout the investigation Fusaro had said he could not discuss.

"On September 13, 2010, the City separated police officer Douglas Morello from employment for non-disciplinary reasons. The City otherwise is unable to comment regarding the matter," the entire two-sentence press release issued Monday afternoon said.

A source said Morello had a termination hearing with department leaders on Friday.

According to a heavily redacted police investigation report, an unidentified woman reported several incidents of being followed by Morello both in his police cruiser and on foot into local stores. The report described in detail the incidents, blacking out all street names, store names and references to the complainant, except to say that Morello worked the "West Side beat," which includes the busy Route 82 commercial strip.

In a Dec. 15 letter to Morello, also heavily redacted, Fusaro suspended the officer without pay for 90 days, but after 45 days, the remaining time was to be "held in abeyance absent of any further transgressions" for one year. But Morello never returned to work. In the same letter, Fusaro wrote that "separate and apart" from the suspension outlined in his initial discipline, Morello was "required" to do two things - also blacked out in the letter - to ensure "your continued employment as a police officer."

At the time the letter was released to the press, Fusaro stressed that he could not discuss any details due to privacy issues. However the chief said there was no evidence that the transgressions involved criminal activity.

The woman first complained to police March 6, 2009, saying she believed she was followed "a few times" by one officer and asked to meet with a supervisor to discuss the issue, saying she felt "very uncomfortable and vulnerable." She told police at that time that there had been previous incidents, but she at first had dismissed them as chance and later said she was afraid to report them.

On Nov. 21, the incident that led to the disciplinary action, the woman reported that she noticed Morello driving away from her direction, but soon turned around and was following her. She drove past the city border into a neighboring town and after a little while noticed that he was no longer following her. She complained to police for the second time after this incident.

"I had thought the issue had been taken care of, as I had not had any problems since the last incident in March," she wrote in an e-mail to police, "so I never pursued this further. During the incident this time I was again distraught over what was occurring and fearful that I may be dealing with victimization from an officer of the law, whom I am supposed to trust."

Police investigating the complaint said Morello had used the department computer database system - signing in using another officer's name - to look up motor vehicle records on the woman.

The Norwich police department has experienced numerous disciplinary cases over the past several years, including two others in the past two years. Former officer Jamie Longolucco was fired in December 2007 after he was arrested three times in three different southeastern Connecticut towns and was convicted on two misdemeanor charges stemming from an off-duty altercation in New London. Longolucco has filed suit against the city seeking monetary damages and to be reinstated.

In April 2009, Lt. Michael Blanchette was allowed to retire in a settlement reached one month after a termination letter sent by Fusaro. Blanchette had been arrested in New York City on a drug paraphernalia charge. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in that case.

c.bessette@theday.com

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