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With gun fired during Cranbury Park fight, Norwalk looks to revise rules

Cranbury Park 15-0705 106

Cranbury Park was “trashed” during a large party Sunday night, Norwalk Recreation and Parks Department Director Mike Mocciae said.

Updated 1:59 a.m. July 7 with additional Mike Mocciae and Jerry Petrini comments; correction about hired security

NORWALK, Conn. – Regulations for renting the facilities at Cranbury Park will be tightened after a fight broke out at a large event Sunday night and a security guard fired a gun in an attempt to calm the crowd, Norwalk officials say.

Craig Baldwin, 22, of Bridgeport was arrested after firing two rounds into the air at about 11:24 p.m. while a large group was fighting in the park, Norwalk Police Sgt. Terry Blake said. Police said there were more than 500 people in the park; Recreation and Parks Department Director Mike Mocciae said 450 to 500 had been authorized by the Common Council to use the park from 5 p.m. to midnight. Everything was fine until organizers tried to begin sending everyone home, Mocciae said. Then 40 to 50 people became unruly and the security guard “stupidly” shot into the air, Mocciae said.

Cranbury Park has routinely been rented out for parties after the city recently invested money to upgrade the facilities and install a large tent. This is the first problem, Mocciae said. He described the park as “trashed.”

The Common Council Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee in February authorized Sikoyia Bennett of Bridgeport to rent the park for an “All White Party.” That’s a party where everyone wears white, Mocciae said.

“It seemed like a straightforward application,” said Committee Chairman Jerry Petrini (R-District D), who said he barely remembered the discussion at the committee meeting, where Bennett was given the go-ahead.

The Police Department was unaware an event was occurring Sunday night in Cranbury Park  until it received a 911 call at 11:24 p.m., Blake said in a phone interview. Dispatchers initially broadcast to officers that callers were reporting a shooting had occurred.

A broken bottle in the Cranbury Park parking lot on Monday afternoon.

A broken bottle in the Cranbury Park parking lot on Monday afternoon.

After the first officers arrived at the park and reported there were several hundred people there, every patrol officer was dispatched to the park, Blake said. In addition, dispatchers contacted surrounding departments and the State Police for assistance.

“The scene was very, very chaotic when the officers arrived there and obviously there were a lot more people there than there were officers,” Blake said.

“I have spoken with Chief (Thomas) Kulhawik, Mike Mocciae and Councilman Petrini, Chairman of the Recreation and Parks Committee,” Mayor Harry Rilling said in an email. “I have expressed my extreme concern over the events of that evening and have asked for a full briefing on all the details including but not limited to, estimated number of persons, authorization for dispensing of alcohol, requirements for hiring police officers, the authorized hours of operation.  There are many other issues about which I have a serious concern and they will be addressed as well.

“I am in the process of sending an email to all Council members on the Recreation and Parks Committee outlining steps which should be considered in the future,” Rilling continued. “It is totally unacceptable to allow an event of this size to be held on City property without having the proper safety measures in place.”

Petrini and Mocciae said it’s likely that the rules will be rewritten to require organizations to hire a police officer for events at the park. Petrini said he didn’t know what the threshold for that might be, at what size event would an organization be required to have two officers. It’s too bad, he said, as most people have respect for the park and smaller groups will now have to come up with the money to cover that expense.

As is the usual procedure, a police officer was assigned Sunday evening to lock up the city’s major parks, and Blake said he thought Cranbury Park was scheduled to be closed at 8 p.m. He said he believed when the officer went to close that park, Recreation and Parks personnel on scene said there was an event in progress “and they indicated they would take care of the gate duties.”

Blake said he did not know if Baldwin was hired to work as a security guard at the event.

“He may have been hired by the people having the party there, he wasn’t hired by the city,” Blake said.

Baldwin was charged with unlawful discharge of a firearm and first-degree reckless endangerment, both misdemeanors. He was held on $2,500 bond and given a court date of July 14.

