NORWALK, Conn. — State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) says he was “mistreated and spat at” this summer in a meeting with Norwalk Police officers. Duff characterizes the officers’ behavior, in the wake of the passage of a controversial police accountability bill, as “rude, abusive and outright unprofessional.”
Duff made those comments to Norwalk Police Union President Lt. David O’Connor in a Aug. 20 letter, provided to NancyOnNorwalk by O’Connor on Wednesday, describing events that occurred July 24. Duff also said, in a Wednesday interview with NancyOnNorwalk, that after the bill was passed in July someone drove by his house two times a day, for two weeks, yelling at the house. He suspects it was an off-duty Norwalk Police officer.
On Wednesday, a State Capitol Police cruiser was parked in Duff’s driveway.
“The State Capitol Police are a wonderful and dedicated group of men and women. I cannot comment on the measures these professional officers take to ensure the safety of those they are sworn to protect,” Duff wrote when asked about that.
Duff had earlier said that the harassing driver hadn’t come by for a few weeks. Duff’s complaints about Norwalk Police were publicized in articles published Monday and Tuesday by Hearst Media and the Hartford Courant and have drawn many comments on social media.
O’Connor on Wednesday disputed Duff’s version of the events at police headquarters, while agreeing that the officers’ behavior was less than ideal. O’Connor indicated he is perplexed as to why Duff is protesting what occurred now, after initially seeming to take in stride.
“I am aware of the situation and have heard conflicting versions from those involved,” Mayor Harry Rilling said. “It is quite clear there was tension and unfortunate incidents at the police department on the day of Senator Duff’s visit. I have already spoken with Chief Kulhawik who is looking into this matter.”
“The whole situation is very disappointing,” Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik said. “I’m disappointed that it occurred at all and disappointed that several weeks later, as emotions have calmed, it has been highly publicized for whatever reasons when we are scheduled to meet later this week. I recall it was a very emotional time for officers as well as members in the legislature as the police bill was being debated and voted upon. There was a lot of unknowns at that time.”
Although many people understood Duff to mean he’d been spit on, on Wednesday he explained that he was “spat at:” the officer, who he has known for years, spat on the ground near him, he said.
“I still firmly believe most Norwalk Police officers work hard, do their job but I do also believe that the department needs to do some soul searching,” Duff said.
Greeted by obscenities
Duff publicized his complaints Tuesday on the social media site Next Door, titling the post “My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day at the Norwalk Police Department.”
In his Aug. 20 letter, Duff said there is “no doubt” about what he “vividly remembers” about Friday, July 24.
Officers “showed their true colors” by saying, “What the f**k is he doing here?” as he walked down the hallway to the police headquarters community room, Duff wrote. He had agreed to meet with the union’s executive board but other officers “stormed the room as a show of force to try and intimidate me,” he said.
In a “moment I will never forget,” after the meeting ended, he walked outside the community room with an officer who is not on the executive board, he said.
“As we were talking, the single door opened and I saw one of your officers and about twenty other officers behind him,” Duff wrote. “He then looked at me in a menacing manner, and spit at me. Yes, spit at me. I was shocked and could not believe this was the Department I have supported my entire legislative career.”
He continued, “As soon as that happened, a Lieutenant told me I should leave the headquarters immediately. Dumbfounded, I asked him to repeat himself. He then stated again that I should leave. I then inquired if my safety was in danger. The Lieutenant responded that officers were angry. Should any taxpaying resident, much less an invited guest, even have to ask if he or she is safe at the Norwalk Police Department?”
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.’”
‘They’ll say something stupid’
Video recorded July 24th from three surveillance cameras mounted outside Norwalk Police Headquarters confirms an officer gesticulated spitting toward the ground when he saw Duff standing outside the building. The officer opened the door, looked at Duff, then turned his head down and to the left and spat; it didn’t appear any saliva actually exited his mouth. The spit wasn’t aimed at Duff, who was about nine feet away.
