Suspended police chaplain, supporters want reinstatement

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The Rev. Nellie Mann talks with Norwalk Police officers last year during the Norwalk Police Commission meeting that resulted in her suspension from her role as police chaplain. (File photo.)

NORWALK, Conn. – South Norwalk clergy made their presence known Monday at Norwalk Police headquarters, making their plea for forgiveness for one of their own, the Rev. Nellie Mann, who has been hoping to be reinstated as police chaplain.

Mann was suspended from the volunteer position nine months ago in a flap resulting from two stories in The Hour. A May 28, 2012 story, written from scanner dispatches, described a “massive gang fight” at the beach, quoting a police officer as saying there was a large group of “Bloods and Crips,” a reference to infamous street gangs. Mann was then quoted in a follow-up story as accusing police of racial profiling, a statement that offended the rank and file. Sgt. Thomas Roncinske, then president of the police union, called for her resignation.

The long-time police chaplain agreed during an emotional June 1, 2012 Norwalk Police Commission meeting to take a three-month break from her duties, which Mayor Richard Moccia said would give time for everyone to heal.

It appears that healing is yet to begin.

Mann and a few supporters arrived at Monday’s commission meeting, although the matter was not on the agenda. They were allowed to speak; a recording has been provided to NancyOnNorwalk.

“The reason we haven’t done anything for nine months was because we were hoping for a resolution,” Commissioner Pete Torrano said. “There has been some dialogue, there really has been.”

Torrano said the commission is in a “conundrum.”

“If the officers are not willing to accept Rev. Mann back, that creates a bit of a problem for us,” he said, going on to describe Mann as “very honest, caring, very involved in the community” and “a fine individual who made a mistake.”

But Detective David Orr, who is the police union president, said no one has approached the union to work things out. “We don’t know what is going on either,” he said.

The situation was “really unfortunate,” he said, as Mann’s comments in “the most public of forums” – a newspaper – were “such an egregious breach of trust coming from someone in our own circle.”

The union’s executive board had talked about it at length, he said, and there have been conversations around the building.

“I don’t hear anything about guys saying let’s give her another chance,” he said.

One member of the clergy, there to support Mann, acknowledged the feelings of officers but said, “To me things are always repairable and forgiveness is something we would do.” Another spoke of marriage counseling that brings seemingly irreconcilable couples back together. “She’s reasonable,” he said. “I don’t think she would want to stray anywhere she isn’t wanted.”

Councilman David Watts (D-District A), a reverend, also said he supported the police department but followed that with strong words. “If the standard is you make a mistake you’re out, I’m going to hold you to that,” he said. “Whoever in the department makes a mistake, you’re out. We know that it is not as cut and dry as that.”

He said Mann could have been given a “road to redemption plan,” with training and a limited role.

“Just to outright leave her in the wilderness, that’s not right,” he said. “I think after the three-months period we could have come back to the table.”

The Rev. Jeffery Ingraham said the offensive quote stemmed from an email that Mann didn’t write. “Try to get to see this woman for who she truly is,” he said. “Mistakes don’t have to be terminal. There is redemption.”

Torrano sympathized but said, “I don’t think Rev. Mann was totally at fault but she was the spokesperson and she took the hit.”

Torrano said he hoped the commission would make a “fair” decision next month. “It will fall on the hands of the union’s recommendation,” he said.

Then Mann began to speak for herself.

“I have apologized several times and I won’t do it again,” she said.

Police aren’t perfect, she said – she has heard of incidents but doesn’t hold it against them. The community is drawing a different conclusion, she said.

“If we have a group of police officers in our community who cannot forgive, what do you think they’re going to think about you?” she asked. “I mean really? Really? You mean to tell me?”

A commissioner cautioned her to stop, saying, “I don’t think you’re helping yourself.”

But she continued, asking police how they would feel if someone said their children were in a gang. As for the officer who allegedly made the comment, “I can understand his position out at the beach,” she said. “He was out there by himself. He could have easily made a mistake. The police department should be ashamed for not having more police officers out there to support him.”

No apology, but a promise.

“I will be careful the next time someone calls me,” she said. “I realize it was a mistake and I have apologized. But if the entire police department, police officers – I know that’s not true. They love me here. … If you don’t want me back I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be around a group of people who look at me and say, ‘That woman?’ Oh, no, because you’re no better. You take that suit off and that gun, you look just like my husband.”

