NORWALK, Conn. — State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) issued a scornful response Monday night to the results of a months-long Norwalk Police investigation into what occurred when he visited headquarters in July.
Duff said Chief Thomas Kulhawik is “coddling few bad cops” and suggested he either take corrective action or be replaced.
Duff alleged in September that he’d been treated disrespectfully and rudely by multiple officers and that he’d been “spat at” by one of them, later identified as Officer Mike Silva, in the July 24 visit, as the police accountability bill made its way through the legislature. About 30 officers had come out “from the back of the police station to the public parking lot where my car was located,” Duff said in a letter. “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 Internal Affairs investigation found no evidence of widespread misbehavior during Duff’s visit and Kulhawik, in a Wednesday letter to Duff, said he concurred with Lt. Thomas Roncinske’s conclusions.
“I can assure you that I am dedicated to assuring my officers act in a professional manner and am committed to fully investigating any allegations to the contrary,” Kulhawik wrote. “When evidence is presented to warrant disciplinary action, you can rest assured that I will take such action. In this case, I do find that Officer Silva acted in a manner inconsistent with our Code of Conduct and has been disciplined as a result. I ordered that he be suspended without pay for two days. However, I do not find that any other officers acted in a matter in violation of law or in violation of our departmental policies.”
NancyOnNorwalk received the investigation results Monday through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Kulhawik, in a letter last week to Duff, said that Duff had called him on the evening of July 24, after visiting headquarters, and asked him to resign from the State positions Duff had appointed him to.
“You stated that you had been treated poorly by members of the department but did not elaborate. I was taken aback and surprised by your call and upset with your request and simply hung up,” Kulhawik wrote.
He assumed there had been heated conversations due to the police accountability bill and immediately called his deputy chiefs, but was told “the actions of the officers present did not rise to a level of concern,” he wrote. Then, a month later, Duff emailed Lt. David O’Connor, president of Police Union Local 1727, with a “very specific list of allegations against officers” and “noted that a group of officers stormed the room in which the Union Executive Board was meeting in a ‘show of force.’”
Silva subsequently admitted that “he opened the door and spit on the ground in a show of disrespect,” Kulhawik said. And in a two-hour meeting with Duff at his house, Kulhawik said Silva wanted to apologize.
“I apologized as well for his actions and noted that although he did not spit at you as was initially reported, his actions were none the less disrespectful and not acceptable,” Kulhawik wrote. “…As a result of this meeting, the ongoing media reports of the incident, and the fact that there were significant discrepancies between your account of the incident and that being reported to me by officers, as well as that depicted on our surveillance cameras, I decided that a formal Internal Investigation was warranted.”
Roncinske had conducted 30 interviews, reviewed surveillance video and cell phone video taken by officers in the meeting with Duff, Kulhawik said.
“I apologize that this investigation took longer than anticipated, however, it was time consuming to schedule the large number of interviews with officers given the process that must be adhered to as well as the fact that you requested that your interview not be scheduled until after the election,” Kulhawik wrote.
Duff released this statement:
“I understand the police chief has released some version of a report that he characterizes as an ‘investigation’ relating to events involving several police officers and me last summer, which I was assured would be sent to me before the public and press. 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.’ 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.
“The chief’s time would have been better spent trying to change the culture of the department. What he fails to recognize is that by coddling these few bad cops, he diminishes and demoralizes the majority of officers who work hard and are looking for strong leadership from the top. Sadly they will have to wait longer for that day as the chief continues to lead from the rear. Rather than trying to make this incident about me, the chief should be working on developing a concrete plan, with actionable steps and measurable goals so the Norwalk Police Department can acknowledge its shortcomings and take corrective action to benefit the entire community. To date I have neither seen nor heard of any steps in that direction.
“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.”
Officers Michael DiMeglio and Sara Laudano were arrested Jan. 4 and accused of drinking on the job and shirking their duties on Oct. 26.
Mayor Harry Rilling in an 8:37 p.m. email said he had just received the “final documentation” regarding the investigation “this evening.”
“It is approximately 42 pages in length,” he wrote. “I’ve been on several meetings right up to this very moment and therefore, have not had an opportunity to read the investigative reports and statements. I will be reviewing the reports over the next couple of days. I am hopeful, now that the investigation is complete, we can move forward and put this behind us. These are indeed challenging times and there is tremendous frustration and stress related to this pandemic.”
Rilling did not speak at Monday’s Norwalk Democratic Town Committee meeting. His wife, Lucia Rilling, said he was tied up with a Democratic caucus meeting.
“In all my conversations with Senator Duff he has had nothing but praise and support for our men and women on the department,” Rilling wrote. “He has also been a strong advocate for our city bringing in millions of dollars in state funds. I also know our police officers to be dedicated men and women who are committed to protecting the citizens of this city.”
O’Connor also said he hadn’t yet seen the report. But, people have seen the surveillance video and the video shot by police union members so “there should be no mystery about it.”
“We had an honest, candid conversation with Bob Duff,” he said. “We were respectful and polite the entire time, except for that one very small incident by one officer, which is unfortunate. I think he got caught up in the moment with some personal things going on at the same time, with him. It was unfortunate but I think by and large, we were the gentlemen in the room.”
Duff alluded to the controversy while speaking at Monday’s DTC meeting, the first one held since the election.
“Even though you know we won (the election) top to bottom… you could say that it was a, you know, in some ways locally a difficult year because of some controversy that were going on. But ultimately the voters decided and it was all just noise in the background.”