Old Saybrook police officer suspended for 90 days
Old Saybrook — A 43-second fight in an Essex bar has led to a 90-day unpaid suspension for Old Saybrook police Officer Tyler Schulz.
The discipline, recommended by town police Chief Michael Spera in a "last chance agreement" and authorized unanimously by the Old Saybrook Police Commission at its regular meeting that included an executive session on Monday evening at Town Hall. It requires Schulz to pay for a psychological evaluation and obtain clearance to return to work at the end of the suspension.
The commission must approve any suspension in excess of 10 days.
The agreement also strips Schulz of his role as the department's K-9 unit coordinator. While he remains a K-9 officer, a provision requires him to get his canine Chase recertified due to prolonged absence.
Schulz, a seven-year member of the police force, was charged March 3 by Connecticut State Police with second-degree breach of peace related to an altercation at the Scotch Plains Tavern four days prior. He'd been on paid leave since his arrest.
Schulz's union attorney, Chip Walsh, said the criminal case was nolled, which means it was not prosecuted.
Spera in his letter to the commission said his recommendation was based on an internal review separate from the court case. While the chief did not believe the altercation rose to the level of permanently revoking Schulz's police privileges and did not violate the state's police accountability law, he said the officer brought discredit to the department and "may have lessened public confidence."
In considering consequences, Spera said he considered whether or not Schulz would be able to effectively continue his career with the necessary trust and respect of those he interacts with.
"The answers to these questions rest solely with Patrolman Schulz," he wrote. "His emotional and psychological state must be assessed by a professional qualified to determine if a person is psychologically fit to be a police officer. Equally important, Patrolman Schulz must desire and be diligent to repair relationships and earn the trust of law enforcement professionals, his supervisors including me, and members of our community."
The internal affairs report, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, said Schulz was at the bar as part of a 29th birthday celebration with a group of friends and family when the fight broke out.
The investigation by Old Saybrook Capt. Jeffrey M. DePerry included interviews with Schulz and 16 witnesses, video footage and photographs. The evidence revealed the alcohol-fueled, pool room fight stemmed from a verbal disagreement between Schulz and a 24-year-old man.
Schulz and the man considered themselves unofficial stepbrothers due to their unmarried parents' longstanding relationship, the report said.
Video footage showed the fight grew to involve nine people, according to the report. Schulz and another man were seen on camera pushing each other and grabbing each other "about the chest and neck area" and briefly choking each other. The report said Schulz didn't punch anyone but got punched in the face by two people.
The report said nobody involved wanted to press charges, some due to fear of retaliation. But state statute requires police to make an arrest when there is probable cause that family violence is involved.
Spera's April 6 letter to the commission said the family court declined to pursue the case as a domestic violence incident but state prosecutors at the time were moving forward with the criminal charge.
State police didn't know the fight involved an Old Saybrook police officer until almost two days later, according to the report. That's when retired Old Saybrook police Master Sgt. Jay Rankin, who is currently on paid leave from his position as a police officer in Old Lyme due to unrelated issues, called investigating Trooper Mark Roberts.
DePerry's investigation identified Rankin as the one who told Roberts the incident involved Schulz and his stepbrother. The report said Rankin asked Roberts if he could "help out" Schulz.
Schulz the following day told DePerry he'd reached out to Rankin to get Roberts' phone number after he heard state police were investigating the incident.
Spera in his letter said Rankin's description of the two men as stepbrothers led Roberts to pursue a family violence case.
About two weeks later, Rankin turned himself in following a lengthy investigation by Old Saybrook police into allegations that he used the n-word in an argument with a man pushing a shopping cart in front of the Old Saybrook Fire Department. He was a volunteer firefighter and a former fire chief.
Rankin denied using the slur to police and pleaded not guilty in court. He's next scheduled to appear in court on June 23, according to the State Judicial Branch website.
Rankin has been on paid leave from the Old Lyme Police Department for eight months.