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    Monday, May 27, 2024

    Old Saybrook chief didn't follow through on decertification of troubled officer

    Old Saybrook's police chief never followed through on his pledge to seek decertification of an officer who resigned amid troubling allegations six months ago, reducing the barriers the officer would face if he applies for jobs in other states.

    "This is just another example of how we can't continue to expect police to police themselves," said Claudine Constant, the public policy and advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut. "The fact that the police department didn't pursue (decertification), again, shows that they're only interested in protecting themselves rather than protecting the public."

    Last summer, a department investigation found evidence Officer Tyler Schulz had sex while on duty and was "untruthful under oath" and tampered with his GPS equipment to conceal his whereabouts.

    Schulz was already on thin ice with the department after previous misconduct, including an arrest in connection with his off-duty involvement in a fight at a restaurant, though the charge against him was dropped.

    Chief Michael Spera told the town's police commission about the latest allegations in a letter on Aug. 3, saying the town had reached an agreement for Schulz to resign, effective Aug. 5; the deal included a controversial promise by the town to do what it could to keep further details about the latest allegations a secret.

    Spera also told the town's police commission in that letter that he would submit a request to the state's Police Officer Standards & Training Council (POST) to decertify Schulz.

    But as of Jan. 27, POST officials said they had not received a request to decertify Schulz. A council official said POST cannot act to decertify an officer on its own; a department must formally request decertification.

    Records show Spera did notify state officials in mid-October that Schulz had resigned while under investigation and of the allegations against him.

    That move should prevent Schulz from being hired by another law enforcement agency in Connecticut.

    State law prohibits law enforcement agencies from hiring officers who were "dismissed for malfeasance or other serious misconduct" or who left while under investigation for such behavior. Schulz is now on a list of officers ineligible for employment at other Connecticut agencies, an official with the Department of Emergency Services & Public Protection, which oversees POST, said in an email.

    But because Schulz has not been decertified, POST will not submit the allegations against him to a national database law enforcement agencies use to track police misconduct.

    POST enters information about officers who are decertified in Connecticut into a national database, called the National Decertification Index. Law enforcement agencies nationwide check the database before they hire officers to see if they were decertified in another state.

    POST, however, does not enter information into the database about Connecticut officers who — like Schulz — resigned under investigation, according to Karen Boisvert, POST's academy administrator.

    Constant from the ACLU described decertification as "one way to make extra sure that a police employee with a history of abuse and violence can't be hired in CT or anywhere else in the country."

    "That measure is there for a reason," she added.

    Emails requesting comment from Spera were not returned by midday Friday.

    When asked recently for a request for comment for a previous story, Schulz told a reporter he would have her arrested if she contacted him again. Hearst Connecticut Media has not found evidence Schulz is seeking police work elsewhere.

    Alfred Wilcox, who chairs the Old Saybrook Police Commission, did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

    But commission member Jessica Calle said she planned to ask Spera why he hasn't requested Schulz' decertification.

    "It is concerning that he hasn't done it," Calle said.

    Still, Calle said she believes the chief is determined to get Schulz decertified. She generally approves of how Spera handled the Schulz matter, she said, speculating that perhaps Spera hadn't requested it yet because the department's investigation into Schulz may still be ongoing.

    "Does he need to be decertified? 1,000 percent," she said. "I'm certain that we all agree on that."

    "Schulz embarrassed our department. He embarrassed the chief, he embarrassed the police commission, he embarrassed the town," Calle added. "I know that the chief is doing what he needs to do, and there has to be a reason why he hasn't" requested decertification.

    Spera moved the decertification process along more quickly in the case of a different Old Saybrook cop who was found to be untruthful: in early 2022, Austin Harris was fired after he told his supervisor he broke his department laptop by braking to avoid hitting a racoon, according to a letter Spera wrote POST requesting Harris' decertification. Footage showed Harris in fact broke his laptop by drumming on it with his baton while listening to music, documents show. Spera submitted his decertification request on Jan. 11, just four days after the police commission voted to fire Harris.

    As for Schulz, his career seemed to be going well early on: in 2018 he was named Exchange Club Officer of the Year after Spera tapped him for the award, according to a Zip06 report.

    But trouble followed him over his remaining tenure with Old Saybrook police.

    In early 2022, he was arrested in connection with a restaurant fight; prosecutors ultimately decided not to pursue the breach of peace charge.

    He also has been the subject of two lawsuits over the use of his police dog during separate 2019 incidents. One of the lawsuits, in which a woman alleged Schulz ordered his dog to bite her after she was already pinned to the ground, was settled for $145,000; the second remains pending. In legal filings, the town denied wrongdoing in both cases.

    A recent Hearst Connecticut Media investigation into the second dog bite case found inconsistencies between body camera footage and Schulz's written account about the encounter, which he provided in a report that supervisors later approved.

    Law enforcement expert Kalfani Ture, who reviewed materials from the second dog bite case, said that based on Schulz's behavior during that case and his previous misconduct, he "should not be allowed anywhere near this profession."

    "(Schulz) doesn't have the temperament to be a police officer," said Ture, a former Atlanta police officer who now works as an assistant professor of African-American studies at Mount St. Mary's University where he focuses on the intersection between crime, public safety and race.

    But even if Schulz loses his certification, Ture said he would not be surprised if he manages to get a policing job in another state.

    "The desperation for police officers right now across the country would in fact enable him to make a lateral move," said Ture, adding that Schulz's K9 experience — and in fact that he was allowed to keep his department dog — might make him more attractive to departments."

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