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    Monday, July 15, 2024

    East Lyme police chief charged with additional crimes

    East Lyme Police Chief Michael Finkelstein looks on as his lawyer John J. Nazzaro speaks during an appearance in Middletown Superior Court on Monday, June 24, 2024. Finkelstein, arrested earlier this month on domestic violence charges, was served with two arrest warrants alleging additional crimes. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    East Lyme Police Chief Michael Finkelstein speaks with his lawyer John J. Nazzaro during an appearance in Middletown Superior Court on Monday, June 24, 2024. Finkelstein, arrested earlier this month on domestic violence charges, was served with two arrest warrants alleging additional crimes.(Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    East Lyme ― Police Chief Michael Finkelstein, charged earlier this month in a domestic violence incident involving his wife, was led into a Middletown courtroom in handcuffs Monday morning to face new criminal charges.

    State police served the 53-year-old former Ledyard police lieutenant and mayor with two new arrest warrants charging him with disorderly conduct, making a false statement and violation of a protective order. The latter charge is a felony. His initial bond on the new charges was $101,000 and he was held in the courthouse lockup before his arraignment.

    The new charges relate to a year-old allegation of domestic violence and his alleged failure to abide by a court order barring him from being in possession of any guns or firearms. Finkelstein was already due in court on Monday to face charges of second-degree breach of peace and disorderly conduct in connection with an alleged fight with his wife that turned physical on June 3.

    Flanked by judicial marshals and five other criminal defendants, Finkelstein had his rights recited to him Monday by Middletown Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Leaming.

    Leaming agreed that FInkelstein is not a flight risk and reduced his bond to a promise to appear in court but imposed protective orders on the new cases. Because of an existing protective order, Finkelstein is already barred from going to his East Lyme home on Marion Drive where he lives with his wife and four children.

    Finkelstein’s attorney, John Nazzaro, said Finkelstein’s release will allow him to immediately start in-patient treatment for “stress and alcohol management” at a location out of state. Finkelstein previously checked himself in to Middlesex Hospital for “stress-related” in-patient treatment, Nazzaro said.

    Finkelstein’s case was transferred to the family relations division of the court. He has also applied for the family violence diversion program which, if he abides by the court orders that include participation in family violence education classes, will allow all of the charges against him to eventually be dismissed. He is due to appear again in court on July 29.

    Nazzaro said Finkelstein’s wife attended court on Monday in a show of support.

    “I think the court made the right decision today to allow him to engage in treatment. He’s earnest in meeting his obligations not only to the court but to his family,” Nazzaro said after Finkelstein’s court appearance.

    The new charges

    The new breach of peace charge is related to a re-investigation by state police of an incident that led to a 911 call from Finkelstein’s wife. The 911 call brought East Lyme police to the Finkelsteins’ home on June 18, 2023 but it did not lead to an arrest. Instead they recommended she contact state police, the police report shows.

    State police major crime detectives said they reviewed the 911 call and reviewed East Lyme police body camera footage to look back at the incident where the alleged circumstances are similar to those that led to Finkelstein’s arrest by state police earlier this month.

    In the 2023 incident, Finkelstein’s wife called to report her child’s finger was lacerated and “there is a lot of fighting going on at the residence,” the police report states. Finkelstein’s wife told police that during the argument, he grabbed her by the chin, pressed a small remote control to the side of her nose and screamed at her, the police report shows.

    She told police Finkelstein also would not get out of the car, preventing her from going to the police department to make a complaint and forcing her to call 911. She also claimed to police that Finkelstein had called East Lyme police to tell them not to come.

    Finkelstein’s wife, in the 2023 incident, told East Lyme police there had been previous incidents of violence. Finkelstein had been drinking a lot, his wife claimed, and the two had argued over his texts to a female co-worker, state police said.

    When Finkelstein’s wife indicated to East Lyme police she wanted to speak with them inside the house, the warrant states that Finkelstein told her, “Do you think that’s going to get you anywhere?”

