Officers Disciplined In Stratton Case

Paul Bass PhotoAn internal police investigation has ended with the chief ordering two cops to undergo retraining for their handling of the response to a domestic incident involving a former city alder.

The investigation concluded that the two officers should have, but didn’t, file a supplemental report related to the June 13 incident, according to police spokesman Officer David Hartman.

In that incident, police went to the first-floor lobby of the downtown Kelly House apartments at 1:41 a.m. to find the attorney and then-alder, Michael Stratton, a 48-year-old prominent attorney, bloodied and complaining that his girlfriend had attacked him. (The girlfriend, who’s 20, told police and the Independent the same story that day.) Police arrested the woman at the scene.

Two officers—not the main cops handling the arrest—subsequently went upstairs to the couple’s apartment. They allegedly saw a small amount of marijuana in the apartment. They left. They didn’t file a report about it. According to people familiar with the case, some of the officers at the scene were aware that Stratton was a lawyer as well as a city alder at the time. (He has since resigned his post, citing family issues.) At least one of the officers involved in the internal investigation was apparently unaware of Stratton’s elected position.

Word soon spread through the department and around town that the officers had seen drugs in the apartment and hadn’t acted or filed a report. Apprised of the rumors, Police Chief Dean Esserman ordered an internal investigation into the officers’ conduct.

That investigation found no major or intentional wrongdoing by the officers, according to Hartman. But it did conclude that they should have filed a report.

One of the officers has been on the force six years, the other approaching two years. Both have earned recognition for good police work.

“They didn’t follow the procedure in reporting what they saw, what they did. They conducted an independent part of an investigation. And it wasn’t documented at the time,” Hartman said Tuesday. He said the two officers were disciplined for having violated department policy. They will receive written reprimand letters and a day of retraining.

Chief Esserman declined comment.

Police union President Louis Cavaliere Jr. praised Esserman’s action as “appropriate.”

“I felt the discipline is appropriate. The officers made a minor error. There was no intent,” Cavaliere said. “Nobody wanted to hurt anybody. No favoritism was involved.

“We’ve locked up our own at times. It can’t be more severe than that. I don’t think we did favors for anybody. I think the officers were confused” about procedure.

Cavaliere said his understanding is that the marijuana viewed by the officers amounted to “less than a gram,” not “enough to be a custodial amount” to warrant an arrest.

In the course of the internal affairs probe, police said, investigators obtained surveillance video from the Kelly House that they said showed Stratton in fact hitting the woman as well as receiving blows. Based on that video, Assistant State’s Attorney David Strollo approved a warrant, later signed by a judge, seeking Stratton’s arrest on charges of third-degree assault and second degree breach of peace.

Police had not yet served the warrant as of Tuesday afternoon. Stratton is believed to have been out of town since it was issued.

In text messages, Stratton has repeatedly denied that he ever hit his girlfriend, and has called both the warrant and the internal affairs probe as payback for outspoken stands he took during his almost six months as an alder from the Prospect Hill neighborhood. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Crash Victim ID’d

In other police news Tuesday, police identified the pedestrian who was killed shortly before 1 a.m. Monday on Whalley Avenue and the Boulevard when a car hit him: Ronshemu Pitman, 33, of Howe Street. Police have not arrested the driver, who according to Hartman has cooperated with the department’s Crash Investigation Unit as it looks into the incident. The fatal crash knocked Pitman out of his shoes.


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posted by: connecticutcontrarian on July 9, 2014  9:01am

How long before the police union tries to appeal this move?

posted by: Brewski on July 9, 2014  10:48am

connecticutcontrarian: The police union president is quoted as saying “I felt the discipline is appropriate…”. Doesn’t sound like they plan to appeal the decision.

posted by: robn on July 9, 2014  10:56am

CT decriminalized possession of small quantities of marijuana in 2011. This only merits a ticket and a $150 fine. Also keep n mind that a cigarette weighs less than a gram.

