Lawmaker Duff says Norwalk officers harassed, spat at him over accountability bill
State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff says he was recently intimidated by as many as 30 Norwalk police officers, who after a meeting in police headquarters verbally harassed him, then approached his car in a threatening manner as part of their opposition to a controversial law enforcement accountability bill that passed days later in the General Assembly.
Duff’s visit to headquarters included what he called aggressive expletives from police officers, one of whom, the veteran lawmaker claims, spat toward him before he was escorted from the building by a lieutenant.
Duff says that for two weeks afterward, a motorist drove by his home shouting more expletives that were heard by his family.
The incident at the Norwalk police headquarters occurred on July 24, Duff said, the day after the state House of Representatives approved the bill, which bans choke holds, opens up police disciplinary records for public inspection, and makes it easier for rogue cops to lose their jobs. The Senate approved the legislation early on July 29 and Gov. Ned Lamont signed the bill into law.
Police Chief Thomas E. Kulhawik on Tuesday said he planned to soon meet with Duff about the allegations. “I know he was here to speak with union representatives a few weeks back and felt disrespected by some officers who were upset following the vote on the police bill,” Kulhawik said.“I am meeting with him later this week to discuss in detail.”
Kulhawik said no formal complaint has been made.
“I was made aware of what occurred from my officers perspectives by several of my officers shortly afterward,” he said, adding that a meeting with Duff was delayed because of scheduling conflicts.
Other Senate Democrats said they too, have been subject to various degrees of harassment over the bill.
Sen. Christine Cohen of Guilford said her family’s Madison restaurant has been targeted for a boycott, but stressed that she has kept open lines of communication with police departments in her six-town district. “There was concern about controversial sections of the bill, but we did our due diligence and talked to interested parties, police chiefs and union presidents and we negotiated the bill to a better place,” Cohen recalled Tuesday.
Still, the day of the Senate vote “there were a few people within the law enforcement community leading the charge to boycott,” Cohen said, adding that next week she will be observing a training session for Madison police officers. “There were some bad apples out there and there were people who had no interest in any law on accountability,” Cohen said. “When everybody comes to the table, we get to a better place.”
The Connecticut State Police Union, which is challenging the accountability law in federal court, on Tuesday released the results of recent votes of no confidence, indicating overwhelming opposition to Lamont and his top public-safety brass. The vote against Lamont was 687-18.
Sen. Marilyn Moore, whose district includes Bridgeport, Trumbull and Monroe, said that she was also subjected to aggressive emails over the accountability issue, but mostly from people outside her district. She said Tuesday that local Bridgeport police never responded to her request to talk about the bill when it was pending, and police from the two nearby towns never contacted her.
“All the threatening emails that I got were from Northeastern Connecticut, saying things like they’ll remember me in November, but they’re outside my district anyway,” Moore said.
Duff, a real estate agent and 18-year veteran of the General Assembly, No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said that if he is subject to such overt abuse by local law enforcement, he fears for what under-served communities may face.
“I still believe that the majority of the Norwalk police do their job and do it well, but what keeps me up at night is the fact that if they treat somebody like me who’s white, has privilege, is elected and is the Senate majority leader, how are they treating others who don’t have that same platform and don’t have the ability to speak up like I do?” Duff said in an interview.
In his August 20 letter to the Norwalk Police Union President David O’Connor, Duff did not name any of the police officers he said confronted him. Copies of the letter were sent to Kulhawik and Mayor Harry Rilling, a former city police chief.
Duff said he was invited to speak to the union’s executive board on that early Friday afternoon July 24, two days after he hosted union leaders in his home.
After arriving in headquarters, officers using expletives demanded to know what Duff was doing there, he said. While discussing the pending legislation with the union leaders, others — rank-and-file members — entered the room in what Duff said was a show of force.
“Neither of those actions achieved their goal of intimidating me, but I was surprised your officers would engage in that type of behavior, and shocked that you would allow it to occur,” Duff wrote. “After the meeting ended, I was asked by an officer not on the executive board for a few minutes of my time. As we were talking, the single door opened and I saw one of your officers, and about twenty other officers behind him. He then looked at me in a menacing manner, and spit at me. Yes, spit at me. I was shocked and could not believe this was the Department I have supported my entire legislative career.”
At that moment, around 3 p.m., a lieutenant said that the officers were angry and suggested Duff leave, accompanying him to the public parking lot. An estimated 30 officers then emerged from a rear entrance. “As I was driving away, it looked as if they were going to surround my car. Whether that was their intention or not, I don’t know, but it appeared to be another bullying and intimidation tactic.”
O’Connor, a sergeant on the local force, did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. Rilling also did not return a request for comment.
Jody Barr, executive director of, AFSCME Council 4, the umbrella union that includes the Norwalk police local, said Tuesday that union leaders had multiple conversations with Duff about the bill.
“The police accountability bill generated strong emotions on the part of every stakeholder,” Barr said in a written statement. “Our union is committed to maintaining open and constructive communication with legislators and our police locals as we move forward and continue advocating for the more than 2,000 police officers we represent.”
Barr said that discussions on the bill were “respectful and productive, despite differences over the legislation.”
Hundreds of police officers and supporters rallied against the bill on the day when the House gathered in special sessions to adopt it and other, unrelated measures. There were much fewer police outside the Capitol when Duff introduced the bill during the one-day special session of the Senate that started on July 28 and stretched until Wednesday morning July 29, when it finally passed in a mostly party-line vote.
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