No shooting victim was located, Blake said, and no one was taken by ambulance to a hospital.

“No one approached the officers proclaiming injury,” Blake said. “The officers certainly did see some people, while they were trying to locate the armed individual, that had suffered some, I would call them superficial injuries, cuts, lacerations, abrasions-type injuries from the fight that had transpired at the park.”

Part of the mess at Cranbury Park.

Part of the mess at Cranbury Park.

Blake said he didn’t know who was responsible for the park event. He said the estimate that there were more than 500 people in the park was based on officers’ observations.

“The overall incident is still under investigation by the Detective Bureau and we’re still looking at it from all angles as far as internally,” Blake said.

The Cranbury Park picnic area had trash scattered about Monday afternoon.

The Cranbury Park picnic area had trash scattered about Monday afternoon.

Mocciae said there was grease all over the patios and under the tent. Some blocks were broken. The mansion itself was not damaged, he said.

Bennett had promised to provide portable toilets and that there would be car pools to the event, Mocciae said. “None of that happened,” he said. There were no portables, and feces were left on the grounds, he said.

“Out of the hundreds of thousands of applicants, every now and then, I guess you get one,” Petrini said. “… We learn from it; you hate to try to force everybody to have a police presence but, like I said, you do it for one you do it for everybody because you don’t know with some of the applicants.”

“They were shooting off fireworks, which is illegal,” Mocciae said. “It was just a very unsupervised event and got out of control. They tried to control it by the Wild West shooting into the air, you know, the one security guard had a gun. We are not interested in that type of program.”

Damage at Cranbury Park.

Damage at Cranbury Park.

The park was rented for more than $3,000, with a $1,000 security deposit, Mocciae said. It’s likely that the security deposit will not be returned, Mocciae said, describing it as “going backward” from a financial perspective as the city loses money on the event.

“It’s devastating when you put so much money and time into these facilities and then you get a group like this, just have no respect for property,” Mocciae said. “… It takes a lot out of our staff. It’s not enough that we’re doing a wedding every weekend, now we’re doing some heavy cleaning and repairing before the next one. So that’s not something we’re looking to have happen in the future.”

48 comments

Alice July 6, 2015 at 6:22 pm

Seems to me someone should have asked a few more questions regarding size and purpose of gathering. When someone comes from out of town to rent a city owned venue there should be a more indepth questioning as to number of “guests” and whether liquor is going to be served. They should also. have to hire police officers at the going rate for security purposes. This is a good example of venue being used by people who have no respect.

Suzanne July 6, 2015 at 6:31 pm

Nope. Not even. Whoever applied for the space should have to clean it up until it is spotless, no tax dollars or Norwalk personnel involved.

I am not getting why there was not more of a police presence either: I had to have a cop to direct traffic for my wedding! I see them around for garage sales. For five hundred people?

That security guard, given the benefit of the doubt, was probably doing the only thing he knew to do under the circumstances (the police were outnumbered, even in calling all of the patrols when they arrived according to this article.)

He’s alone, untrained and clearly did not know how to respond appropriately. He sure as heck should not have had a loaded weapon (bullets land after being fired up into the air – every new year, in Los Angeles, someone is wounded by gunfire in this way), and should have called the cops.

I appreciate Mayor Rilling’s comprehensive response. Clearly, this process of using public park lands in Norwalk needs revision.

Kevin Di Mauro July 6, 2015 at 6:43 pm

Mike Mocciae should have been replaced years ago. He thinks he can do whatever he wants on city owned property and has no concern for the negative impact on neighbors who own homes and live in the area. It’s all about money with him, and he doesn’t care if the quality of life is trashed. This sounds much like the Island Bell nightmare. Rilling should have had him on the radar long ago.

Ray J July 6, 2015 at 7:27 pm

Have there been similar gatherings of this size?
and from 8PM to midnight? How does that not interfere with a curfew? How late can residents use the beach?

