NORWALK, Conn. — There needs to be an Internal Affairs investigation into the behavior of Norwalk Police when State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) came to visit in July, an organized group of Norwalk religious congregations said Wednesday.
“Swearing at, spitting at, and attempting to intimidate anyone, much less one of our elected leaders, is unacceptable and reprehensible behavior. This is true for any employee of the City of Norwalk, and especially true for sworn police officers in uniform and on-duty,” a statement from CONECT (Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut) said, expressing a “collective sense of outrage and disappointment in the behavior of a significant number of Norwalk police officers.”
From reading press reports, CONECT understands that Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik met with Duff and is looking into the incident, CONECT said. “Regardless of that, we call for an immediate Internal Affairs investigation to be launched. Officers should be held accountable or disciplined according to the results of that investigation.”
The statement was sent to Mayor Harry Rilling and the Common Council.
“I am completing an investigation of the entire incident and reviewing video etc. I will then determine the appropriate actions to take,” Kulhawik wrote, in response to the CONECT statement.
Duff has said he was “spat at” when he went to Norwalk Police headquarters to speak with key union leaders on July 24, as a controversial police accountability bill made its way through the legislature. Officers not involved in the meeting greeted him with “What the f*** are you doing here?” and “30 officers” gathered in the building’s visitor parking lot as he left, “looked as if they were going to surround my car,” which “appeared to be another bullying and intimidation tactic.”
Security camera video viewed by NancyOnNorwalk confirmed than an officer opened a door near where Duff was standing outside and spat at the ground, with Duff about 9 feet away. There were 12 officers on the sidewalk next to the visitor’s parking lot as Duff left. Sgt. Salvatore Calise said that he told the officers to stay on the sidewalk.
“I spoke to Chief Kulhawik this morning,” Rilling said in a statement. “He is investigating to see which officers were involved in any inappropriate behavior. After this investigation, he will determine what discipline is appropriate. Based on my conversation, I am confident he will handle this situation appropriately.”
Duff offered a criticism.
“CONECT representing thousands of Norwalk’s residents and families made a very powerful statement today about the events of July 24,” Duff said in an email. “Their concerns need to be heard. Collectively, they spoke powerfully and with purpose. For the credibility of Chief Kulhawik’s investigation, this process must be open and transparent. In addition, it must be undertaken with the seriousness it deserves, with purpose and with concrete action steps in order for the community to be satisfied.”
Only one Common Council member responded to an email from NancyOnNorwalk asking about the statement. Dominique Johnson (D-At Large) referred NoN to comments she posted Tuesday on Facebook.
“I am learning more about this incident every day. I am deeply disturbed by it,” Johnson wrote, continuing:
“When police officers spit at a community member, it is unprofessional and intimidating in the least. When this happens to an elected official, it is also an assault on civility and disrespectful of the office. This unacceptable behavior also undermines the work of many others in law enforcement who would never think that spitting at a citizen or elected official is justifiable. I have heard from many Norwalkers who are disappointed and alarmed at this incident. We can not tolerate this behavior in our community. As an at-large Common Councilmember, I will continue to listen to my fellow citizens, and work on your behalf to bring attention to your concerns about public safety in our city.”
‘It should have been on the agenda’
CONECT has seven “member congregations in Norwalk proper as well as other leaders active in CONECT who live in Norwalk but worship in another nearby town,” the statement said, listing:
- Bethel AME Church
- Calvary Baptist Church
- Congregation Beth El
- Grace Baptist Church
- Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji Foundation Sikh Gurdwara
- St. Jerome Catholic Church
- Temple Shalom
“We know that these have been difficult, chaotic months in our country and state, as we all deal with multiple crises and pressures,” the statement said. “We believe there can be legitimate and honest disagreement about how best to improve police accountability and transparency and to prevent unnecessary police use of force.”
It “denounced” the behavior and said it “has no place in that legitimate debate.”
Stuart Garrelick of Congregation Beth El tried to speak to the Common Council during Tuesday’s Council meeting. Rilling told him that the topic wasn’t on the Council’s agenda, and Garrelick was cut off for being “out of order.”
This is routine, though it’s easier to stop a noncompliant citizen during a virtual meeting. Ordinarily the speaker keeps speaking before being convinced to walk away.
Garrelick told NancyOnNorwalk that he would try again at a Police Commission meeting. “It was not on the agenda, but I certainly think it should have been on the agenda,” he said.
Six CONECT members called Duff after he met with Kulhawik, and have also read Kulhaiwk’s comments in the press, according to Garrelick. While the difference of opinion regarding the bill was understandable, the behavior was not, he said.
Garrelick said, “It’s just unfortunate that people who we basically count on to protect us from intimidation and bullying, were participating in intimidation and bullying, presuming that everything we heard was correct.”