Former CT officer allegedly participated in sex acts while on duty, was 'untruthful under oath'
An Old Saybrook police officer resigned several months ago after the department found evidence he participated in sexual acts while on duty, was "untruthful under oath" and tampered with GPS equipment installed in his cruiser "to conceal his whereabouts," records show.
Virtually no other details about the conduct of the officer, Tyler Schulz, were shared.
Instead, the town signed a deal with Schulz agreeing to keep further information about his alleged misconduct secret unless ordered to release it by another agency, such as the state's Freedom of Information Commission, which handles violations of Connecticut's public records law.
For months, the police department has abided by the separation agreement the town signed in August, refusing to release records a reporter requested under the state's records law. Hearst Connecticut Media has filed a complaint with the commission, which remains pending.
"It's problematic all around that a public agency thinks that the public's right to know is something that they can negotiate away," said Mike Savino, president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information and a board member for the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government.
Savino noted the misconduct led to the officer's resignation. "If that's not a matter of public interest, then someone has to tell me what a matter of public interest is."
The agreement is the latest in a series of instances in which Old Saybrook has resisted transparency when officer conduct has been under scrutiny.
But the town's police commission Chairman Alfred "Chub" Wilcox, who has previously clashed with the department over transparency concerns, said he viewed the full investigative report and thought the town was correct to keep the details of the report confidential, "given the circumstances."
"In my mind it wasn't really to protect the officer as it was to protect the people he interacted with," said Wilcox.
In an Aug. 3 letter, police Chief Michael Spera reported Schulz's resignation to the commission, writing that Schulz had been "untruthful under oath" and "admitted to participating in sexual acts while on duty."
The department also "found evidence of him tampering with Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL) equipment to conceal his whereabouts while on duty," according to the letter, which does not provide further details about the allegations.
Spera at the time told the commission he would ask the state's Police Officer Standards and Training Council to revoke Schulz's certification to work in law enforcement in Connecticut. But as of Jan. 12, Schulz has not been decertified, a council official said.
At the time his employment with the town ended, Schulz was already working under a so-called "last-chance agreement" making it easier for Old Saybrook to fire him if he violated department rules. The last-chance agreement came after state police arrested him in March in connection with a restaurant fight, charging him with breach of peace. Prosecutors later decided not to pursue the case.
When asked for comment for this story, Schulz told a reporter in a text message he would have her arrested if she contacted him again.
Spera released the letter and separation agreement in response to a records request from Hearst Connecticut Media. He declined to release additional documents.
"The department will not be releasing the internal investigation, which is part of Mr. Schulz's personnel file, as its contents, if released, would be highly offensive to those involved including witnesses, victims, and subjects and would constitute an invasion of personal privacy," he wrote in an Aug. 23 email, citing an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act.
Spera also cited a statute exempting law enforcement records from disclosure when they pertain to "uncorroborated allegations."
Hearst Connecticut Media on Oct. 17 filed a complaint with the FOIC over the department's denial. The FOIC has acknowledged the complaint and is reviewing it. Thomas Hennick, the commission's public information officer, said he could not comment on a pending case.
Spera's letter said First Selectman Carl Fortuna authorized the terms of Schulz's separation agreement.
Neither Spera nor Fortuna responded to questions about why they agreed to keep Schulz's internal investigation secret and why they could not release a redacted version of the file.
'A matter of public interest'
Maria Haberfeld, a professor of police science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said it is not unusual for departments to agree to seal disciplinary information in order to get rid of an officer.
But, in her view, it's not a good practice.
"It creates an environment in which an officer potentially could apply to another agency in a different state and become an officer there," said Haberfeld, who has written five books about police ethics. "It also, in a way, sends a message that the ethical climate in this particular agency is not particularly well-developed."
Asked about officials' contention that the file was being sealed to protect civilians, Haberfeld called the explanation "very creative" and said she believed it more likely the organization is trying to protect its reputation.
"To me, it's very important that police organizations take a stand on misconduct and not try to cover it up," Haberfeld said. "It's the first step in creating better police-community relations."
Savino, the president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, said he did not believe the department had applied the privacy exemption appropriately.
Generally, for records to be exempt due to privacy concerns, agencies must pass a two-pronged test, Savino said.
"They have to do two things. They have to explain, first off, that it is not a matter of public interest, and then they, secondly, have to explain that this would be offensive to a reasonable person if this information was released," he said.
"A police officer's conduct while they're on duty — I would say that that's a matter of public interest," Savino said.
Police commission member Jessica Calle said she understood why there might be transparency concerns but also believed the agreement was intended to protect citizens.
"This isn't just involving an officer. This is involving a citizen as well. And as a police commissioner, I am responsible for the citizens," she said. "It's not going to be a solution to any problem if people saw details."
Still, Calle acknowledged she has not seen the investigative report.
Earlier transparency questions
Old Saybrook and its police department have a history of facing pushback for refusals to provide records.
In Oct. 2020, Spera invoked the "uncorroborated allegations" exemption when he refused to release the body camera footage of a police interaction with a man with Down syndrome. The man's sister took to social media to raise concerns about the incident, alleging police aggressively questioned her brother during a probe into a report of a stolen street sign.
Authorities later found the family had not stolen the street sign, but the post went viral on social media and sparked a police accountability protest.
Several outlets, including Hearst Connecticut Media Group, filed complaints over the department's refusal to release the footage with the Freedom of Information Commission, which ultimately sided with the department.
The material was exempt from release because it pertained to uncorroborated allegations, the commission ruled.
In another case in March 2021, the town declined to release the settlement agreement in a 2019 police brutality lawsuit alleging an officer's dog bit a woman who was already pinned to the ground.
Hearst Connecticut Media filed a complaint with the FOIC appealing the denial, and town officials reversed course months later, just two days before a scheduled FOIC hearing.
The settlement itself facilitated secrecy, barring the woman from making statements that "disparage, portray in a negative light, or otherwise impair the reputation" of the police department, the town, or its agents and representatives.
Most recently, the department clashed with a former Old Saybrook police officer who requested a copy of his own exit interviews. The department invoked the invasion of privacy exemption to justify withholding the record.
The matter went before the FOIC, with Old Saybrook's attorney arguing releasing the interview would constitute an invasion of privacy because it "attacks the reputation of the police chief."
But the FOIC ordered the document released, a decision Old Saybrook is now appealing in court. In a recent court filing, Old Saybrook contended disclosing the interview would "undermine the OSPD and its reputation."