About a dozen officers walked out to the visitors’ parking lot as Duff was getting into his car and driving away to demonstrate their displeasure. They never approached Duff’s car, and from the time he pulled out of a parking space to the time he drove past them and reached the lot’s exit on South Main St. amounted to about 14 seconds, based on the recordings’ timestamps.
In video from a camera aimed at the visitor lot, Sgt. Salvatore Calise can be seen directing the officers to get onto the sidewalk adjacent to the lot. Some officers were still entering the visitors’ lot by the time Duff had driven away.
The recordings do not contain audio. During a phone interview, Calise said that at the time the officers are seen entering the visitors’ lot, “I told the guys, ‘Stay on the sidewalk and do not block this driveway.’”
Calise said some of the officers raised their hands “in (a) sort of ‘What’s up?’” manner, but he did not hear any verbal remarks.
NancyOnNorwalk observed the recordings at Police Headquarters Wednesday afternoon with O’Connor and Det. Daniel Fitzmaurice, vice president of Norwalk Police Union Local 1727, which again, O’Connor leads.
After discussions between O’Connor and Deputy Chief Susan Zecca, it was agreed that the recordings could be viewed but not copied, and no photos could be taken of them being displayed.
NancyOnNorwalk filed a Freedom of Information request to obtain copies of the videos, and O’Connor said a decision on whether to release them is under review by the city’s law department.
The arrangement for viewing the recordings was having them playing simultaneously – two frames on top and one on the bottom. They were recorded synchronously with matching time stamps, so it is possible to follow movement from one camera to the other.
Regarding Duff’s assertion that a lieutenant told him to leave headquarters immediately, Calise said Duff was standing outside the building’s South Main Street entrance talking with three officers and that, “because (officers’) tempers were high and people were upset,” it was he who asked Duff to move the conversation to the visitor parking lot where he was parked.
Calise said he made the request after encountering a group of angry officers in the hallway outside the Community Room, where Duff had just finished his meeting with members of the police union executive board. That hallway leads to the entrance outside of which Duff was standing, and the officers could see him there.
“I opened the door and said ‘Bob, whatever you guys are doing over here, I don’t care, just take it by your car, because you’re inciting these guys and they’re going to say something stupid,’” Calise said.
Calise said Duff pointed at him and said, “So you’re throwing me out.”
Calise said he responded, “I’m not throwing you out. I’m just asking you to take it to your car, because these guys are upset and they’re going to say something stupid.”
“My job as a sergeant,” Calise said, “is to make sure they don’t do anything stupid or say anything stupid.”
Duff and the officers he was speaking with then moved to the visitors lot to continue their conversation, and after several minutes, the recording shows Calise approaching them.
Calise said he reviewed in his mind the exchange he had with Duff and decided that Duff was “setting me up.”
He said he went outside to speak to Duff a second time to say, “Bob, just so we’re on the same page, so we’re clear, I am not throwing you out of the Police Department. It’s an open building and it’s open to the public.”
“All I was trying to do was defuse the situation. I was trying to deescalate something before it happened,” Calise said. “And you know what? I’ll stand by that decision till the day I’m dead. That was a smart move, to get the guys away from Bob.”
‘He’s the one trying to make us look bad’
O’Connor said Duff described the situation to him after the meeting as “a couple of guys screaming, but I’m used to it. It’s no big deal.”
O’Connor apologized, but explained the guys are upset, he said.
He contrasted what Calise said occurred in the parking lot with how Duff characterized it in his letter.
“You read that letter,” O’Connor said, “it makes it seem like there’s a mob chasing him down.”
“I’ll tell you right now,” O’Connor continued. “Connecticut police officers in general, but certainly Norwalk police officers, are well trained, well educated, we’re well rounded. We’re respectful of our command staff and we’re respectful of our community, so that sh-t would be way out of character.”
Regarding Duff’s description of officers who are not members of the board “storming the room as a show of force to try and intimidate me,” O’Connor said six or seven members of the board attended the meeting. Eight other officers showed up wanting to attend it, and he agreed to have Sgt. David Orr, a former police union president, and Officer Mark Suda sit in with the understanding that everyone would be respectful on all sides.
