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Commissioners back Norwalk Police Chief’s handling of departmental probe

State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25), right takes questions on July 24 from Officer Mark Suda, left, and other officer in Norwalk Police headquarters. The shot is from a video taken by a police officer, and has been adjusted to present a horizontal view. (Contributed)

NORWALK, Conn. — While Mayor Harry Rilling sought to cool temperatures, two of Norwalk’s three Police Commissioners issued a sharp response to State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff’s statement Monday condemning Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik, made in response to the release of the Norwalk Police’s investigation report into Duff’s allegations.

Tempering her statement by referring to both Senator Duff and Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik as “professional, competent and ethical,” Commissioner Fran Collier Clemmons said in an email: “I have read the document and I am at a loss of understanding for the maligning of Chief Kulhawik by Senator Duff,” Commissioner Kelly Straniti dismissed the accusations as “baseless.”

Duff had publicized his complaints in September social media posts titled, “My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day at the Norwalk Police Department.” Claiming to have been “mistreated and spat at” July 24 when he’d gone to police headquarters to speak with union leaders about the police accountability bill making its way through the legislature, he described officers “storming” into a room to “intimidate” him.  Following the discussion, he’d gone outside for a side conversation only to have an officer step out the door, give him a menacing look and spit at him.

Then, as the lieutenant and another officer were escorting him to his car, “roughly thirty officers came out from the back of the police station to the public parking lot where my car was located,” Duff continued. “As I was driving away, it looked as if they were going to surround my car. Whether that was their intention or not, I don’t know, but it appeared to be another bullying and intimidation tactic. The message was vividly clear, ‘We are watching you.’”

The investigation released to NancyOnNorwalk by Lt. Thomas Roncinske on Monday in response to a Freedom of Information request found no evidence to verify those accusations. Roncinske, head of the department’s Internal Affairs department, said he’d reviewed video footage and interviewed 30 officers, capturing their testimony on video.  Video showed “14 officers went to the South Main St. parking lot and 12 of them stood by the sidewalk as Sen. Duff exited the parking lot. None of them approached or impeded his vehicle.”

There is no video camera in the hallway that Duff walked through to get to the community room, to meet the union’s executive board, Roncinske said, calling that the location that Duff alleged officers “used expletives to demand to know what I was doing there.”

When asked by Roncinske if they’d heard anyone say, “What the f— are you doing here” when Duff came in, 23 officers said they hadn’t. Officer Corey Vento reported that upon seeing Duff enter the building, he told the Senator, “You got to be kidding me.”

Eight officers said no one had gestured at Duff’s car as it exited. Officer Mike Silva “said a couple of guys raised their arms, ‘like oh great he’s leaving,’ like they didn’t get a chance to talk to him,” Ronsincke reported. “Officer Silva stated at that point they didn’t know the union had invited the senator and they felt he was taking a victory lap. I asked Officer Silva if he heard anyone say anything to Sen. Duff when he was leaving or try to block his car, he stated no.”

Officer James Yang said “it was the talk of the building” that Duff was there. Officer Edgar Gonzalez said, “one of his supervisors wanted to go out and say ‘hi’. They wanted to ask the senator some questions because they were unable to attend the meeting.” Officer Ariel Martinez said the officers went out “to show unity.”

Roncinske reported that Silva was 12 feet from Duff when Silva made the spitting gesture, for which Kulhawik suspended him for two days.

Duff, in a letter to Lt. David O’Connor, said he had seen 20 officers behind Silva, through the glass door.  Officer Mark Suda, who Duff was speaking with when Silva stepped outside, said he could see a couple of guys behind Silva, but he couldn’t tell who they were, according to Roncinske. Officer Joseph Macaluso is reported to have said that he was behind Silva and no one else was behind him.

Suda reported that Duff twice said he’d been spat at, according to Roncinske. “Officer Suda said to him that Silva spit toward the ground and if Silva had spat at him, he would have been spit at too,” Roncinske wrote.

