Stonington first selectman accused of contradicting wetlands enforcement officer

Stonington - After wetlands enforcement officer Candace Palmer ordered a Greenhaven Road man to stop all work on his property three weeks ago because he was excavating wetlands without a permit, First Selectman Ed Haberek arrived and told the angry man he could pile brush for burning, according to a police report.

The April 26 incident at the 353 Greenhaven Road home of Mark Simmons, in which police were almost forced to draw their guns, prompted Officer Edward Cullen to write in his report that he had told Haberek he would document that the first selectman had told Simmons he could continue working after a town employee had told him to stop.

Cullen also wrote that Haberek entered the area after he had told the first selectman to remain off to the side so he would not inflame a volatile situation.

The minutes leading up to Haberek's arrival involved a tense standoff between police and an angry Simmons, who officers worried might have a gun and would try to run them down with his SUV.

But Haberek, who had been summoned to the scene by Simmons, said Tuesday that he only became involved because Simmons had asked him what he thought about the situation. Haberek, who is the town's acting Director of Planning and oversees Palmer's department, said Cullen was incorrect in stating that he had told Simmons he could continue working on the site. Haberek said he was responding to a request by Simmons' frightened 9-year-old son about whether he could pick up some sticks and debris on the site.

"I felt bad for the kid. I was just trying to diffuse the situation," he said.

Simmons said Tuesday that Haberek never told him he could continue working on the site.

In recent months, some planning commission members have alleged that Haberek has told some property owners they could do the work without first getting permits.

The controversy began when Palmer received an anonymous complaint that Simmons was clearing a large area of wetlands on his property. On April 23, she visited the site and told the excavator operator to stop work, but he refused. No one answered the door of Simmons' house, even though lights were on and cars were in the driveway. She then wrote up a notice of violation and mailed it to Simmons.

On April 26, she said she went by the site and found the disturbance had expanded exponentially, so she went to hand-deliver the violation notice.

She requested a police officer accompany her so she could get the name of the excavator operator. When she and police told the operator to stop work, he did. Then he called Simmons and told police that he aware he was working in wetlands, according to Cullen's report.

A police dispatcher radioed Cullen and Officer Earl Palmer that an "irate" Simmons was on his way to their location.

Based on that report and previous knowledge they had of Simmons, the two officers discussed how they would proceed if he was armed.

Cullen wrote that Simmons turned into the driveway with squealing tires and skidded to a halt before accusing police of trespassing. He and his son got out of the SUV.

When Cullen told Simmons they were escorting a town official to serve him with a notice of violation, the report states Simmons ran to his SUV. Cullen told him to stop and ran in front of the SUV, thinking Simmons was going around it. Instead, Simmons got inside.

"Based on numerous conversations about this subject in the station, I knew there was a remote chance he was going for (a) gun in his car," wrote Cullen.

He said Simmons then reached to the center console area with his right hand. He then placed his left hand on the wheel and his right appeared to be moving toward the shift lever.

That was when Cullen told Simmons that if he drove at him, he would be forced to shoot him. Cullen, though, never drew his gun.

Cullen then moved to the side of the car, tapped on the window and told Simmons he was interfering with a police officer. Simmons lowered the window a bit and told Cullen to hand him the paper through the slit.

Cullen told Simmons to act like a man, get out of the car and get the violation from Palmer, which he did.

Police did not arrest Simmons.

Palmer said Tuesday that Simmons has since discussed the issue with the Inland Wetlands Commission and will file an application for a permit.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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