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Complaints against New London police are wide-ranging; most deemed 'unfounded'

Editor's note: This article is part of a series about civilian complaints and use-of-force investigations conducted by area police departments.

New London — On a sweltering hot day in July of 2019, a woman was sweating through the heat to load her belongings into a U-Haul truck as she moved out of her apartment on Lower Boulevard. As she gathered the last of her things, the police were called to enforce her eviction.

Soon after they arrived, two New London Police Department officers allegedly picked up the woman by her arms and dragged her down a long staircase. She was loaded into an ambulance and hauled off to a hospital for an involuntary psychiatric evaluation that cost her thousands of dollars, according to a civilian complaint she filed against the police department.

In January 2020, a man was walking up Brainard Street from his home on Bristol Street when he was stopped by police, handcuffed, released and handcuffed again, he alleged in a complaint. He was surrounded by officers as they asked him about his whereabouts during a reported fight nearby, lifting him by his elbows to search him, he said in the complaint. After 30 minutes, he wrote, he was released. He'd had nothing to do with the fight.

In a complaint filed in November 2019, a person whose name was redacted from the form for undisclosed reasons said they were assaulted by a person they knew, then attacked by two more men. When police arrived at the scene, the complainant allegedly was told to “walk away” or be charged with public intoxication. The complainant was treated like a criminal rather than as a victim, they wrote, and no one listened to the details of the assault. The complainant was not offered any medical attention. A later hospital visit revealed a fractured elbow and severely bruised knees.

The Day is taking a hard look at civilian complaints filed against police departments across the region, part of an ongoing effort to investigate police use of force and accountability.

In New London, such complaints are sent to the chief, who is required to acknowledge they have been received, see that they are investigated and take disciplinary action if necessary. Each complaint gets a case number and is assigned for investigation. The chief is required to contact complainants within 60 days after the filing to tell them the results of investigations and actions being taken.

Chief Peter Reichard said an average of 10 to 15 civilian complaints are filed each year, and every one is thoroughly investigated.

According to Capt. Brian Wright, there are a few ways that investigations can be concluded. A complaint can be determined unfounded, meaning it is deemed false or baseless; sustained, meaning investigators find enough proof that there was an error in action or judgement and some type of further action is taken by the chief; employees can be exonerated, meaning the action or conduct was justifiable; or "other" if the results do not fit one of the other categories.

Between June 2018 and June 2020, 27 civilian complaint forms were submitted to the department, lodging a broad range of claims from police brutality to racial profiling.

Two resulted in some sort of discipline for officers involved. In 2019, Sgt. Cornelius “Neil” Rodgers was suspended after an investigation into a complaint found he used excessive force. In 2018, Officer Brendan Benway was penalized for failure to use a turn signal stemming from a complaint filed by a resident who saw and recorded video of Benway turning without a signal. The incident was handled internally and Benway was given the minimum discipline appropriate for the issue, Reichard said.

The NLPD accepts complaints from civilians for up to 10 days after an incident or the disposition of criminal charges. Officers who are complained about more than once are tagged with a red flag, Reichard said, so supervisors can monitor whether some officers are involved in use-of-force incidents or complaints more than others. Supervisors determine whether more training, including in de-escalation, would be beneficial.

Since June, when The Day filed an FOI request for civilian complaints, the department has received two more civilian complaints, totaling 8 in 2020. At least one is still under review, according to Reichard.

The complaints

The woman in New London, who alleged in her complaint that Officers Deana Nott and Greg Moreau dragged her down the stairs, said she “was the victim of police brutalization, excessive force and poor judgement.”

The woman knew she was being evicted and was about to leave, after hauling boxes all day in the heat, but needed to grab her wallet, keys and a few personal and sentimental items from the bedroom and put them into a tote bag, she said. Before she could do that, officers dragged her from her bathroom and down the stairs, where she was loaded into an ambulance, she said.

She filed a lengthy report, detailing injuries and medical conditions that were exacerbated by the incident, including an injured foot and heat exhaustion.

She said in her report that she had “asked several times to get my possessions, to take out with me, before I was yanked, pulled and knocked to my knees and dragged, with officer Nott pulling my pants down. I was dragged down the stairs, at that point disheveled, missing a shoe, with an already sore foot further injured by twisting, then sore knees and a sore back, and shoulders and arms.”