“Bob’s perception here is that somehow we’re trying to make him look bad,” O’Connor said. “He’s the one trying to make us look bad, and we tried with the most sincerest efforts to try to have a decent relationship here.”
As for what happened following the meeting, “It wasn’t our finest hour, I’ll admit that,” O’Connor said.
He also said he doesn’t believe a Norwalk Police officer was driving by the house.
Duff said Wednesday that it’s a “reasonable suspicion” that’s it’s an off-duty member of the Norwalk Police department.
The car came by between 6:15 and 6:30 a.m., and again between 3:30 and 4 p.m., he said. His wife saw it slow down as it passed, then drive away.
“It takes it to a different level,” Duff said. “I’m just saying there’s no other reason other than the anger that the cops shown on that Friday that would lead me to think that anybody else would stop in front of my house twice a day and do something like that.
The State Capitol Police cruiser was at Duff’s house at least from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
‘It is clear’ that some officers’ behavior ‘was not acceptable’
Duff, in his letter, said, “there are many good and talented police officers in Norwalk, and I am grateful for their service and sacrifice. The ones who subjected me to abuse on July 24, 2020, are not among them, and they deserve no thanks at all.”
He went on to list 10 ways in which he’s been a partner to law enforcement, including co-authoring and shepherding into law the country’s first PTSD bill for first responders, going on ride-alongs and appointing numerous Norwalk Police officers to Statewide Boards and Commissions.
Duff is being challenged for reelection by Republican candidate Elisavet “Ellie” Kousidis. Norwalk Republicans charge that Duff went forward with this story because he knew he wasn’t going to get the Norwalk Police endorsement.
“When you hear the footsteps, like most Dems are hearing you can either be on the attack or you can change the narrative and become the victim,” Republican Town Committee Chairman Carl Dickens said in a Facebook post.
“This ‘event’ conveniently allows him to explain to his supporters that he was denied the police union endorsement this time because the police are ‘bad people’ (begging the question (for any people capable of rational thought) as to why he accepted all of his earlier endorsements from the police),” RTC Vice Chair Mike Lyons said, charging that “Duff wants to be looked on as virtuous by his fellow leftists, and in the liberal world you achieve that status by being victimized, not by being successful.”
Rilling, former Norwalk Police Chief, said, “I am hopeful there can be a civil resolution to this situation. Let us not lose sight of the fact our police officers are dedicated and professional public servants who protect our community 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Let us also not lose sight of the fact Senator Duff has tirelessly served us in the State Legislature and has brought millions of dollars in State funds back to our community. He has also been an unwavering and strong advocate of our police and fire departments.”
He continued, “All of the social media comments are counter productive to finding a resolution. I know Sen. Duff and the Chief are meeting this week, and I hope this matter can be resolved. If necessary, I will facilitate a meeting between Senator Duff and the Police Union Executive Board. This is very disruptive and it is imperative we resolve this once and for all so we can move forward.”
Duff and Kulhawik are set to meet Friday. Kulhawik wrote:
“The description of events as relayed by officers differs a bit from Sen Duff’s account, but regardless, it is clear that the behavior of some was not acceptable as everyone deserves to be treated respectfully. I can appreciate that Sen Duff felt disrespected by some members of the department when he visited the union meeting that Friday.
“I hope to have good meeting and discussion with the Senator as we have always enjoyed an excellent relationship.”
“I’d like to see what he intends to do about this situation and others because what keeps me up is if the Norwalk Police can treat people like me like this, what are they doing when other people who don’t look like me, who don’t have the same platform I do?” Duff said, describing himself as “white, privileged, Senate Majority Leader.”
As for “other situations,” he said, “What else is happening? How are they going to improve the situation going forward for the community? It’s one thing to have policy disagreements and argue over proposed bills and disagree on votes, but once it’s done then we need to come together and work for the betterment of our community. Their action, on that day, was not in the spirit of moving forward. I am fully used to tough questions, pointed questions, people angry… I would never have thought I’d be treated the way I was at the department, by Norwalk police who I have supported my entire life.”