Witnesses say man was beaten and pepper-sprayed at alcohol detoxification center
New London - Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said there will be an investigation into allegations that police officers assisting an ambulance crew at an alcohol detoxification center Wednesday night punched, pepper-sprayed and smashed the head of a man repeatedly into asphalt.
Chief Margaret Ackley "takes the claims seriously" and has ordered Capt. William Dittman, the commander of the patrol division, to conduct an internal review of the incident, police Deputy Chief Marshall Segar wrote in an email Friday night. Dittman will report his findings to Ackley, Segar said.
Southeastern Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SCADD) Executive Director Jack Malone said Friday that six staff members at the organization's Coit Street detoxification facility have filed witness statements to the New London Police Department about what they saw Wednesday evening.
"I had a conversation with the police chief (Thursday) because what occurred there was not right and was witnessed by six people," Malone said. "It was very troubling. I had a very good conversation with the police chief and Capt. William Dittman, and now, what they do about it, it's in their court, but I related to them the concerns reported to me Wednesday evening and Thursday morning by my staff people."
Alleged victim arrested
Stanley Jurgielewicz, a technician at the facility, had called for an investigation after witnessing the alleged beating of a potential client who was subsequently arrested.
Police were called around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to the facility at 47 Coit St. to accompany an ambulance that was to take a man to the emergency room because of blood alcohol content of .380, according to Jurgielewicz's witness statement.
According to Finizio, police responded to a call "concerning a heavily intoxicated and belligerent individual who posed a reasonable threat to public safety."
Jurgielewicz said in a phone interview Friday that calling an officer to help an intoxicated client into an ambulance is standard operating procedure. Most of the time, Jurgielewicz said, the officers are "charismatic" and help convince the client to get treatment.
Instead, Jurgielewicz said, the first officer arriving on scene pulled up and sprinted from his police cruiser, attacking the man, Reuben J. Miller, from behind.
"At no point did the first officer identify himself as a police officer or confront Reuben to place his hands behind his back," Jurgielewicz wrote in his statement. "A second officer arrived soon after and proceeded to join in the situation by punching Reuben in the face multiple times."
From there, Jurgielewicz said, the attack got even worse, as about 10 people, including two paramedics, watched in shock as two more officers arrived. One slammed Miller's head into the asphalt multiple times, Jurgielewicz said, while another pepper-sprayed him in the face.
"I could hear his skull smashing into the concrete," Jurgielewicz said. "I'll never forget that sound. One cop was punching him in the face multiple times, punching like he was a boxer. It was like cage fighting stuff, that's how it was. It was horrifying."
Finizio: Don't judge quickly
Finizio, in his statement Friday, asked the public and media to withhold judgment until the investigation is completed.
"These incidents can be fast-paced and complicated and it is often easy to second guess the judgment of the officers involved before a full investigation can be conducted," Finizio wrote.
Finizio said he has met with police Ackley and Segar about the incident.
"A thorough investigation will take place, and is already underway, concerning the conduct of all involved," he wrote. "This investigation may take weeks to complete but its findings will be released to the public when ready."
After the beating, Jurgielewicz said, police stuffed a dazed and bleeding Miller into a police cruiser. When the center's admitting nurse protested, saying Miller needed medical attention, Jurgielewicz said the officer told them Miller was "not going to the hospital, he's going to jail."
"The Sergeant arrived to the scene and the first officer talked to the sergeant and stated that Reuben was attacking his girlfriend when he arrived," Jurgielewicz said in the statement. "At no time was Reuben a threat to his girlfriend, (the admitting nurse) or myself."
Jurgielewicz wrote that Fire Chief Ronald Samul then arrived on scene "and stated he has had multiple conversations with Jack Malone and the State Attorney's office about how this type of behavior is allowed because someone is intoxicated."
Samul did not return a call for comment Friday.
Miller was charged with interfering with an officer and is scheduled to appear in court Dec. 29.
Jurgielewicz said four police officers responded to the scene.
According to New London police records, the arresting officer was Joseph Pelchat. The transporting officer was Kurt Lavimoniere.
"They looked at him like a piece of trash, and treated him like trash," Jurgielewicz said. "No human being should ever be treated the way Reuben was treated."