Is more information taken on the using organization than just name and tel#? Is this the event that displaced the scottish games?

This looks like it had the potential of unfortunate incident all over it.
Please tell me there’s a moratorium until better controls are put into place.

Mark Chapman July 6, 2015 at 7:40 pm

@ Ray J

From what we were told:
1. There have been other gatherings of similar size
2. It was 5 p.m. to midnight, not 8 p.m. It was voted on and passed by the Common Council.
3. The beaches, according to the city website, close at dusk.
4. According to the Highland Games Facebook page, that event was to be held June 27, not the same date.
5. Other events have already been approved and cannot be cancelled.

Sara Sikes July 6, 2015 at 7:56 pm

OMG not again, norwalk has had too many incidents like this at our beautiful parks over the years. The Council and Mayor need to make sure better, more uniform polices are put in place for city properties. and make sure they are enforced-an event like this should have an insurance policy to cover any damages beyond the deposit. The website says rentals at Cranbury Park are only available until 9 PM so why were people there at midnight?

Paul Persius July 6, 2015 at 8:13 pm

This happens in all our taxpayer parks in Norwalk. The worst kept secret is to file an event application stating you will have 50 people for the event, when in reality you know there will be 300. No one is watching the store. Once the event starts, who keeps track of what goes on?? Who is watching all the bookings at Taylor, Calf, Shady, Cranbury, Fodor???? No one. If toilets for this event were supposed to be there and weren’t, why wasn’t something said during setup? You know what? they used and trashed taxpayer funded bathrooms. Do they get charged extra for having more people than the application stated? How do you think the money was stolen at the beach….no one was watching. Just like this event. If I book a wedding for 100 and pay accordingly, who counts the guests?? No one. Don’t ask Moccia, ask the actual rec employees working the cleanups to get the real truth. Its time to take our park system back from out of towners who don’t care how they treat us.

McKeen Shanogg July 6, 2015 at 9:45 pm

Who are they going to hire as security guard for the Norwalk Symphony pops concert at Cranbury Park next Sunday? Not this same guy, I hope.

EveT July 6, 2015 at 9:50 pm

Common Council minutes show that the person who organized this “gala” and got official permission is a Sikoyia Bennett.
Anyone know who she is and whether this was supposed to be a for-profit party or a charity gala, or what?
Googling the name, the first thing that comes up is a resume on indeed.com, apparently looking for a job in customer service.

Just saying July 6, 2015 at 10:13 pm

Wait a minute is this the same group who rented the Annabelle Lee paddle boat that got thrown out of Norwalk?

Just saying July 6, 2015 at 10:19 pm

Parks are in residential areas and should not be used for these large venues that disturb taxpayers quality of life. shady Beach is for Norwalk Taxpayers. Stop using Taylor farm for parking so out of town residents can walk in and crowd our beach. Beach passes might be the answer.

Mark Chapman July 6, 2015 at 10:20 pm

@EveT

Yes, Ms. Bennett’s name was in our story. Her resume says she is an office manager for PC Richards & Son since 2010, that she is a Westhill High grad (Class of 2005) and she earned an associates degree in business management at NCC in 2008. She lives in Bridgeport. No one seemed to know what the party was all about other than it was an All White Gala, referring to the attire.

Bill July 7, 2015 at 12:23 am

Bridgeport people trash a Norwalk park for a for-profit event and stick the Norwalk taxpayers with the bill. Sounds about right, these are the same people who consistently elect Bob Duff, Morris, and Malloy.

Norway job guys.

M. Murray July 7, 2015 at 6:13 am

There used to be police officers stationed at vets park, cranbury park, and calf pasture beach every night. They stayed at the location, removed everyone at closing time, and locked the gate.

John Hamlin July 7, 2015 at 7:31 am

Community groups can’t use the police station community room without shelling out big bucks as security. Perhaps only Norwalk property owners should be allowed to rent the park for events and if the place is trashed they clean it up or they pay the clean up bill and if they don’t pay it a lien is placed on their property. Make that part of the deal. Or don’t rent it out at all.

dawn July 7, 2015 at 8:31 am

So if I own something, an I rent it out, I would have myself or someone else present to ensure the safety of what I own.

