Hamden council members divided over alleged police misconduct

UPDATED – Feb. 15, 2019

By Michaela Mendygral

(Photo Credit: Hamden Police Department Facebook)

(Photo Credit: Hamden Police Department Facebook)

A proposal to create a civilian review board to oversee police conduct has split the Hamden Legislative Council, with six members formally backing the idea and one in opposition, according to Facebook posts by councilors Wednesday, Feb. 6.

Council members proposed the idea Wednesday night in the wake of revelations that Hamden Police Officer Andrew Lipford threatened to report a suspect to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), prompting an internal investigation by Police Chief John Cappiello, Mayor Curt Balzano Leng wrote in a statement Wednesday morning.

The controversy emerged after footage of Lipford’s bodycam was leaked to WTNH news Tuesday, Feb. 5. The video showed the events after Hamden resident Victor Medina allegedly ran a red light and led officers in a chase until he reached his home in February 2018.

Lipford threatened to call ICE after pulling Medina over and threatened to shoot Medina if he did anything he was not told to, in the bodycam footage.

“A civilian review board would hold the police department accountable and prevent incidents like this from happening,” At-Large Councilwoman Lauren Garrett said in a statement on Facebook Wednesday, Feb. 6.

Garrett has said that her main concern about the current proposal of an investigation is that the issue is not being handled seriously.

“I think that any time you are investigating wrongdoing the person should be put on leave,”Garrett said.

Hamden Police Department confirmed Lipford is still on active duty.

“We feel that an internal investigation is not an appropriate way to investigate these matters,” 9th District Councilman Brad Macdowall.

Although a majority of council members have signed onto the Facebook statement, not all 15 members agree on the idea of a civilian review board.

“Our talks have, at this point, been limited to the need for a civilian review board that is independent from the police department and has subpoena powers,” Macdowall said.

Seventh District Councilman Michael Colaiacovo opted out of the joint statement and instead released his own in a Facebook post.

“Everyone, including police officers, are entitled to due process,” Calaiacovo said. “I am saddened that Mayor Leng and some members of the council felt such a strong need to publicly pass judgement on this situation before an investigation was completed.”

Hamden has not sought a civilian review board in the past, Macdowall said. So it is unclear to the six council members what they would want a Hamden Civilian Review Board to look like or how members would be appointed, Macdowall explained.

“[Civilian review boards] vary in structure and power, ranging from only making recommendations to police directors about disciplinary action to having the power to subpoena officers,” according to the Journal of Public Health.

But whatever form it might take, Garrett said that having a police review panel in place could have an impact on future police-civilian interactions like that involving Lipford.

“If we had a review board, maybe something like this wouldn’t catch us flat-footed,” she said.

UPDATE – Feb. 15, 2019

Ronald Suraci, regional director with United Public Service Employees/COPS, showed his confidence in the officers being cleared in a statement he made Thursday.

“It is apparent to me that the media and other individuals affiliated with the Town of Hamden are jumping to conclusions about the appropriateness of the officer’s conduct without the benefit of a complete and thorough review of the facts and circumstances leading to the arrest of Victor Medina on the night of February 8, 2018,” Suraci told the New Haven Register. “Town leaders and the public should reserve judgment and comment of the officers until such time as the results of an untainted and unbiased investigation are revealed. I am confident that when such an investigation is completed that the officers will be cleared of any wrongdoing.”

HQ Press will continue to have updates as the story progresses.