So what’s more important; officers trying to police a domestic abuse event and then getting back out on the street where we need them?? or having them sit in their car doing paperwork for an hour to record a non-event?

What a grand waste of time and energy. In my estimation, Chief Esserman has wasted a lot of his own credibility

posted by: anonymous on July 9, 2014  11:23am

Finally, a never-ending front page crime story that can distract the public and press from the ongoing hundreds of shootings, killings, pedestrian deaths, landlord neglect and child poisonings that are happening as a direct result of City Hall’s lack of attention to the principal issues that face our city.

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on July 9, 2014  11:44am

How is it that a man who would be mayor skips town and avoids an arrest warrant for the physical assault of a young woman? Where is Michael Stratton? Why is he hiding? Since he claims he is an innocent victim of the evil and corrupt Harp Machine, what does he have to hide?

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on July 9, 2014  12:11pm

I’m not certain that I believe the punishment is severe enough.  Nor am I certain this would be an issue unless a political official was involved.  That is not to say this is a conspiracy by the Harp machine to defame Stratton.  Just the opposite, this was Stratton receiving beneficial treatment for being a powerful citizen and receiving an undue preferential treatment.  The reaction by the police department and state department may have swung back too far to ensure that justice is indeed done and he is not receiving an unfair benefit.  But heavy is the head that wears the crown.

With respect to Robn, the hours long police work is how we are able to police the police.  It’s how we ensure people’s rights aren’t unnecessarily trodden upon and it’s how we know certain minorities in New York and other large cities are disparately treated in stop and frisk searches.  It is a necessary part of the police officer’s job and any officer who does not see fit to do his or her job should retire.

All along, this has not been about Michael Stratton per se.  If people are worried about a political machine, look at it overall and not just who happens to be at the helm.  Often the rich and powerful (to my estimation Mr. Stratton is both), often are able to abuse or bend the system to their will.  If you are truly upset with the machine, then this case and the follow-up work should make you believe that there may be some sense of justice.  It should make you believe that there are checks and limits to the influence of money and power.

posted by: JohnTulin on July 9, 2014  12:51pm

Pot’s still illegal?  C’mon, get over it.

posted by: SteveOnAnderson on July 9, 2014  1:36pm

Atticus Shrugged: Perfectly put.

I have been withholding judgment on this until more facts came in, but I believe the police department deserves credit for following through on enforcing its procedures to ensure transparency. What *appears* to have been revealed thanks to this due diligence is an important lesson about the difficulties of handling domestic violence cases. The reason why I think it is an important lesson is because it was disconcerting how many commenters were eager to quickly jump to Stratton’s defense when the story was first reported.

The political and criminal aspects to the case are obviously intertwined, and I think it is important to try to distinguish the two while also accepting the reality that they are inseparable. We still don’t entirely know what happened, but it would certainly appear at this point that Stratton’s active efforts to muddle the two were disingenuous and manipulative.

posted by: elmcityresident on July 9, 2014  2:41pm

if it was a young black man he wouldve gotten arrested off the rip!!!!!

posted by: HewNaven on July 10, 2014  12:51pm

I’d be happier if Esserman ordered all officers to routinely ignore small amounts of marijuana and concentrate harder on tthe cars that speed through our residential neighborhoods. Those things actually kill people.

posted by: Billy on July 10, 2014  10:06pm

Rest in Peace, Ronnie. What terrible news. He was a wonderful young man. He was always very warm, with a generous handshake and a kind word. He also spent many hours cleaning up Whalley Avenue over the years, and took pride in his job. A deep loss for our community. I wish all of the best to his family in their time of sorrow.

posted by: Gatekeeper on July 12, 2014  1:31pm

It is unfortunate what happened to Mr. Stratton and his lady friend. I recall a alder incident DUI on November 2009. It was reported by the New Haven Register and New Haven Independent news. The alder person was driving his car the wrong way on a one way street(Elm street) . It could have been a fatality. The drunk driver got a pass by his colleagues. Everyone makes a mistake. What is good for one should be good for all.