 

Investigation not Duff’s idea

“The people of Norwalk should know that I did not ask for an ‘investigation’ and I am not particularly interested in the predictable outcomes from the ‘investigation.’ Duff said Monday in a statement. “”It’s pretty apparent this was a belated and weak effort by the police chief to paper over the problems he can’t fix in his department.  Between my experience and more recent, and unseemly, incidents involving Norwalk police, it should be clear by now to the chief that something is terribly wrong under his command.  The community I represent knows it; he should too.  If the chief doesn’t step up and be a catalyst for change, then our city leadership should intervene and implement the necessary corrective actions before the community loses any more confidence in the department.”

 

The Police Commission responds

NancyOnNorwalk asked the three members of the Norwalk Police Commission for a response.

Straniti wrote:

“It is perplexing to say the least, to call into question the integrity and ability of Chief Kulhawik when the Chief’s handling of this incident just reinforces what a solid and professional job he does. He investigates all claims and takes them seriously and had no problem disciplining the one officer who was found to have acted in a manner inconsistent with our Code of Conduct as a result of the investigation by making a spitting gesture toward the ground.  I find it troubling that Senator Duff accuses Chief Kulhawik of ‘coddling’ officers, while he asks for special treatment for himself, by stating that he didn’t want the findings to be released until after the election and further, to claim he did not want an investigation at all. Though he stated he didn’t want an investigation, it should be obvious that no one can make claims of wrongdoing against the police department and expect them to not be thoroughly investigated. This is one of the thing things that makes the Norwalk Police Department so great. Under the Chief’s leadership, the department holds officers accountable and looks into all allegations made.  No one can have it both ways, make accusations and then expect those accusations not to be investigated. Instead of apologizing for misleading the public in with inflammatory accusations, Senator Duff doubles down by blaming Chief Kulhawik and his leadership, in what looks to possibly be an effort to deflect the fact that this investigation showed that his version of the events of that day do not line up with what actually happened.  The video shows the truth, that he wasn’t surrounded by 30 officers, nor was he spit at It is sad that these baseless allegations were made against our dedicated, tirelessly hard-working officers who put themselves in harm’s way every day for every member of our community. Now that the facts have spoken for themselves I hope we can all move forward for the good of our community.”

 

Collier Clemmons wrote:

“I have read the document and I am at a loss of understanding for the maligning of Chief Kulhawik by Senator Duff.

“Each person, especially public figures and public servants, must be cautiously aware of the words used to display their displeasure to laws being enacted that affect them and to actions which one disagrees with. The escalating atmosphere of the last 11 months’ sequester, unclear path to ‘normalcy’, death tolls, police violence against citizens, calls for defunding police departments and laws enacted for police accountability have brought heightened sensitivity to all parties involved.

“Intentions, however well intended, often do not lead to the desired outcome. Recent events can affect one’s perceptions of fact when one has ownership in the discussion meant to clarify. Recall of an event is very often influenced by what you’ve seen happen to others.  It’s a much better view in hindsight to ascertain what words or commands would have affected a different outcome…. However, that advantage doesn’t always present itself in the moment.

“With the Senator expressing no desire for the incident to be investigated, the Chief did what protocol requires in a complaint and utilized all avenues of Internal Investigation possible, documented, including interviewing the Senator, to derive the truth. Yes… I believe a thorough and objective investigation was conducted by use of all existing and available tools to Internal Investigation. Lt. Roncinske is a thorough and expertly competent investigator whose reports are clear and extensive. I do not believe this was a gloss-over investigation.

“Chief Kulhawik is a professional, competent and an ethical person. Senator Duff, as I’ve known him, is a professional, competent and ethical person.

“On another day with the same intent to clarify legislation to affected members, the outcome may have been different. Words are powerful. One must be careful with inflammatory words and undocumented accusations about the capability of Norwalk leadership. It may arouse flames of untruth and fires that lead to dire and undesired consequences the ‘Fire department’ can’t contain.”

