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Groton City Police release complaints while working on community relations

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Groton — Honking the horn of his police-issued vehicle at a bicyclist to warn him he was passing drew a civilian complaint against Sgt. Jason Brucker of the Groton City Police Department.

Officer Alan Chin, hired in 2015, was the subject of two complaints in 2019, one for telling a woman calling for advice with a domestic dispute, "I'm not your personal cop," and cutting her off during a phone call, and the other for banging on a resident's door and in another encounter, cursing at him and "flipping him off."

Both were exonerated following investigation by their superiors.  

The Day requested, and obtained, civilian complaints and use-of-force reports from Groton City and all area police departments as reporters set about reviewing police accountability in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and local and national protests against police brutality. Groton City promptly complied with the request for use of force complaints in early June and provided the civilian complaints, with the names of complaining parties redacted, later in the summer after discussions with the police union and city attorney.

The department processed five civilian complaints between January 2018 and June 2020. All were exonerated except Officer Katie Ellis, who receiving retraining on decorum after a civilian complained she swore at a 17-year-old during an incident outside of Cumberland Farms.

A sixth complaint, which ended with an officer's suspension, involved a personal issue and was not pursued by The Day. The department is currently investigating an additional three civilian complaints, filed in February, May and June of this year.

Police Chief Michael Spellman, who reviews and signs off on all civilian complaints, said the department of 30 sworn personnel holds officers accountable when appropriate and continuously seeks to forge strong relationships with the community.

He said when it receives complaints of rude or inappropriate officer behavior, the complaints become a "point of emphasis" for supervisors to observe officers and ensure appropriate interaction with the public.

Spellman said for its size, the department is probably the most diverse in the state. Among the ranks are two African American male patrolmen and a female sergeant who is Black, a Native American sergeant and patrol officer, a Latino female and male; an Asian male, and a bilingual dispatcher who is a Latino female. One officer has dual citizenship in Canada and the U.S., and among the force are officers proficient in Spanish, French, Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese and "a little Creole," Spellman said.  

In June, the city announced the Police and Citizens Together initiative, an advisory group that meets monthly for roundtable discussions of issues and concerns that residents raise. The PACT group is looking at a number of accountability issues, including traffic stop statistics, and officer use of down time. Last week, the group worked together to distribute 500 backpacks filled with school supplies and personal protective equipment.

In late September, officers began using body cameras, a tool expected to keep officers accountable and assist in investigtions of crimes and civilian complaints.

Bicyclist safety

In January 2018, a bicyclist complained to the department that Sgt. Jason Brucker, who has since been promoted to lieutenant, tooted his horn at the bicyclist when passing him in an agency vehicle on Thames Street near the intersection of Eastern Point Road. The bicyclist was riding single file, with another rider behind him, and had pulled to the left to make room for the other bicyclist after coming upon a parked car with a pile of snow in front of it. Brucker had given a short blast of the horn as he drove by to the left of the bicyclists and the parked car.

The complaint was withdrawn after the police reviewed the state law indicating that a driver "shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian or person propelling a human powered vehicle and shall give a reasonable warning by sounding a horn or other lawful noise emitting device to avoid a collision."

Spellman said Brucker was a competitive bicyclist at the time.

In February 2018, the ex-husband of officer Scott LeSage's then-girlfriend walked into the department and complained that LeSage was conducting unwanted surveillance on his family. The ex-husband wrote that he became concerned for his family's privacy after LeSage showed up when the children were exchanged for visitation and his wife received a text from his ex-wife with a description of his family's vehicles. The complainant also said he saw LeSage drive by his home at a noticeably slow speed in the officer's personal car.

Spellman said LeSage is no longer involved in the relationship and was exonerated.

k.florin@theday.com

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