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Police report on SCADD arrest incident clears officers

By Sasha Goldstein and Kathleen Edgecomb

Publication: The Day

Published January 12. 2012 4:00AM   Updated January 12. 2012 10:47PM
Police photo of Reuben J. Miller, 31, after his arrest Dec. 14.
But many procedures were not followed

New London - An internal police investigation into an alleged police beating of a man Dec. 14 outside a detoxification center cleared officers of any wrongdoing but highlighted breaches in numerous departmental procedures.

A Dec. 30 report filed by Sgt. LJ Keating found that officers did not violate the police department's standards "as it pertains to Use of Force."

"The fluid, yet often unsettling movement of an altercation or struggle, may appear more drastic as officers jockey for position in an effort to bring a subject into compliance," the report said.

The report recommends addressing other department procedures such as report writing, improper use of pepper spray, driving police vehicles not assigned to the correct officers and not using in-car cruiser cameras. A dispatcher also was criticized for the manner in which officers were sent to the scene.

Officer Joshua Bergeson, one of five officers who responded, incorrectly deployed pepper-spray and initially filed an incomplete report of the arrest of Reuben Miller, according to the document labeled an "informal review."

Bergeson was fired Friday for disciplinary matters that Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said at the time followed an administrative hearing on the SCADD incident. Finizio said Wednesday that Bergeson's firing was for absenteeism and was not related to Miller's arrest. The police union has filed a grievance on Bergeson's behalf for excessive discipline.

The Day obtained a copy of the report Wednesday. It outlines the arrest of Miller, 31, on charges of interfering with an officer and second-degree breach of peace. He was arrested outside the Southeastern Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence facility on Coit Street.

SCADD employees and Miller alleged that police officers, who were called to help take Miller to the hospital, repeatedly punched and pepper-sprayed him when they arrived. Police were called around 7:30 that night to accompany an ambulance that was supposed to take Miller to the emergency room because he had a high blood alcohol content. The report said Miller told police he habitually drank at least a 30-pack of beer a day. SCADD said that night that Miller's blood alcohol level was .380.

The 25-page report of the 4.5-minute incident culls information from SCADD employees and responding officers.

Civilian and police accounts differ significantly, according to the report. SCADD workers said Miller was attacked by police when they arrived. But police officers said Miller was resisting arrest.

"Many civilians are accustomed to seeing law enforcement officers in customary roles and not the 'hands on' role during an active hands arrest, fight, or struggle," the report states. Sgt. Keating, citing his "training and experience," wrote "I know the incident may appear worse on the surface to the average onlooker than it really is."

The mayor said Wednesday it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the report because of pending litigation.

Miller filed an intent to sue the city Dec. 30, alleging a "violation of common law rights, including his right to be free from false arrest and unlawful detention, malicious prosecution and infliction of unreasonable force and emotional harm."

Miller, who was taken to the hospital seven hours after the incident, underwent CT scans and X-rays. His attorney, David Jaffe, said last month that Miller suffered bruises over a large portion of his body. At least one rib was broken and Miller had a concussion, his lawyer said. Most of the injuries involved Miller's ribs, neck and back, Jaffe said.

According to the police report, hospital records showed that Miller "did not have any fractured bones to the ribs, face, or skull. The records further indicate that Miller did have superficial bruising and contusions as a result of the scuffle with police."

On the night of the incident, Bergeson was among five officers who responded to the scene. Social worker Tabatha Maiorano, a member of the city's Crisis Intervention Team, which helps police with mental health evaluations during crisis calls, was riding with Bergeson.

The report describes a chaotic scene in which Bergeson, coming to the aid of fellow officer Joseph Pelchat, pepper-sprayed Miller and hit him twice on the head and face when the pepper spray had no effect.

The report admonishes Bergeson for being too close to Miller when he used the pepper spray and for not initially reporting that "he struck Miller on the face twice with closed fists."

The report criticized officers for not using their assigned vehicles. The report said officers did not turn on the in-car camera and should not have been listening to the "happy" AM/FM radio while transporting Miller. Miller was inaudible at times in the cruiser, the report said, but "does apologize at one point for the incident and states that he did not know why he did what he did."

The dispatcher did not give an accurate description of the scene to police and fire personnel, according to the report.

"Had this call been dispatched correctly ... the situation may have been brought under control in a much quicker and efficient manner," the report says. "The lack of manpower and accurate description of the call was a serious oversight on the part of" the dispatcher.

The past week has been one of upheaval for the New London Police Department.

Officer Bergeson was fired Friday and K-9 Officer Roger Newton was put on paid administrative leave the same day as state police investigate allegations that Newton planted drugs on a suspect.

The mayor on Friday proposed a $25,000 settlement with Police Chief Margaret Ackley in response to her complaint that former City Councilor Michael Buscetto III harassed her and undermined her authority. The City Council has yet to review the settlement.

On Saturday, the mayor announced that he has requested the assistance of the Connecticut State Police Central Division in an ongoing investigation into possible corruption in the city's police department.

Former Deputy Chief Marshall Segar did not have his contract renewed beyond Jan. 4, and Capts. Michael Lacey and William Dittman retired effective Friday and Sunday, respectively. Those three administrative positions have yet to be filled.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

s.goldstein@theday.com

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