 

Rilling said, “I’m looking to move forward and put this to rest. We need unity which is so absent in the country right now. I know first-hand how professional our police department is and I also recognize the Senator’s efforts on behalf of our city.  I will be reaching out to both Senator Duff and Chief Kulhawik in an attempt to help us come together.”

Duff did not respond to a Tuesday email.

 

 

Duff’s police interview

Duff was accompanied by two attorneys and an advisor when Roncinske interviewed him Nov. 19, Roncinske wrote.   Roncinske had a detective and another officer with him.

“I asked him he was aware that the department has extensive video monitoring and he stated he is now. I asked him if he could identify the officer who said what the ‘F**k” is he doing here’ and he stated it was actually two officers and he could not identify them,” Roncinske wrote.

Duff said 15 or 20 officers came into his meeting with executive board members “with bullying looks, intimidation looks and he said it didn’t bother him,” Roncinske wrote.

“The senator said it wouldn’t have been productive if he got up and left because the other union members came in. He stated he just rolled with it,” Roncinske wrote, saying that evidence showed seven officers came in. He told Duff that 14 officers had come out to the parking lot.

“The senator stated this was based on his perception and he was not going to try and defend a number,” Roncinske wrote.

“I asked Sen. Duff if he thought Officer Silva was spitting at him or the ground and he said he didn’t think there was a distinction, it was the act. He thought he was doing something to make a point,” Roncinske wrote.

As for Silva’s menacing look when he stepped out the door, “Sen. Duff stated it was really difficult to capture the moment in a picture so he did not want to acknowledge that, you had to be there,” Roncinske wrote.

Roncinske also asked Duff about the Capitol Police cruiser that was parked in his driveway on and off for weeks, he said.

“Sen. Duff stated he never told the Capitol Police about the suspicious vehicle, he said Chief Casanova read it in the media and sent down a car,” Roncinske wrote.

 

 

Silva’s story

Silva spoke to Roncinske on Sept. 30 and explained that he had just finished a marine duty shift on July 24 and had come to headquarters to start an extra duty assignment at 3 p.m. and heard Duff was on the premises, according to Roncinske.

Silva said he made “spitting gesture toward the ground… to show his absolute disdain for the vote,” Roncinske wrote.

“He then elaborated that he had a phone call from his wife, she was in tears telling him that his son who was a new police officer was going to quit the profession because of the bill,” Roncinske wrote. “Officer Silva then stated he went to police headquarters from the marine base not expecting to see Sen. Duff there and he took it as the senator taking a victory lap and he was very upset and gesture was one of disdain. I asked what the senator’s reaction was and he stated he did not even know if he saw him make the gesture.”

 

 

Police union brass asked Duff about the bill

Det. Daniel Fitzmaurice, vice president of Police Union Local 1727, said he’d gone with O’Connor to Duff’s house, two days before the July 24 meeting.

“The senator relayed to them that the bill was necessary for towns like Bridgeport because their leadership was poor and city had so many problems and he was a big supporter of CALEA being statewide,” Roncinske wrote. “The senator said that was his part of the bill and he felt the bill was going through and there wasn’t much we could do about it.”

Roncinske wrote, “I asked him if there was any other reasons that the senator supported the bill, his impression was that his constituents believed the bill was necessary and he stated that in Westport and Darien people were protesting so he felt it was his obligation to put this bill forward,” Roncinske wrote, “Lt. O’Connor stated that when he was at the senator’s house the day before the executive board meeting he asked him why this (the bill) was necessary  and the senator said, from the 10,000 foot view looking down he saw Black Lives Matter and didn’t think it was a big enough movement to worry about, there wasn’t enough backers, there was not enough people involved and he didn’t worry about them politically, but when he saw soccer moms from Westport & Darien laying down in the middle of the street protesting he thought there was enough political capital for him to do something and that’s why he is supporting this bill.”

