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Kulhawik explains Norwalk Police pursuit policy

Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik attends a NAACP Norwalk Branch event in January. (File photo)

Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik attends a NAACP Norwalk Branch event in January. (File photo)

NORWALK, Conn. – There are no plans to change the Norwalk Police pursuit policy, Chief Thomas Kulhawik said Wednesday, contradicting a statement made Tuesday by Common Council member Faye Bowman (D-District B).

Bowman, in explaining comments made at last week’s Health, Welfare and Public Safety Committee, quoted Kulhawik as saying the policy is open to review in the wake of the death of 22-year-old Vincent Fowlkes, which was originally thought by the public to be the result of a police pursuit.

“I was very clear at the meeting that there was no reason for us to adjust our policy as a result of this incident and that I had no plans to make any changes at this time,” Kulhawik said in an email.

Fowlkes died on Jan. 26 when the car he was driving hit a tree on Geneva Road. His brother, Shawn Bowman, 19, was seriously injured and is still in a coma, Council member Travis Simms (D-District B) said Tuesday. A Norwalk Police officer was following the vehicle but an internal police review, done with the Stamford State’s Attorney’s Office, found that the officer acted properly.

A state police investigation is still pending.

The incident stems from an attempted arrest at Colonial Village; the suspect ran and this was broadcasted over the police dispatch radio. An officer working an extra duty assignment nearby got in his patrol car and blocked the Colonial Village exit, police say. Fowlkes was not the suspect police were looking for but sped past the officer, driving up onto the sidewalk to get around the patrol car. The officer then followed him, according to the police account.

The police investigation used a Geneva Road resident’s surveillance video to establish that the officer was 12 seconds behind Fowlkes, the release said, mentioning that a large quantity of narcotics was found in Fowlkes vehicle.

Attorney Darnell Crosland represents Fowlkes’ family.

“We are adamantly against the position that any police officer would find it necessary to engage in a high speed pursuit through our city streets putting the public at risk of bodily injury or death,” Crosland said Wednesday night.

Simms said Tuesday that he thought the police press release was offensive, an attempt to publicly humiliate Fowlkes. Police should have some sympathy, he said.

“It’s a life that we are talking about. This young man had nothing to do with what was taking place over there at Colonial Village. As far as I am concerned, I think the police should have had a little more consideration and not made it so public and personal about the kid, and make it an attack,” Simms said. “…I think we need to be a little more sensitive. I thought it was pretty nasty that the police would come out and say he had drugs in the car, police record and things like that. What does that have to do with his life?”

“To say we were attacking anyone or attempting to humiliate anyone is ridiculous and I take offense to those comments,” Kulhawik said. “In fact I tried to be respectful of the family in seeking to meet with them to discuss my findings and answer any questions they may have prior to making them public in our press release. However, they declined to meet or speak with me. The reference to the presence of a large amount of drugs in the car is a simple point of fact that I felt important as it may go towards the reason they fled in the first place.  It is plausible that they may have thought officers were there for them or somehow involved in the other incident that was taking place in the area.”

Bowman said she held a moment of silence last week for Fowlkes out of respect.

“I thought it was appropriate to recognize the young man’s life. He was a Norwalk native and a graduate of Norwalk Public Schools. So, in that regard we want to always recognize that there was a life lost. We never want to see a life lost,” Bowman said.

Kulhawik, at last week’s Committee meeting, said the Norwalk Police pursuit policy is more of a state-wide policy.

NancyOnNorwalk was not at the meeting but obtained a recording.

“What you don’t want is for the pursuit to be more dangerous than if the person got away,” Kulhawik said, explaining that officers evaluate the circumstances, the likelihood of traffic, the weather and the offense the person fleeing is suspected of in determining whether a police pursuit is worth the risk.

Every pursuit is reviewed and a spreadsheet keeps track of incidents, even slow pursuits or pursuits that last a few seconds, he said.

“Very few are long,” he said.

Last year there were 14 pursuits, and “the vast majority were terminated immediately” or were slow speeds on a midnight shift with little traffic.

Some departments don’t pursue suspects, he said.

“I am not a fan of that because I think you are sending a message to flee,” Kulhawik said.

Most pursuits are in the evening or overnight hours, and can be as slow as 20 miles an hour, he said.

“You see that with some DUI’s,” Kulhawik said, in response to a question from Council member Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large).

Simms asked about probable cause; Kulhawik explained that the definition of probable cause is an action a person can be arrested for.