Still, “I’m not trying to make you like me. It’s up to you. You may not serve the God I serve but I love everybody. I have a forgiving heart.”


6 responses to “Suspended police chaplain, supporters want reinstatement”

  1. LWitherspoon

    Rev. Mann does have a point regarding forgiveness. Her prior comments were uninformed, offensive, and downright ridiculous. But there may well come a time in the future when due to an error by Police, the Police are seeking forgiveness from the community. Forgiveness here by the PD may beget forgiveness and understanding in the future for the PD.
    Do the officers know that Rev. Mann receives no compensation for serving as one of several police chaplains? If Rev. Mann repudiates her earlier comments and specifically condemns the actions of those who were fighting and breaking windows that day at the beach, she should have another chance. One of the things I found most offensive in that incident was the fact that Rev. Mann accused the Police of racial profiling but said nothing about the inappropriate behavior which took place at the beach that afternoon.

  2. oldtimer

    The officer who requested help at the beach that day is an authority on gangs in this area and apparently saw a lot of people he believed to be gang memebers. He never said it was all (estimated 2000) gang members, and it is not part of a chaplain’s duties to analyze police radio calls for help and criticize the language. If she had a problem with the radio call, she had access to people who could have easily given her more detailed information without going to the press and making accusations. She may well be a nice lady with a good heart, but, in this case, she reacted without thinking and will probably always be identified by the police as not being understanding of their issues, hardly a recommendation for a police chaplain. There must be others better suited for that role. If I had a vote, it would be NO.

    1. Mark Chapman

      Her reaction was to the printed newspaper breaking news report that repeated the scanner transmission about 200 gang members. Reporting off the scanner is forbidden by standard journalistic practice and ethics, as the transmissions are not meant for publication and they are based on sketchy information that has not been confirmed. Unfortunately, the newspaper report led to the reaction. In most cases, the public takes a “shoot the messenger” attitude when they read something that upsets them; in this case, the messenger deserved the focus of scorn.

  3. oldtimer

    We are not talking about forgiving an attack on the police, we are talking about restoring an image (hers) that she has damaged irreparably. I don’t believe any of the officers are still angry with her personally, but she is no longer their best choice for chaplain.

  4. M. Murray

    I know Nellie and always found her to be a nice, caring lady. I think that she is a genuinely good person who gives of herself and means well. SHe made a mistake, as we all do. The difficulty is that the position of Police Chaplain is for someone who can help officers and comfort them if they ever find themselves in emotional need. Even if they have forgiven her, will they forget that false accusation and be able to approach her in their time of need? She is quoted in this article as saying,“I can understand his position out at the beach,” she said. “He was out there by himself. He could have easily made a mistake.” Does she still believe that he made a mistake? While I know she has apologized to members of the department has she actually admitted that she was wrong and it was in fact a gang fight with numerous gang members involved wearing gang colors? These are the types of comments that have made members of the Police Department question whether she is the BEST CHOICE to serve it’s members at this time. Would they feel more comfortable trusting other clergy members to assist them in their time of need? Rev Mann must ask herself If she feels that she is the most capable of assisting them at this time or if the members would be more trusting and open to someone else in that position.

  5. To me, it still reeks of self-indignation.
    As Nancy stated, no apology, coupled with all of her statements, starting with “I have apologized” (read: I apologized once already and they should accept it because I am not apologizing anymore – if they do not accept it, I will get acceptance through other channels – i.e. this hearing).
    Moving onto her interpretation of the situation when she was at the police station and the officer was on patrol, saying, “He could have easily made a mistake.” Then to continue to chastise the department again (deflecting from her gross error of judgment) stating, “The police department should be ashamed for not having more police officers out there to support him.” Again, indignation, spite, and trying to deflect her own gross error of judgment…
    Then she sums it by stating: “I’m not trying to make you like me. It’s up to you. You may not serve the God I serve but I love everybody. I have a forgiving heart.” Still self-righteous, indignant, and self-serving to the end…
    She should have pleaded forgiveness with true emotion of regret… this is not what would be defined as being truly sorry for her offenses. I would understand if the officers do not put any trust or faith in her at this point.

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