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10 comments

Sue Haynie January 27, 2021 at 6:13 am

This quote is rather ironic. “Roncinske wrote, “Lt. O’Connor stated that when he was at the senator’s (Duff’s) house the day before the executive board meeting he asked him why this (the bill) was necessary and the senator (Duff) said, from the 10,000 foot view looking down he (Duff) saw Black Lives Matter and didn’t think it was a big enough movement to worry about, there wasn’t enough backers, there was not enough people involved and he didn’t worry about them politically, but when he saw soccer moms from Westport & Darien laying down in the middle of the street protesting he (Duff) thought there was enough political capital for him to do something and that’s why he is supporting this bill.”

Bryan Meek January 27, 2021 at 10:04 am

Looking at it in the context of this case is just the tip of the iceberg of a much, much larger problem.

Hopefully more will wake up to the fact that not only is our Senator underhanded, but worse he is not very smart. A smart person would have emulated his hero Obama, cut bait, and had a beer summit realizing there was no win-win situation here.

This should tell everyone about what goes into his decision making process for the past 20 years as Norwalk continues to get shafted by state policies he supports.

Put this behind us, but take a look at the future. State property taxes on our homes to support his irresponsible spending to name just one more assault on taxpayers.

Crissy Spallone January 27, 2021 at 10:11 am

So, let me try to understand this. They gave the police all that time to align their stories, then based on their statements don’t find evidence? Convenient. Then they try to point out that it was only 14 officers that went outside to the parking lot and they were on the sidewalk, not the original number that Duff stated, and that they only stood on the sidewalk they didn’t approach him?. Anyone who has any common sense would know that they had no business following him outside anyway, to stand anywhere, especially in that large of a number. Stevie Wonder could see the point was to intimidate. All of a sudden now though “they were excited about him being there and wanted to talk to him”.
Then the reference about the officer spitting at him when the distinction was made that he spit on the ground and Senator Duff was questioned about it and his reply was “he didn’t think there was a distinction, it was the act. He thought he was doing something to make a point,” then the officer says himself that he did spit on the ground to show his disdain. Clearly you see the intent was there. Spitting at someone, towards someone,it doesn’t matter it is a clear insult.
Then the officer said something in regards to his son might not want to join the police force because of this bill. This bill is designed to protect civilians against Bad Cops. You have to question any cop that would have a problem with that bill. The points of the bill are:
Requires police officers and correctional officers to intervene when a colleague is using excessive illegal force.

Demilitarizes the police.

Entirely overhauls police training in the state.

Authorizes an independent statewide council to revoke the certification of any police officer.

Establishes a new independent Office of the Inspector General to investigate deaths caused by police.

These are all things to help protect civilians, so they don’t end up like George Floyd or more locally, Norwalk, Ernie Gaynor and more like him throughout the years; and this man’s son doesn’t want to be a cop because he can now be held to a higher level of accountability? Does he not even understand how bad this sounds? Do the police chief and commissioner not understand how bad this looks, that police will rally and cause any type of situation, whatsoever, because a bill could be passed that makes them accountable for their actions. Do we all forget that they are sworn to protect and serve? What is so sad tp me is seeing how many civilians side with this. I believe it would be safe to assume that those are civilians who live rather privileged lives and do not get to see what really happens in the streets of South Norwalk, or the housing projects or other areas that are low income, were mainly minorities and poor people live. These are the ones who need this protection. The ones who don’t have that privilege or that voice. Keep fighting the good fight Senator Bob Duff.

