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Ledyard police processed 17 complaint investigations in 2 years

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

Ledyard — Town police, a department of 24 sworn officers that covers a suburban community of about 15,000 people, since June 2018 has conducted 17 investigations of complaints against personnel.

The reports arrived at the police department in a variety of manners, including walk-in complaints, social media posts and internally. Nine of the complaints came from civilians and eight were initiated internally.

Out of the 17 complaint investigations, three were deemed unfounded, three were not sustained, seven were sustained and four were resolved administratively, either by offering training for the staff member in question or by working directly with the complainant. 

The department provided the civilian complaints and use-of-force reports in June within a week of receiving a Freedom of Information Request. The Day, seeking to review police accountability in the area as the public responded to the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, filed similar requests with all area police departments.

Police Chief John J. Rich said anyone in the department can take down a complaint, which can be done verbally or through a form at the department or on the town's website.

Complaints are then submitted to the shift supervisor up the chain of command to Rich, who gives it to a lieutenant for investigation. If there's an internal investigation, the officer in question is given a copy and a chance to respond; that response is documented as part of the final report.

Rich said it's important to secure any video or audio footage the department may have of the incident to provide context. He said sometimes complaints based on an officer's demeanor can be hard to parse out; an officer may be loud not because they're belittling the civilian, but because they're speaking over loud surroundings.

He also wants sergeants to have some authority to correct issues that happen on their shifts, where patterns of misconduct are tracked but a one-time issue could be resolved without a report.

In one case from February, a resident visited the department and then submitted a letter to Rich after Officers Kyle Dugas, William Beeler and Fred Whitlock came to her property to act on an arrest warrant for a person whose address matched the property. The woman said the officers started asking other family members on site before approaching her, and the wanted person in question died in 2017.

In his response, Rich issued an apology to the family and explained that the officers were attempting warrant service on a few calls throughout town that day — he attached a copy of that specific Paper Arrest Warrant Network, or PRAWN, call — and Dugas was undergoing field training. When they found out the wanted person had died, they left the property and updated both the PRAWN system as well as internal records to avoid further action.

Another case from the summer of 2018 showed proactivity on the part of the department when a resident complained not in person or via the form but rather on social media. When Rich saw the woman's post on Facebook, he reached out to her for more information, and they met in person to discuss the incident.

The woman said that a week or two prior, she had been closely followed and harassed by another driver while driving on Route 12, but after calling 911 and first speaking to a Groton dispatcher before being transferred to a Ledyard dispatcher, no officers came to help her. When she drove through Ledyard Center later that day, she saw two police cars with officers chatting. In her Facebook post, she wrote, "I needed you, and you didn't care enough to give me assistance. I couldn't sleep for days after that."

After searching through dispatch calls, finding that the call in question was about a month prior to the date the woman gave, and speaking with the dispatchers involved, Rich found that the radio of Ledyard dispatcher Jeff Smith had been on a setting that prevented him from transmitting. Additionally, all officers on shift at the time had been on other assignments; Detective Christopher Cadro, whom she saw in town later that day, had been waiting for a private duty shift for Eversource. Rich closed the complaint after meeting with the woman to explain the chain of events.

Of the seven complaints that were sustained, all but one originated internally, including investigations into misplaced documents, improper storage of a firearm, unprofessional conduct and workplace harassment.

In one incident in February 2019, dispatcher Jonathan Burbank changed into his work clothes in the dispatch center, unzipping his pants to tuck in his shirt, and when another dispatcher nearby asked him to change in the bathroom, he told her she was "lucky (he was) not free-balling it." In the report, Sgt. Alan Muench said the female dispatcher said that wasn't the first time that had happened, and he noted that Burbank had been the subject of five administrative investigations in the three years he had been there; he resigned the following July.

The department also filed nine use-of-force reports, all of which were found to be justified after investigation. Rich said the department documents every potential use of force for later investigation, including noting any injuries sustained and medical care given, as well as statements from witnesses and a narrative from the shift supervisor. All reports have to be submitted to a lieutenant within 72 hours of the incident, and all incidents in a calendar year are reviewed in December to determine additional training needs for the department in the coming year.

In September 2018, Officers Ryan Foster and Dan Gagnon and Sgt. Muench were assisting parole officers from the Department of Corrections on a parole violation and arrested Matthew Branch when they found marijuana and narcotics in his possession. While being processed at the department, Branch grabbed some of the Percocet pills being processed as evidence and attempted to ingest them.

Foster put an arm around Branch's neck to prevent him from swallowing the pills, and after verbal directions to spit out the pills were ignored, Gagnon, Muench and Detective Cadro attempted to restrain him, using three drive stuns from their Tasers before handcuffing him. Branch then was found unconscious, at which point Foster released his hold while an ambulance was called.

Branch was transported to Backus Hospital for treatment and returned to the department for processing. He was charged with possession of marijuana, possession of a controlled substance, interfering with an officer and destruction of evidence.

In the use-of-force policy and procedure review, which included review of the arrest processing video, Lt. Ken Creutz found the use-of-force measures of all four officers involved were justified to take Branch into custody and stop him from destroying evidence and harming himself by swallowing the pills. Creutz also noted that the Taser use by Cadro and Gagnon was justified and properly abandoned when it wasn't working to subdue Branch.

In May, Officer Noah Concasia stopped Paul Levels, who was walking in the middle of Indiantown Road carrying two bags. Levels, who appeared to be intoxicated, agreed to a bag search but told Concasia that he had a knife on him. Concasia found the knife during a pat-down and relayed his location to dispatch for backup when Levels started yelling into the radio and started pulling away. Concasia grabbed his arm and handcuffed him to the ground, resulting in some road rash on Levels' knees and forehead.

After arriving on scene with Officer Kyle Long, Sgt. Ernie Bailey decided not to arrest Levels for the minor offense due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Levels was driven home with his belongings. In the use-of-force review, including a review of video from the police cruiser camera, Creutz found Concasia's actions were justified, given the safety risk of being in the middle of the road.

Day Staff Writer Karen Florin contributed to this report.

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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