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    Thursday, April 18, 2024

    State police watched as street takeover rioters jumped on car, blocked ambulance, report says

    Tolland — The town manager wants a review of how the state police handled a street takeover last weekend when officials say as many as 200 people drove recklessly, blocked an ambulance and surrounded, kicked and jumped on a woman's car.

    Connecticut State Police troopers were aware of at least three takeovers that occurred Sunday night and watched as the car stunts were pulled off in Vernon, Manchester and Tolland, according to a report obtained Tuesday by Hearst Connecticut Media Group.

    There were no reports of injuries, but Tolland Town Manager Brian Foley is calling for a review of how the troopers handled the situation.

    "I was informed today that the Connecticut State Police made a decision to 'stand down' and not respond directly to the street takeover," Foley, a former Hartford deputy police chief who was also a spokesperson for the state police, wrote in a Facebook post. "I completely understand how hard these decisions are for police commanders. Our citizens need to know that when they call 911 for help, help is on the way. ... I am hoping for a review of how this incident was handled."

    Foley said the police response was inadequate. Tolland does not have its own police force, so it relies on a resident state trooper and state police at the Troop C barracks in town for protection.

    Sgt. Christine Jeltema from the state police media relations office said troopers responded to the takeover in Tolland, but there weren't enough of them to shut it down.

    "There were uniformed troopers in close proximity," she said. It takes time to get enough troopers to deal with such a large number of people, she added.

    Foley also acknowledged on Monday there is not much a few troopers can do when faced with hundreds of people and cars.

    In the arrest report for one of the suspected ringleaders, state police noted that at previous street takeovers, their patrol cars have been boxed in and vandalized and a rioter armed with a gun once jumped on the hood of a cruiser.

    According to the report for the arrest of Norwalk resident Jefferson Duron, who faces rioting and other charges, troopers were conducting undercover surveillance as they watched up to 200 reckless drivers block streets in at least three towns.

    State police said they knew about the planned street takeovers from social media posts. Members of the Troop H barracks in Hartford worked with the Bureau of Special Investigations of the Connecticut State Police to conduct the operation.

    The first car meetup was planned for 8 p.m. Sunday. About 8:30 p.m., Troop H received calls from motorists reporting 100 to 200 cars speeding eastbound on Interstate 84.

    Troopers and detectives from the bureau followed them to a commuter lot at Exit 67 in Vernon, where they drove recklessly, "performing burn outs, donuts and shooting illegal fireworks off," according to the report.

    The trooper who wrote the report said he saw a gray, 2005 Ford Mustang GT being driven recklessly inside a circle of spectators, skidding sideways and performing other stunts, the report stated.

    The Mustang, whose driver state police later identified as Duron, left the Vernon lot and headed farther east to Route 195, or Merrow Road, in front of the Tolland shopping plaza, Fieldstone Commons, the report said. The other cars followed and blocked the plaza entrance and, according to Foley, also blocked the ramps leading to and from I-84 East.

    Police witnessed the cars blocking the path of an ambulance headed to a call with its lights and sirens on, the report stated.

    "The ambulance turned around and left in the opposite direction," the report stated.

    "We then observed vehicles doing burn outs and donuts with people hanging out the windows of the vehicles while the vehicles are being operated in a reckless manner," the trooper wrote in the report, adding that the 100 to 200 cars were there for "several minutes." Foley said Monday the incident lasted a half-hour.

    The report does not refer to the mob of people who surrounded a woman's car, and were seen on video kicking and jumping on the vehicle. The woman was not injured, but the car was damaged, according to Foley, who talked to a witness.

    The witness "was terrified," Foley said Monday, "and when he got home, he was shaking."

    Foley also posted photos of the damaged ambulance on Facebook.

    When the mob left Tolland, the drivers drove west on I-84 to the commuter lot on Buckland Street in Manchester, where two people were fatally shot during a similar car meetup in 2020. The undercover state troopers followed, watching "100-200-plus vehicles gathering and performing stunts using their cars. The cars included the gray Mustang, which was "doing donuts and burn outs around light poles and nearly striking the spectators," according to the report.

    The undercover troopers noticed the Mustang was the first to leave a meetup spot and the first to arrive at a new location, indicating the driver was organizing the illegal events, the report stated.

    Later that night, the undercover troopers followed the Mustang as it was traveling on Interstate 91 with four other cars. A uniformed trooper pulled over the vehicle and arrested Duron.

    Duron was charged with inciting to riot, first-degree riot, first-degree reckless endangerment, reckless driving and other traffic offenses, all misdemeanors.

    During his arraignment Monday in state Superior Court in Manchester, a judge ordered Duron to be fitted with electronic monitoring and not to drive a car without the court's permission, according to judicial records.

    The judge did not find probable cause for the charge of inciting to riot, the court records show.

    State police said they continue to investigate.

    As far as Foley is concerned, he hopes the situation will be handled differently if it happens again.

    "Moving forward, we're hoping there are some lessons learned on the response Sunday night, but also more importantly ... let's start looking at a plan to prevent them from happening in the first place."

    Anyone with information about anyone involved in the street takeovers may call the Troop H barracks at 860-534-1000.

    Staff writer John Moritz contributed to this story.

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