Peter Torrano January 27, 2021 at 11:36 am

Duff got tripped up by his own lies. Not surprised that he lied, but surprised he was foolish enough to think that he would get away with it. He then resorted to the time honored tactic of blaming others by besmirching the reputation and integrity of an honorable man, Chief Kulhawik. He then continues his harangue against members of the police department who had the nerve to question him about his politically motivated support of this destructive bill (read his own comments when the union president and another spoke with him at his home). Duff has backed himself into a corner and like any trapped rat would do he gets aggressive and attacks. I venture to say that even those who will rally behind him on this site and elsewhere know that he is wrong. But that won’t stop them. There are people not willing to give up a free (actually taxpayer funded) spaghetti dinner a week before election, or an ice cream at Duff’s house. It is more important to defend the indefensible than to just swallow it and say “sorry, I was wrong”. Duff’s ego and political ambitions for self importance will not allow it.

Priscilla Feral January 27, 2021 at 12:00 pm

The uproar that followed the CT police accountability bill at the Norwalk Police Department shows resistance to changes in policing brought by the law that’s in effect this year, yet most residents would likely approve of these new rules.

There are now adjustments to qualified immunity that protected police from civil lawsuit over their conduct, along with an obligation to intervene if police witness another officer using excessive force.

With excellent salaries of officers come high expectations for maturity and fairness, especially after a gruesome wave of national protests against police brutality last summer. I have confidence in the Mayor’s ability to help the city resolve conflicts and heal.

JOHN NELSON January 27, 2021 at 1:37 pm

Bob, behind you 100%. Can’t wait for implementation of this bill and formalized accountability. Long overdue

John O'Neill January 27, 2021 at 3:25 pm

THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE !!!! How many people do we know that show up to a police INTERVIEW with 2 lawyers and an advisor? Someone who was not under arrest and someone who just wanted to state their side of the story. Is there any way to find out who paid for those 2 attorneys?
I agree with most of what Collier Clemmons wrote. However to describe Bob Duff as Professional, Competent and Ethical must be from the distant past. Certainly he didn’t demonstrate any of those traits in this incident.
I’d like to go back to a point I’ve made before: Those that blindly supported Senator Duff without before viewing the evidence need to held accountable. They’ve proven that MOB rule is still present in our culture. I found that unconscionable, don’t you??
The potential damage to our city during the dog days of summer was high. Duff and his followers did not care about this.
The damage Duff tried to inflict on Chief K is a total disregard for your fellow man. His supporters don’t care.
BUT lastly, the disregard for the Norwalk Police Department for what turns out to be some bizarre political stunt crosses the line.
If Bob Duff’s actions are to be accepted by Norwalkers we’re all in trouble.
Lastly, I’d like to commend the members of the Commission for being straight with us. You have shown guts and integrity. So thank you. Those traits are sorely lacking in some circles of our political system. AND I don’t mean the Federal level.

M Murray January 27, 2021 at 3:40 pm

Officer Silva, it’s the middle of rabbit season. Let me know which two days and we will go hunting. The trip is on me.

JustATaxpayer January 27, 2021 at 8:24 pm

Oh the drama!! I will say, if 14 cops came out and an additional 12 were on the sidewalk, seems like a lot of downtime.

I’m still waiting for someone to lay out all the details how a police officer with a salary of $85k can take home $250k a year

85k + (number of OT hours * rate) + ( extra assignment hours * rate)

Last I looked there are 24 hours in a day. Someone isn’t keeping valid track of hours. It’s virtually impossible. Of course, if the rate of extra assignment is $1000 and hour, the math adds up. Firemen must have a big resentment against these numbers

M Murray January 28, 2021 at 8:23 am

JustATaxpayer- officers work an 8 hour shift on a 5-2, 5-3 schedule since they rotate through weekends. Since they work holidays they get 13 floating holidays. They getting 2-3 weeks vacation depending on seniority. Doing the math they could be off 149 days per year. That’s works out to a potential 45 hours per week they could work overtime/extra jobs outside their regular work week. That would be 85 hours per week total. In addition they can work an extra 8 hours per day during their regular work week. That is an additional 33 available work hours for a total of 118 work hours per week available to them.

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