Police might pursue a suspicious vehicle, but that’s not probable cause and is justified only under the right conditions, Kulhawik said.

Simms was driving at a reason why Fowlkes was pursued.

“The suspect didn’t take off because of the police trying to stop him,” Kulhawik said, speculating that Fowlkes panicked and ran when police arrived because of the drugs in the car.

While technically, there was a pursuit, “The officer never was truly in pursuit, like right behind the vehicle,” Kulhawik said.

The pursuit was just over 60 seconds and the surveillance video was shot from a driveway 280 feet from the crash, he said. The 12 second time gap between Fowlkes car and the patrol car was a “great distance,” he said.

The video is not available to the public yet, Kulhawik said.

There are a lot of assumptions, Bowman said.

State police have reached out to the family but they won’t talk, Kulhawik said.

“Is there anything in the policy that you think should be a little bit stricter or changed?” Bowman asked.

“No, but we look at that all the time,” Kulhawik said. “We are always looking to improve so to say that it won’t be changed, I won’t say that. … It’s an evolving document, I am sure there will be changes over time but as I sit here today, I don’t contemplate a change right today.”

“Is there any steps that you are taking to prevent situations such as this fatality?” Simms asked.

“I can’t control the actions of others,” Kulhawik said. “In this situation, I don’t know if there’s anything we could change other than the actions of the driver of the car. If people are going to drive in a manner like that, I can’t prevent that. Nor could an officer, nor could a policy prevent that.”

Council member Steve Serasis (D-District A) asked how fast the cars were going, in the video.

“You see the suspect vehicle go past the driveway and it’s a blur. When the officer approaches, you can actually see and read the police car,” Kulhawik said.

There are also two other cars in the video, and you can see them going at a normal speed, he said.

The state police report should be out in two months, he said.

“There’s only six crash investigators for the entire state,” Kulhawik said.

On Tuesday, Bowman said, “In terms of the pursuit and exactly what happened, the important thing is we don’t know yet what happened.”

The state police have not weighed in yet and the Norwalk Police explanation “begs a lot of questions,” she said, and “I thought until the state came back with their results the Norwalk Police Department wasn’t supposed to be talking about it.”

“This is very strange as I thought this was all addressed at the Health Welfare & Public Safety Committee meeting last week as well as in the joint press release Supervisory States Attorney Colangelo and I issued at the conclusion of our internal review,” Kulhawik said Wednesday in an email.

“Basically, there were two separate investigations.  We investigate whether there were any policy violations regarding what occurred prior to the crash, and we asked the Connecticut State Police to investigate the crash itself.  We completed our investigation and determined that there were no policy violations and I had my findings reviewed by SSA Colangelo as an independent review and to assure transparency. He also concurred with my findings.  The State Police report on the crash itself will take some time as they have a large number of crashes that they are investigating and it takes time for them to finalize their reports and complete the full write ups. I advised that once that was completed and forwarded to us I would make that public as well.

“…Finally, I was very clear at the meeting that there was no reason for us to adjust our policy as a result of this incident and that I had no plans to make any changes at this time,” Kulhawik said. “I did make a broad statement at one point in the meeting that we always review all our policies as a matter of course to assure that we are in compliance with best practices. Accreditation standards also require that we review our policies as well as designate specific situations when we must review specific policies as well.”

23 comments

M Murray March 30, 2017 at 6:47 am

Let me see if I have this right. An -time convicted burglar/drug dealer/parole violator with a car full of drugs endangers the public by driving over a sidewalk and potentially endangering pedestrians to avoid a police roadblock should not arouse the police officer’s suspicions? And then this 8-time convicted felon takes off at hogh speed and elected officials who should be worried about the innocent civilians in their city wonder why the police would attempt to stop this convicted felon? And these elected officials charged with trying to keep their city safe from predatory criminals are upset because the police released the facts of the case after the internal investigation and review by the Top prosecutor in this jurisdiction? Where is their outrage that a young man chose to put the city at risk with his drug dealing, burglarizing, and racing through the streets of the city? Why are they not publicly saying that the driver of this car was responsible for his own actions? When will they publicly say that people should face the maximum sentence from fleeing from the police? Shouldn’t they be apologizing for jumping on this bandwagon of blaming the police for this felon’s death before they found out that he started driving like a maniac before the police even saw him because he was a drug dealer in a car loaded with drugs? Or that the police were norwalk t even in pursuit when he crashed himself into a tree? Will these politicians apologize when the State Police report comes out? Will they admit they are wrong, or will they take the Al Sharpton route after the Tawana Brawley fiasco and just continue to blame police for the results of criminals breaking the law?