Doesn’t the city have someone at the park until the event is over to ensure that the park I own is safe.

I was at cranbury park last year for a birthday party. not an organized event but people gathered together to celebrate a birthday. The adults were having some adult beverages at the end. Within seconds a park employee was there to remind me there are no glass bottles allowed. We put them away and all was good with the world.

Where were the park employees???

sofaman July 7, 2015 at 9:13 am

@Kevin Di Mauro: I couldn’t agree more.

Mike Mocciae must go. He has consistently put Norwalk citizen’s safety at risk.

It’s one thing to be incompetent, it’s another to approve Norwalk property rental to people who have shown to be grossly irresponsible with alcohol. Lots of parties get a bit loud and even drunk. Mike Mocciae has repeatedly approved events held by the same people that have become violent.

Why is Mike Mocciae still employed by the city???

?? July 7, 2015 at 10:53 am

For all the people questioning “where were the park employees”. I am one of the park employees, along with my father. As we were trying to make our way to the dj around 11 o’clock to turn the music off a scene that you would only picture seeing on an episode of cops eruptes. Men were punching the females in the head, other males punching males, gunshots ring out the hundreds of people start scattering. My father and I being the only 2 people there, who were not part of the event, fearing for our safety call 911. So yea 2 park employees really have a chance to do anything vs 500 extremely intoxicated violent individuals? I did the only thing I could do which was call for police so please tell me how I could have handled this any differently. I have nothing to do with planning and booking any events I am simply a caretaker doing my job and was put in an extremely dangerous situation which could have ended up much much worse.

Jason July 7, 2015 at 11:47 am

“Likely” the security deposit won’t be returned? I’d hope that would pretty much be a given.

Oldtimer July 7, 2015 at 12:04 pm

I would expect that the City would require an insurance certificate from people renting any City facility covering liability for guest’s injuries and damage, including cleanup expenses, to the facility. In fact, I was told recently by a friend planning a party at Cranbury that he was required to supply a substantial cash bond, and a liability insurance certificate when he made the reservation. Makes me wonder how much of cash deposits ends up in somebody’s pocket.

dawn July 7, 2015 at 12:57 pm

I would hope we would be suing for all expenses to return the facility to pristine condition. as well as to cover any court costs.

Elaine July 7, 2015 at 1:09 pm

So, the Roundhill Scottish Games had to be cancelled because the city rented to park to someone else. KNOWING that the games are held EVERY year on the Saturday closest to the 4th, or on the 4th of July. And THIS happens? Well done, city of Norwalk. Stop an event that has been held well over 20 years for this.

Mark Chapman July 7, 2015 at 1:29 pm

@ Elaine

No, the Scottish games wanted June 27. There was an issue based on something in the past that prevented them from being able to reserve the date before it was no longer available. This ill-fated event had nothing to do with it.

Paul Lanning July 7, 2015 at 3:13 pm

Island Belle (Mocciae: “It’s be nice to have that business back”)…Taylor Farm a parking lot…$30 per vehicle buys a 2-day pass to Calf Pasture (a full carload of people can’t even get into the movies for $30)…

Whose city is this?

I don’t think that city government has any proper mandate to transform Norwalk parks and facilities into a low-priced public stomping ground for non-residents.

Norwalker2 July 7, 2015 at 3:16 pm

I go to the park a lot. Would like to offer one correction – the last photo in the article “damage at cranbury park” was noticed at least two weeks prior to this event.

Been watching the Mansion get a new roof thanks to Mocciae’s strong efforts to preserve the property. Saw him acquire a tent to help lead the park toward more self sustaining opportunities. I believe it’s contribution to the general fund is now in the tens of thousands of dollars. I call that pretty responsible.

