A New Haven police patrol sergeant is on administrative leave amid allegations that he tipped off a drug dealer to a police investigation.
Police officials said Wednesday that they have placed the sergeant, Brian McDermott, on paid leave while they conduct an internal investigation into alleged off-duty “improprieties.”
“We are awaiting the results” of the investigation before commenting further on the case, Police Chief Anthony Campbell told the Independent.
Several people with knowledge of the investigation confirmed that it stems from a referral from the Wallingford Police Department: The Wallingford cops were investigating a suspected drug dealer when they allegedly found McDermott’s car at his location. Then, when the Wallingford police arrested the alleged dealer, they obtained his phone and allegedly discovered a message from McDermott, so they informed New Haven police officials. There are no allegations about McDermott buying or using drugs, according to the people familiar with the investigation.
A request for comment sent to McDermott’s email address did not receive a response. Union President Craig Miller declined comment on the case.
McDermott was promoted to sergeant in April 2017; he scored second-highest out of 61 people who passed the promotional exam. He most recently oversaw patrol officers on the afternoon-evening B shift.
Not The First Complaint
Over the past five years, McDermott has faced allegations of excessive force both internally and in court.
The department has conducted five internal affairs investigations of McDermott since 2013, according to his file. The police department made the file available to the Independent in response to a Connecticut Freedom of Information Act request filed earlier this week.
In one case the department found McDermott guilty of violating Department General Order 300, which proscribes the circumstances under which an officer may use deadly force.
A 19-year-old named Robert Rivera brought the complaint against McDermott after McDermott arrested him outside Pulse nightclub during the 2013 St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Rivera admitted being “buzzed” after drinking “four or five Bud Lights” which he purchased illegally, according to the report. A bouncer threw him and his girlfriend out of the club. Outside the club, Rivera and his girlfriend ended up in a scuffle with McDermott and another officer when a fight broke out.
In the course of dealing with the disturbance McDermott struck Rivera on the head with a baton while McDermott, by his own admission, was “in a crouched position on top of Rivera.” According to both video footage and witnesses, McDermott ended up “sitting on top of Rivera,” who was yelling obscenities and was in handcuffs. McDermott was “straddling Rivera around the waist area as he was face down in a prone position” and bleeding from the head.
Officers can use such force in a “red target area,” meaning when the target seeks “to cause serious bodily injury to an officer or another” and other means fail to end the confrontation. This situation did not fall in that category, the investigation concluded. Rivera suffered cuts to the head and a concussion.
The discipline McDermott received as a result: retraining.
That same year, during the biggest blizzard New Haven experienced in more than a century, McDermott was accused of using excessive force against a man named Eliu Negron, whose vehicle was stuck in a snow bank on Quinnipiac Avenue. Negron claimed that McDermott came on the scene, “jumped out immediately and began” to curse at his companion. When Negron objected, he said, McDermott “rushed him like a football player and pushed [him] back against his stuck vehicle,” then pushed him again. Negron proceeded to file a police complaint of excessive force and hate/bias.
The internal affairs investigator, then-Sgt. Jason Minardi, checked records and discovered that McDermott had never reported to a dispatcher that “he was out of the vehicle addressing a hazardous condition.”
McDermott told Minardi that Negron was delaying the cops from getting to an emergency, a six-vehicle accident. McDermott claimed “he put his forearm up to halt Mr. Negron” but not with “enough force” to push him back. Minardi’s report exonerated McDermott; Minardi wrote that other witnesses contradicted Negron and backed up McDermott’s version. “Contact was made, but not to the extent or reason Mr. Negron stated,” Minardi wrote.
An investigation into a “sexual harassment and verbal abuse” complaint against McDermott by a citizen was closed after the complainant failed to respond to requests for follow-up meetings, according to the investigator’s report: The investigator had to cancel an initial scheduled meeting with the complainant, then could never reach her again.
And a fourth investigation ended with no conclusion. It involved a complaint in 2017 by an officer, Eduardo Leonardo, who complained that McDermott overreacted to his showing up at line-up with his uniform shirt, by grabbing his jacket and unzipping it. The investigator was “unable to determine by the preponderance of the evidence whether the misconduct or malfeasance complained of occurred, or whether or not it was committed,” according to the report.
There was a fifth investigation: In his rookie year, in 2011, McDermott was placed on administrative leave while he was investigated for allegedly pointing a gun to the head of a tow-truck driver who had come to his house; the driver came to claim McDermott’s car because he he had failed to pay his property taxes. (Click here for a story about that by the Register’s Randall Beach.) However that report is no longer in his file. It was purged under state law, which holds that if an officer does not receive discipline, a file is eventually purged.
Cleared In Court
In 2015, McDermott faced a civil lawsuit alleging that he used an unreasonable level of force while making an arrest during a domestic dispute on Grand Avenue. A U.S. Magistrate Judge ultimately found McDermott’s actions lawful.
Richard Borelli filed a civil suit in December 2015, alleging that McDermott used unreasonable force during an arrest at Borelli’s apartment
“During the arrest,” the complaint alleges, “the defendant without justification punched the plaintiff in the face, sprayed a pepper spray into his eyes and threw him to the floor, causing him to suffer bruises, contusions and lacerations about his face, his left eye, and his skull.”
In a February 2016 response to the complaint, the defense wrote that McDermott admitted to punching the plaintiff in the face and to spraying him with pepper spray, and denied that he threw the plaintiff to the floor, arguing instead that he tackled the plaintiff and that both officer and suspect went to the floor.
In a February 2017 decision, U.S. Magistrate Judge Dona Martinez found that McDermott used an appropriate level of force in the arrest of Borelli.
The decision described McDermott and NHPD Officer Rosa Melendez responding to a late-night domestic dispute between Borelli and his wife at their apartment on Grand Avenue.
The judge wrote that McDermott and Melendez heard screaming and yelling and objects crashing to the floor when they arrived at the apartment. Inside the apartment, they found kitchen knives on the counter, a knife sticking out of the floor, and broken glass on the floor.
Both Borelli and his wife asked the police to leave, but McDermott made their way into his apartment to further investigate the domestic disturbance. When McDermott asked Borelli to remove his hands from his coat pockets, Borelli lunged at the officer, leading to McDermott punching Borelli in the face, pepper spraying him, and tackling him to the floor. Melendez called for back up, and the officers were eventually able to handcuff Borelli and take him to a detention center.
The decision also says that Borelli was intoxicated during the incident and was abusive to hospital staff who tended to his bruised eye after his arrest.
“Under the circumstances,” the decision reads, “the defendant applied a reasonable amount of force which was necessary to subdue plaintiff and effect his arrest.”