Prentiss j elmore March 30, 2017 at 9:19 am

Wow, someone’s done their research. His name was Vincent Shaqui Elijah fowlkes. If you’re going to dive into his past at least have the decency to call him by his name.
This is just another attempt to condemn him by pushing the negligence of the NPD under the rug and bringing his past to the light. You use it to try and dehumaniz him and justify the negligent actions of NPD. A tactic that we have seen far to many times concerning police negligence and police brutality to not recognize it. You’re confusing people by straying away from the main point and feeding them information that’s irrelevant to issue at hand.
The fact of the matter is that there was a chase and the crash resulted because of the chase. In previous reports they are on record saying that they pursued the car Vincent Shaqui Elijah fowlkes was in because the officer involved thought it was the suspect they were looking for. But if they were suspected to be the individual they were looking and they pursued him wouldn’t that be a police chase? The officer involved has yet to be identified, why? In original reports no cops were harmed in the crash according to the police representative but the officer involved was sent to Stamford hospital for treatment. Who is this officer involved? Does he/she have a history or reckless behavior? Why are we not also doing our research on the officer involved in the case? Yet, you can give use the rundown of Vincent shaqui Elijah fowlkes past. Yet his name along with Shawn bowmans names are running through the articles like water. And again in this great nation we live in there is no accountability for the officer involved.

Donna March 30, 2017 at 11:06 am

I live in South Norwalk. Mr. Simms and Ms. Bowman are my duly elected Common Council representatives. However, I used to live in West Norwalk, on a street adjacent to Geneva Road, where the fatality took place. I walked Geneva road every day, and often at night with my dogs, so I know exactly how dangerous Geneva Road can be when cars take the road at high speeds.

I’m disappointed in my representatives. Yes, a life is a life. My condolences to the family. But by what metric was this fatality anything other than self-inflicted? Fowlkes’s 19 year old half-brother–also his passenger–is still in a coma. He may not recover. Fowlkes could easily have taken other innocent people with him. If there is a learning opportunity here, it should not be related exclusively to police pursuits. My South Norwalk Common Council reps should also focus on core values, doing one’s civic duty, driving within normal limits to protect the lives of one’s self, one’s passengers and innocent others. When Fowlkes fled, he endangered the lives of others to protect himself. That is selfish behavior, and lamentably self-destructive behavior. Also Faye, Fowlkes was not a kid. He was 22. But I guess in the land of eternal childhood and coddling that we have become in the US, calling a drug dealer a “kid” vacates culpability on the part of this adult who whose past suggests a history of illegal activity.

My sympathies to the family on the loss of a child. But to my representatives on the Common Council, I expect better from you. By all means remember the departed, but do the youth of South Norwalk a favor by inspiring them to do better and pursue a different path than the one that led to Fowlkes’s death and his half-brother’s life threatening injuries.

Also If I were you, I would not advertise that Fowlkes was a graduate of Norwalk Public Schools. It does not speak well for Norwalk Public Schools that they are graduating future felons.

Donna March 30, 2017 at 7:12 pm

Mr. Elmore I am sorry for your loss and for your family’s loss. However, in order to make sense of a senseless tragedy, rather than viewing this through the narrow prism of police brutality and police negligence, wouldn’t it honor the memory of the departed more to look for ways to avoid tragedies like this? I can think of at least ten things that could have happened differently that would have resulted in a different outcome for Vincent. The wisdom of a police pursuit is only one, and it’s not the largest one in my opinion. Vincent was a member of a family and of a community. Could nothing have been done differently for Vincent within these safety nets, or even BY Vincent that might have led him to take a different path than the one he took that night? It is disconcentlng to see multiple failures on multiple levels and have them digested into a simple but false premise–that Vincent died because of the NPD. I don’t believe that. And I don’t think you do either.