Unfortunately, guests can also get out of hand, so this incident will cost future guests. Expect NPD to be a required hire by future renters. Not an unusual thing in our society unfortunately. @oldtimer @jason insurance is required for all city rentals.

john July 7, 2015 at 3:24 pm

There was an entire write-up as to why the scotish games were canceled. They did not pay the money due until the following year, and the check bounced, and they never paid the fee that was incurred by the bounced check. Do some research folks.

Bryan Meek July 7, 2015 at 4:17 pm

We need a maximum allowable decibel levels for PAs too. I was there with the kids over on the playground while they were still setting up about 200 yards away from the mansion. I like loud music, but you could barely hear yourself speak at that distance.

Kathleen Montgomery July 7, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Sorry if I missed this, but what ARE the existing regulations for renting the park? Is there no contract?

EastNorwalkChick July 7, 2015 at 7:18 pm

@Norwalker2-Those tens of thousands of self sustaining opportunity dollars going in the general fund are going to be needed for the clean-up and repairs to the park/mansion…this is just like all the out of town beach income Mocciae loves to brag about. Are we really making money on this?

Mocciae will never admit it, but the selling of Norwalk Parks/Beach is probably costing us money. We have replaced the bathrooms at Shady Beach twice now in three years; the cost of garbage removal has tripled because of the increased amount. Then there is the increased cost OT of employees cleaning up every weekend; tack on the need for extra police patrols. All this costs money…are we really making money off this?

What about the quality of life factor for the residents of Norwalk, can we put a price on that? Because right now, with the way things are down here in East Norwalk it’s costing me a lot in my time, my gas and aggravation with the selling of Norwalk parks and beaches…but what the hey, Moccaie and Rilling says everyone loves them!!!

Kevin Di Mauro July 7, 2015 at 8:18 pm

@Paul Lanning

That’s a good question. I’d like to know the answer. I believe the State Police were also involved. Who does pay for all of this.

just curious July 7, 2015 at 8:32 pm

Once again another weekend another debacle. Can someone confirm wether or not Moccaie even lives in Norwalk? He seems to be all for these events and complains afterward, but who is overseeing him or whoever sets these events up? It seems more and more like a free for all in such there are no repercussions when something goes wrong. How is the lawsuit with the owners of the Island Belle going? I agree it is past time for Moccaie to go.He is all for giving the city assets away to out of towners, then hop in his city owned vehicle and go to his quiet place, and reappear in the media after something happens and looks to blame others. Start at the top and clean house!!!

LWitherspoon July 7, 2015 at 9:51 pm

Why is everybody blaming Mike Mocciae when rentals of any City property must be approved by the Common Council?

Does Mocciae even have the authority to change City policy regarding rentals and out-of-towners at Cranbury Park and the beach?

Suzanne July 8, 2015 at 9:48 am

While “policy” can obstruct progress, surely there is some “process” that could be put into place to prevent this in future.

Is there a dedicated person at City Hall who handles all City rental properties? Is there a consistent contractual and rental agreement requirement? Is there a consistent requirement for needed facilities and/or people depending upon the size of the group (port-a-potties, music systems, stages, security, park personnel, clean up crews,etc.) Do those applying have to present identifying information, single use insurance documentation as well as complete contact information?

Why elevate legal and administrative assistant work to Common Council (they don’t have enough to do?) when one person could be the “go-to”, a Department Head review and, if exceptions are requested, legal could handle appropriate language to protect the City?

Renters should have to carry insurance, as suggested above, pay a generous fee to use the venue, curb the noise unless otherwise permitted and police presence should be hired should hooligans decide to crash the party.

There are plenty of good ideas just in this thread to get this party city atmosphere in hand. The Mayor is evaluating what happened and I hope that it will be the final retrospective view of City property use gone wrong in Norwalk.

Process might create policy but don’t let the latter prevent the right thing from happening: our neighborhoods, parks, buildings, etc., deserve ample use, yes, by its citizens but, also, respect and care when used.