    “The Victim says (Finkelstein) is verbally abusive to her and the Juveniles. The victim says this has been going on for a long time and she is scared (Finkelstein) is going to do something he will regret someday out of anger,” the police report states.

    Finkelstein denied he was physical with his wife and claimed without evidence that his wife has a psychological disorder and “goes off” on things for no reason, the police reports states.

    A gun in the garage

    The second new criminal case is related to a firearm that state police say Finkelstein left in a locked storage container with a key available in the garage of his Marion Drive home in East Lyme after his arrest on domestic violence charges on June 5. A protective order was in place after his arrest that forced Finkelstein to turn over all of his guns and ammunition.

    After Finkelstein’s arrest, state police said that when asked about whether he had firearms in his possession, Finkelstein directed police to his department-issued handgun under the seat of his department-issued Chevy Tahoe. Police would later learn that Finkelstein had another personal firearm that he claimed he had forgotten about and was kept in the garage of his home.

    Police went to Finkelstein’s home on June 12 and seized the gun. While it was in a locked gun case, state police said it was in a bag “accessible to anyone who entered the garage and there were children’s toys and bicycles surrounding the bag,” the police report states. The key to open the case was on a shelf close to the gun, police said.

    Nazzaro explained to Leaming on Monday that Finkelstein had left the key to his personal gun near the locked container at his home for police. He argued it was a mistake that was the result of lack of sleep following his June 5 arrest, which occurred shortly after midnight.

    Judge Leaming, however, called the gun incident “disturbing” considering the young children residing at Finkelstein’s home. According to court documents, there were three young children at Finkelstein’s home, ages 1, 3 and 6 years old.

    Leaming imposed protective orders on the two new criminal cases, again barring him from possessing any firearms and going to his home.

    In addition to police chief, Finkelstein is the town of East Lyme’s emergency management director and a voluntary program manager at the Eastern Regional Police Academy, which is run by the Norwich-based Law Enforcement Council of Connecticut. The academy is not currently in session and Finkelstein’s status will be reviewed by the the LEC Board of Directors when the criminal investigation is concluded, Norwich Police Chief Patrick Daley, president of the LEC board said Monday.

    The June 5 arrest

    Finkelstein was first arrested by state police on June 5 following a 911 call to East Lyme police on June 4 from his wife, who alleged she suffered a bloodied nose and bruised chest from a physical confrontation with Finkelstein the night before. State police took over the investigation and charged Finkelstein with second-degree breach of peace and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors.

    Police said they determined through interviews with Finkelstein and his wife that the two had been involved in an argument that turned physical. Finkelstein claims he and his wife were yanking on his work phone when he let go and she hit herself in the nose.

    Finkelstein’s wife initially claimed, in an interview with East Lyme police, that Finkelstein was drinking and become “enraged” and struck her, put his hands around her throat and threw his phone at her when he thought she was calling one of his co-workers on his cell phone.

    State police met with Finkelstein’s wife later in the day on June 4 where she told a different story, corroborating Finkelstein’s story that the injury to her face occurred accidentally during a struggle for the phone. She told police Finkelstein had not thrown his cell phone at her but that the bruise on her chest was sustained during the struggle for the phone.

    Finkelstein was placed on paid administrative leave immediately after his June 5 arrest and barred from entering the police station. First Selectmen Daniel Cunningham, in a June 5 letter to Finkelstein obtained by The Day, said the paid leave was meant “to allow the Town of East Lyme Board of Police Commissioners and myself time” to review the allegations against Finkelstein.

    The Board of Police Commissioners has announced its plan to ask state police to conduct an internal investigation into whether East Lyme police followed proper procedure when handling the domestic abuse allegations against Finkelstein.

    Finkelstein has applied for a modification or elimination of the initial protective order. The application, which has not yet been acted on, includes an affidavit from Finkelstein’s wife who said she wants him to return home and indicates the couple will seek family counseling. Judge Leaming said on Monday she would not consider a modification of the protective order until a later date.

    g.smith@theday.com

    Editor’s note: This version corrects one of the new charges lodged against Police Chief Michael Finkelstein.

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