Prentiss j elmore March 31, 2017 at 1:15 am

Still avoiding the questions and facts I presented . You opinion is useless just due to the fact that , again, the situation isn’t being looked at as a whole and every party involved isn’t being held appropriately accountable. You, Donna , have no idea how I feel or how I should be feeling So can keep that along with your backhanded sympathy.
You’re nothing more than a micro aggressive racist hiding behind this facade of moral superiority. willfully ignorant to the situation as a whole. You, Donna, should be ashamed of yourself. To be so wet behind the ears that you just take information spoon feed to you without thinking it through. You lack critical thinking skills Donna. And judging by your name I’m sure you’re old enough to have had a basic grasp of it. Another failure of the Norwalk education system perhaps?
Your intelligence falls short in realizing that when the cop chased Vincent he to was putting the lives of civilians in danger and played his/her part in the accident. Unless cop cars have some sort of ability to pass through pedestrians and other solid objects that I’m not aware of. And again, as I’ve stated in this comment and the comment previously it’s all about accountability and for some reason or another it’s hard for individuals to stick with the facts of the case instead of wondering off into hypotheticals.
And the facts are that the car Vincent was driving was chased by the officer and his death and the hospitalization of shawn was a result of that that chase. Other than that it’s all speculation, especially considering the cops storyline changes and alters with each new news article that happens to come out and addresses it. Funny huh?
Lastly, Shawn and Vincent were brothers. Not half brothers, not a quarter brothers, they were brothers as are the rest of us.

Prentiss j elmore March 31, 2017 at 1:48 am

P.s.
a positive and progressive solution to prevent a situation similar to this would be having our police force be mandated to have body cameras on their persons and vehicles at all times. Something that every department in our country should be doing. Had that been the case we could all agree that this tragedy would be cut and dry. Correct? To my understanding out of all the patrol cars we have only two to three are equipped with the cameras. It gives off a strong negative impression that they might be more concerned with protecting themselves than the people they are paid to protect. Let’s not forget that our department already has a recent brutality case against them involving a man by the name of Cody green along with other transgressions against the community they are employed to protect. So yes, I stand firm on my position that this is a act of negligence and police hiding behind the blue wall.

Prentiss j elmore March 31, 2017 at 9:22 am

a valid argument, but if you saw the pictures of the car at the crash site you could see that the car was totaled. Funny enough NPD have yet to release any photos of the car at the site of the accident but was able to provide photos after the car and scene had already been compromised. How is it that the department can provide pictures of the accident after the car had been moved and the scene cleaned but no pictures of the scene at the time of the accident? If there are pictures others than the ones of the car in holding I haven’t been made aware of it.

Nobody March 31, 2017 at 9:32 am

Prentis, I find it interesting that you correct people on your brother’s full name and you fail to capitalize his last name. It’s pretty simple, he ran from police that were not even chasing him. He crashed his own car because he was driving irresponsibly with no one actually chasing him, the video seems to show that and I’m sure once it is released and we all can see that the conspiracy theory will be silenced. He made a bad choice, that’s all it comes down to.

Donna March 31, 2017 at 11:04 am

You got me, Prentiss. I’m a micro-aggressive racist. Thank you for calling me out on that. Feel any better now?

Casey Smith March 31, 2017 at 1:43 pm

The article stated quite clearly that there was a 12 second span of time between the first vehicle passing the video camera and when the Norwalk Police vehicle passed it. There was enough time for two other vehicles driving at normal speeds to pass the same camera. If you look at an analog clock and count off 12 seconds, it will turn out to be a whole lot longer than you may think.

Interestingly enough, in the March 11th issue of the Norwalk Hour, the article by Leslie Lake includes the following statement, “Police said that the officer attempted to follow the car north on Scribner Avenue but lost sight of the vehicle. Initially thinking that the car turned on to Richards Avenue, the officer caught a glimpse of the rear of a car turning north on to Geneva Road, police have said. Losing sight of the car a second time as he approached the intersection of Scribner and Richards Avenue…When the officer approached the area of 31 Geneva Road, police said that he saw the car had driven off the road and struck a tree.” Later in the article the police make the following statement, “The officer was never directly in pursuit of the fleeing vehicle as the vehicle was out of his line of sight a large portion of the time.”

It seems fairly clear that between the 12 second delay and the officer reportedly losing sight of the vehicle twice, this was not a high speed chase. The video footage and the police statements appear to be consistent with one another. While the Fowlkes vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed, it seems that the police car was not. The word “pursuit” doesn’t even seem to fit the situation well. “Trailing” would seem to be the best description in my mind.

Prentiss j elmore March 31, 2017 at 2:56 pm

Yes Donna I do.
And sorry nobody, a typing error on my part. For someone so concerned with names it’s interesting that you left yours out. Until that video is made public and all the evidence is presented I’m standing firm.

Casey Smith March 31, 2017 at 3:18 pm

The March 11th edition of the Norwalk Hour had a photo of the EMTs working at the scene. I would suspect all the photos of the accident scene have been turned over to the State Police for their investigation.