Norwalk is every taxpayers “backyard” – I can’t imagine anyone expecting less than respect and care on their property.

LWitherspoon July 8, 2015 at 11:37 am

@Suzanne

I agree with everything you said. I think we will learn that there is a process in place already and there are insurance requirements for rentals. Several commenters above have already noted the latter to be true. I have two questions: Was the process followed? Is there a way to improve the process to reduce the likelihood of a repeat occurrence? I imagine any significant changes to the policy will require Common Council approval.

Based on their commenting history I believe some commenters on this thread – not you – are more interested in blaming someone they don’t like than in finding out what happened and improving the process.

Just saying July 8, 2015 at 10:22 pm

It is important to review policy. Insurance is always required in$1,000,000.00. Common Council sets policy and has final authority on who rents city property. Now we must look into Norwalk residents only at parks and beaches. We should look at other states regulations and Connecticut shoreline requirements.
I won’t want to live near our parks and beach with all the traffic and noise. We can work it out.

Don't Panic July 9, 2015 at 7:03 am

If an out of town group of 100 or more is looking to use a Norwalk facility and not a similar one in their own town, then a phone call in the way of a background check might be in order for a first time use.

Is this group not using a Bridgeport venue because they have already worn out their welcome there? Have they been asked to put up an unusually large deposit due to past issues?

These arrangements usually roll through council on the consent calendar, but exceptions to the park’s closing hour should be required to be discussed so councilpeople from that district can give it extra scrutiny.

Suzanne July 9, 2015 at 8:09 am

Having read the rental agreement/rules above, I find it largely incomplete UNLESS the insurance policies actually mean something.

There is no mention made of required security. Little, if any, mention made of required noise levels.

The number of people attending the function as described by this article far exceeded the numbers allowed in the agreement.

Holding a bond for one thousand dollars does not touch the amount apparently incurred to the City in this case in remedying the damage.

Is Norwalk keeping track of clean up hours, of materials required to restore the facility, of police hours required to break up this lawless group for insurance billing? Is the renter in this case responsible for costs incurred not covered by the insurance policy (if there was one?)

Again, not one penny should be spent of Norwalk tax dollars. This “form” above for use of the facility reads like a template from the Internet. Surely, Norwalk can do better to protect itself and to make notification to potential users of City facilities that this town is not a pushover for out-sized, damaging and get away with it activities.

Tightening up the process by doing back ground checks or credit checks is not a bad idea either: for Norwalk citizens, the town will know who and where they are. For out-of-towners, it could eliminate potential renters who are a risk. (This is policy for other area facilities, town-owned, in neighboring areas.)

No expert here, but these common sense considerations do not seem to be covered by the rental agreement above. Whoever needs to and is hired by Norwalk to do so, needs to make greater effort to tighten up this process.

I really do worry that, after the Island Belle debacle and this one, the Town is waiting for the proverbial death at the intersection before putting up the stop sign. That would just be stupid.

EveT July 12, 2015 at 11:25 am

Am I missing something, or was there no park employee to check when the All White Gala was setting up that they had no portable toilets? If that was part of the agreement and the toilets did not get set up, then the organizers were in violation right then and there.
The whole problem could have been prevented before any “guests” arrived if the organizers had been told: “no potty, no party.”

Mark Chapman July 13, 2015 at 2:58 am

@Paul Lanning

Police jurisdictions a=have mutual aid agreements — they help each other out as needed. As the responding officers are on the clock, there are no extra officers to pay. As for the damage, there is thee security deposit, and the rest is being discussed between the promoter Norwalk’s legal department.

ilikeeggs August 3, 2015 at 11:38 am

It’s so absurd to see this long article and a ton of comments yet not a single person wants to talk about what actually happened

Susan August 9, 2015 at 9:36 am

@ilikeeggs
What do you mean? Are you trying to imply the article is incomplete? What happened that isn’t included here? Your comment is meaningless.

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