NORWALK, Conn. – The fast exit Friday of two newly-hired Norwalk Police officers has made Norwalk citizens less safe, according to Lt. David O’Connor, president of Police Union Local 1727.
The “unfair” resignations of Mario Pericep and Chealsey Ortiz just one day after they were sworn in is deeply distressing, O’Connor said Monday. Pericip and Ortiz had no choice but to resign after Mayor Harry Rilling objected, announcing that he and the Police Commission hadn’t been informed of their backgrounds, because if a police officer gets fired in Connecticut, they automatically lose their certification, he explained.
“The people who are really losing here are the citizens,” O’Connor said, calling Pericep and Ortiz community-oriented, smart, analytic thinkers who would have done well in Norwalk.
Both wanted to get out of Bridgeport, a “tough” place to be a police officer, but “the likes of Bob Duff are pandering for votes, are making them out to be criminals,” O’Connor said.
“I was not the only person in our community disappointed and outraged by the police department’s hiring of these two individuals. Following the Norwalk community speaking out against these hires, the two individuals have resigned from the Norwalk Police Department,” Duff, State Senate Majority Leader (D-25), said in a Monday email blast.
Pericep was involved in the 2017 death of a 15-year-old Bridgeport resident, according to reports; Pericep’s partner, James Boulay, shot the teen while the pair were investigating a stolen car report.
Pericep testified that he was still in the police cruiser when Boulay shot Jayson Negron. The teen backed the stolen SUV into the cruiser as the gunshots rang out.
Boulay was cleared by Waterbury State’s Attorney Maureen Platt of criminal charges, according to the Connecticut Post.
Ortiz is named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by a Bridgeport woman who alleges excessive force nearly three years ago. The original complaint, filed in September, listed Jane Doe and three John Does as the Bridgeport officers being sued. An amended complaint was filed May 26, listing her as one of the defendants.
“They’re being punished for doing nothing wrong,” O’Connor said Monday.
Duff released a statement Friday saying, “Police officers that have violated the public’s trust should be properly punished and not rehired the next town over.”
O’Connor said Monday that during the interview process with Norwalk Police, Pericep had been “completely open and honest about everything that happened. If you are cleared why can’t you move on and go about your business, why are you found guilty in the court of public opinion?”
Ortiz didn’t know about the lawsuit and she was named after the background check, O’Connor said.
A video posted by Hearst Media shows Ortiz putting cuffs on the plaintiff, Lisa Moragne, after another officer took her to the floor. O’Connor said Ortiz was “on the periphery” of the arrest.
Bridgeport filed a motion to dismiss the suit Monday, alleging that Moragne has failed to plausibly plead sufficient facts to support her claims.
When a citizen is arrested, they get multiple bites at the apple, O’Connor said. As a juvenile there are multiple programs. Accelerated rehabilitation can wipe away a police record.
But, “If you’re in the police department, if the politicians don’t like the appearance, they can continue to do you great harm,” he said. “They can get rid of you if you’re on probation at any time for any reason because the public put pressure on the political machine in Norwalk.”
If a felon applied for a job with the City, “‘they’ would be screaming at the top of their lungs to give them a job. But this police officer who has done nothing wrong” is out after a day, O’Connor said.
As probationary officers, Ortiz and Pericep could be dismissed “for any reason,” he said. So they had to resign to protect their State certifications.
Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik has said that hiring officers from other departments saves much time as the officers are already trained. O’Connor said Monday that it shaves the process from a year down to two weeks. “All they have to do is go through an orientation.” But, “I think this is going to make this much harder to get some people from other communities, I think we have really damaged our reputation.”
Plus, much of policing is discretionary, he said. When a call comes in, officers have to respond and do it according to what the law requires. But stopping a suspicious vehicle is discretionary, and “You can look the other way.”
He asked how much different life would be for Ortiz and Boulay if they hadn’t stopped that stolen car. “They wouldn’t be doing their job, but they wouldn’t be fearful of people picketing outside their home and they wouldn’t be fearful of people depriving them of the opportunity to get a job.”
Crime is “ticking up,” he said. “We’ve turned a corner; lawlessness has become acceptable. Because of things like this, cops be more reluctant to get involved because the ramifications of getting involved.”
Norwalk Police officers are “really upset about how this was handled,” O’Connor said. “If this is the amount of support they get from Norwalk, what will happen when if something goes wrong? Will they throw us away as far as they threw these officers? They felt management would have their back but they don’t feel that way now. It is so obvious that they will do what they have to do for the sake of expediency.”
Rilling said Monday that the Norwalk Police Commission “totally supports our officers and would never compromise their safety.”
He said, “There were many unanswered questions in relation to these two individuals. When we are dealing with public safety, decisions must be made that are extremely critical. Decisions must be made that are sometimes difficult but are in the best interest of our citizens and our community.”
A Facebook post from Justice for Jayson makes further allegations about Pericep. After Pericep and Ortiz resigned, the page said, “This is what community power looks like.”
Ortiz and Pericep “have families, they own property, they have bills. They don’t have a job,” O’Connor said. “They’ll go back to Bridgeport, but the financial opportunities are clearly better in Norwalk. They have to go to the Civil Service Commission to get their jobs back. Something doesn’t go right in the script for Bob Duff he gets to make up stories.”
Everything about Pericep and Ortiz was in the packets supplied to the Police Commission, he said. Their hiring was not expedient: “There is nobody on this planet who was in more of a straight shooter and less likely to shave an edge or cut a corner than Tom Kulhawik,” O’Connor said. “He’s a by-the-book guy. They were hired because they were quality officers…. It’s so unfair to treat somebody like that, offer them a job and then pull them out for the rug out from under them.”
Footage of Lisa Moragne’s arrest by Bridgeport Police in 2018, obtained by Hearst Media. Moragne alleges excessive force, naming Officer Chealsey Ortiz as one of the defendants in a lawsuit.