NORWALK, Conn. – Two newly sworn-in Norwalk Police officers resigned Friday after just a day on the job, following a community firestorm that highlighted background information the Norwalk Police Commission was unaware of.
“Our city is about to be shook by our new Norwalk Police Department Hire,” Communidades Sin Fronteras-CT posted Friday on Facebook.
Both new hires were transfers from the Bridgeport Police Department.
Officer Mario Pericep is connected to 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. Jayson Negron resisted arrest and Boulay reportedly feared for his life, as Negron backed the car up with Boulay feeling he was going to be dragged underneath, the accounts say.
Boulay was cleared by Waterbury State’s Attorney Maureen Platt of criminal charges, according to the Connecticut Post. Negron’s death was “murder” in the eyes of a woman leaving a social media post this week in reaction to Pericep’s hiring here.
Pericep was driver of the patrol car.
Also under fire was Officer Chealsey Ortiz, as a defendant in a lawsuit alleging excessive force nearly three years ago. The suit against four Bridgeport Police officers was filed by plaintiff Lisa Moragne in September and reported by the Post last week after a lawyer filed an amended complaint last week.
Norwalk Police announced their hiring Thursday in a Facebook post, that also featured Officer Samantha Bardos being sworn in. Reaction was swift and Mayor Harry Rilling issued a statement Friday morning on the City of Norwalk Facebook and Twitter pages:
“I am incredibly disappointed that allegations against recently hired Norwalk Police Officers were not disclosed to myself, other members of the Police Commission, or Chief Kulhawik by the Bridgeport Police Department. These are serious allegations, and specific details were not available to us before we recommended these hires. I read the reports today, and immediately called the Chief to express my anger and disappointment, and I recommended that these offers of employment be immediately rescinded. We will be calling a special Police Commission meeting early next week to rectify this situation.”
On Friday afternoon, a new statement was posted.
“Officer Pecirep and Officer Ortiz have resigned. They will not be Norwalk Police Officers. I thank the community for bringing this situation to our attention on social media, sending emails, and making phone calls. We heard you,” said Rilling, former Norwalk Police Chief. “I have ordered Chief Kulhawik to review the hiring process and policies to determine what was missed in the vetting of these officers and to deliver his findings to the Police Commission at our next meeting. I want residents to know that while we do a lot of things right, we got this one wrong. I pledge that we will do better in the future.”
Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik released this statement:
“Thorough background checks were conducted on both. The lawsuit would not have come up as my understanding was it was only recently public.
“In the other officers case, he had been cleared and therefore there were no obvious red flags. However, in retrospect, we should have done our due diligence to verify all aspects of the incident and highlight that in the report so that we were all well aware and complete information could be provided to the Police Commission for the evaluation of the candidate. Unfortunately, that was not the case and the Commission based their decision on the information that was provided to them.
“This was compounded by the fact that due to COVID the meeting was virtual so they did not have normal access to the complete file.
“We have begun a review of our process to determine the specific failures and to prevent a similar occurrence in the future. The Mayor has ordered that the results of this review be provided to the Commission at the next scheduled meeting.
“Mayor Rilling had planned to call a Special Meeting to recommend rescinding the job offers, but it will not be necessary as the two have resigned earlier this afternoon.”
A Norwalk Police press release, issued Friday evening, said Pecirep and Ortiz had undergone comprehensive background checks were to include “any criminal history, a review of previous employers, interviews with neighbors and families, visits to their homes, a review of social media as well as credit and driving histories. In addition, medical screens were completed, including drug screens, psychological testing and polygraph exams.”
“Pecirep was cleared of an officer-involved shooting incident, in which he was a witness, and no obvious red flags were raised,” it said. “Additionally, the background investigation of Probationary Officer Ortiz did not reveal a pending lawsuit.”
State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) released a statement Friday evening:
“This incident and other recent incidents at the Norwalk Police Department are why I have fought for increased police accountability and reform at the state level. Certain towns and cities have proven over and over they are unable or incapable of holding bad cops accountable. Police officers that have violated the public’s trust should be properly punished and not rehired the next town over. I am reviewing the action by the Norwalk Police Department to see if any state laws are violated or if more state regulations are needed to ensure we have police departments that are prioritizing public safety.”
The NPD press release said the department “continues to remain diligent in addressing any faults, to remain transparent about our practices, and to invite feedback and critique. We are grateful for our relationship with our community and will continue to hone our practices and directives, and use all hurdles as stepping stones as we strive to provide excellent police service.”