Nobody March 31, 2017 at 5:23 pm

Anyone trying to give facts to Prentis is just wasting their time. He isn’t interested in hearing anything. A simple google search of his last name as well as Bowman and Fowlkes will yield an understanding of why he hates Norwalk PD. Again, it all comes down to decisions. They’ve made bad ones and they want to blame others for the consequences of those choices.

THE TRUTH March 31, 2017 at 5:35 pm

Nobody
Actually the only one posting facts is Prentiss. Also until the video and the name of the cop responsible for this is made public, I would say its just another of the NPD cover ups.

M Murray March 31, 2017 at 9:17 pm

Let’s not forget that his wreckless and dangerous driving began before any police car was behind him. He drive up on a sidewalk, around a police car, and took off while the police car was stationary blocking the road. No one was chasing him. It is really pretty simple. Obey the law and stop when the police tell you to.

Donna April 1, 2017 at 11:32 am

Prentiss Elmore has posted very few facts but made abundant allegations and accusations. His rhetoric exploits the politics of victimization, especially when he accuses the NPD of negligence and refers to police brutality almost in the same breath.

All the evidence that has been released points to this: Vincent Fowlkes died as a result of injuries sustained when he lost control of his car on Geneva Road and slammed into a tree. The officer arrived on the scene a whopping twelve seconds later. Two other cars passed by at relatively normal rates of speed during the interval between the crash and the police car’s arrival. No other vehicle was described as a “blur”. The NPD lacks the wherewithal to stage this kind of elaborate coverup, fabricating video evidence and ginning up witnesses.

Mr. Elmore was very quick to call me a micro-aggressive racist and to use his own ageist profiling to make other deragatory and personal ageist comments. It is not difficult to see how the rhetoric works. When you call someone a racist, you can discredit what they say and effectively censor them. I’m the stereotypical invisible woman over 50. See, I can play this game too! Use the term “micro-aggression” and you score extra social justice points. I’m familiar with what passes for an academic, intersectional social justice vocabulary in 2017.

Police violence against unarmed people of color is a national tragedy. Video surveillance is an essential tool to protect the public from excessive use of force. But nothing like that happened to Vincent Fowlkes the night of his accident. The officer who pursued him couldn’t even see the driver because of the speed with which he fled the scene.. There is zero evidence that the officer’s pursuit endangered anybody. Vincent Shaqui Elijah Fowlkes’s recklessness took his own life, critically injured his brother and could have killed or injured innocent bystanders.

There is already a SCOTUS ruling on this.. In an 8 to 1 decision in 2007, the Supreme Court ruled against a plaintive who was a fleeing suspect in a wrongful injury suit. Their reasoning was that it’s not the pursuit that endangers the public. It’s the suspect’s reckless driving.

The family has the right to see the video. Not sure about the identify of the officer because of the inflammatory content on social media, including Elmore’s labeling the death as “murder”.

THE TRUTH April 1, 2017 at 12:33 pm

M Murray
Let’s not forget that as a retired Norwalk cop you seem to justify anything and everything the NPD does. Since you seem to be in the know, why not the right thing and name the cop that is responsible for this. . If you name this cop, the taxpayers as in his/her employer can do our own digging up old info on the cop as you did for the victim.

I am sure that you would agree the cover-up of name of the cop involved and the failure of the NPD to release the video is a bit fishy if this was truly done by the book

Nancy Chapman April 1, 2017 at 1:08 pm

The state police have the video. Chief Kulhawik had to go out of town to watch it. They won’t release it until the investigation is over, and they are undermanned so it will take them a while to write up their findings, he said. He predicted two months.

M Murray April 2, 2017 at 7:52 am

THE TRUTH is, that as a retired cop, I have visited headquarters probably less than 5 times in the 5 years since I have retired, and I have moved out of Norwalk, so couldn’t tell you the name of the officer if I wanted to . I would guess that half of the officers weren’t even hired when I left. The fact remains that the officer was not the one driving the car that crashed. The officer was not the one who chose to drive over a sidewalk to avoid a police officer blocking the road. The officer was not the criminal that decided to drive recklessly and endanger innocent people. People are accountable for their own actions. Let’s stop trying to blame the police, society, and everyone but the person who made the poor decision to not follow the law and his poor decisions that followed.

Nobody April 3, 2017 at 8:13 am

Thanks Donald and The Truth. Neither one of you have yet to provide any facts to back up your claims. I’m sure you have them as no intellegent person would make those conclusions without the proper facts.

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