She called the incident “very traumatic and overly dramatic” and said, “I suffered greatly as a direct result of being aggressively manhandled and abused.” She was told that the investigation had been concluded and that the officers would not be disciplined.

According to Chief Reichard, the final determination categorized her complaint as “other.” He declined to further comment on the case.

In 2018, Nott was suspended for seven days and charged with third-degree assault for hitting a man in the face while he was handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser in 2016.

In the other complaint, the man who was stopped by police and questioned had just come home to New London from prep school in Florida and said he was confused and angry that he was detained, handcuffed and questioned for no reason.

“I have no idea why they chose me, I did not fit the description,” he said. “I stay out of trouble. I work, study and take care of my grandmother.”

“This incident makes me look at NLPD in a whole new light,” he wrote. “I felt disrespected that day from people I have always looked up to and respected.”

The final determination of this complaint exonerated the officers of any wrongdoing, Reichard said.

Another woman from New London alleged that one officer issued her a dozen $92 tickets in the span of two weeks for sleeping outside and putting her feet on a park bench. In her complaint, she said that she was once woken up by Officer Wayne Neff stepping on her butt and shaking her awake. She also alleged that when she told the officer she was going to record their interaction, he slapped her phone out of her hand and it broke.

She wrote in her complaint that the officer is “rogue, corrupt and spiteful.”

“I fear for my safety and my freedom,” she wrote.

Reichard said that in the course of their investigation, the officer spoke with the woman and she dropped the complaint.

In another, a woman from Norwich alleged that police officers mishandled their investigation into an alleged assault at the now-closed Brass Rail Cafe on Bank Street.

In a complaint filed in August 2018, she alleged that about 11:30 p.m. on Aug. 24 of that year she was at the Brass Rail when two women attacked her on the dance floor. She said a friend and a bystander both witnessed the attack but officers declined to take statements from them. Instead, she said, Officer Christopher Valerio accused her of knowing the women who attacked her and threatened to arrest her.

“I feel I am being treated unfairly and undermined by officers of the NLPD,” she wrote.

When she went to the department to meet with Capt. Todd Bergeson, after the case was reassigned to him, she said she tried to explain her situation and mentioned her post-traumatic stress disorder that is triggered by yelling and swearing. In response, she alleged that  Bergeson said, “I don’t care what you have” and yelled “get out of my (expletive) office.” Soon after, Wright took over the investigation, she said, and she was informed that it had been concluded.

“I cannot wrap my head around how the police can investigate one another, of course there will always be no wrongdoings, no misconduct. The truth needs to be told and not swept under the rug,” she wrote.

Reichard said that her complaint was determined to be unfounded.

Officer suspended

In April 2019, Xavier Goode-Sutton of New London filed a civilian complaint alleging excessive use of force. Goode-Sutton said in the complaint that on April 9, 2019, he was a passenger in a car that was pulled over by police. He had an active warrant on a charge of failure to appear in court and was taken into custody. He was brought to the Waterford Police Department, where Sgt. Rodgers handcuffed his right hand to a bar secured to a wall. The two got into an argument and Officer Zach Kelley with the NLPD grabbed Goode-Sutton’s left wrist in an attempt to grab his cellphone and then held his wrist against a table.

Sgt. Rodgers “jabbed me in the ribs and punched me in the face pushing my head up against the wall,” Goode-Sutton wrote.

In a police report, Rodgers recounted that he “screamed at Goode to stop resisting." He said, “Goode stated ‘(expletive) you!,' I then punched Goode on the side of his face once and then told him to give up his hands. Goode refused to comply, I then struck Goode in his stomach and then Officer Kelley was able to grab Goode’s left hand.”

Rodgers claimed that the use of force was justified, in part because a pocketknife was within Goode-Sutton’s reach and it was possible it was in his possession during the struggle.

An internal investigation ultimately determined that Rodgers' use of force was unjustified. He was suspended without pay for 20 days and referred to the training division for further training.

Rodgers, who is Black and has been on the force for more than 17 years, has filed a complaint against the police department with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities in which he alleges workplace discrimination and retaliation. He claims he has been treated differently than his white counterparts and has called on the NAACP and state officials to look into his claims. The city in March 2020 hired an outside attorney to investigate.

Goode-Sutton was sentenced to a suspended one-year sentence and one year of probation for interfering with an officer and disorderly conduct, according to court records.

t.hartz@theday.com

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