A police officer who allegedly seized an arrestee’s cellphone — and never returned the video of the arrest or the phone itself — is scheduled to receive his detective’s badge Friday.
The officer, Daniel Conklin, is one of four cops in line for a promotion to detective at a 5 p.m. ceremony at City Hall.
Meanwhile, Conklin is a named defendant in a federal lawsuit claiming that he unfairly arrested a man and seized his phone after the man video-recorded him.
Officer Conklin tells a markedly different story in the police report from the incident, stating that the man resisted arrest and injured the officer’s finger by closing a door on it.
Conklin’s report does not mention the alleged seizure of the cellphone — which, if true, would appear to violate both a standing department general order as well as a promise by the police in a consent decree to stop violating citizen photographers’ rights. (Read about that here and here.) In the wake of repeated violations of that order, police officials have claimed to the Independent that they’re consistently reminding officers of it.
“I’m shocked this guy is getting promoted,” the arrestee, Dennis R. Serfilippi, a 53-year-old consultant to tech start-ups, said in an interview Wednesday. The court ended up entering a nolle prosequi in the criminal charges Conklin pressed against him.
“It’s disheartening to think that in making promotion decisions, no consideration is given to the officers’ record in terms of civil rights violations,” said John R. Williams, the attorney representing Serfilippi in his federal lawsuit.
Williams called the alleged seizure of the phone “one of the major civil rights violations here. It’s exacerbated by the fact that there’s a consent decree. This issue has supposed been addressed by the line officers. The fact that this officer allegedly violated not only a constitutional guarantee but the standing order of his own department makes you wonder what they were thinking when they made this promotion.”
The Arrestee’s Version
The incident in question occurred near Serfilippi’s home on Elm Street near Brownell in the Edgewood neighborhood at about 2:30 p.m. this past Jan. 11.
Officer Conklin, who was sworn in four years ago, was working an extra-duty job directing traffic for a construction job. The police were temporarily blocking traffic east on Elm at that intersection to make way for large Laydon Industries vehicles.
Here’s Serfilippi’s version of what happened, as written in the amended federal court complaint dated July 14:
Serfilippi’s “aged mother” needed to get out of her driveway. The way was blocked. Meanwhile, Conklin “occupied himself socializing with the construction crew and ignor[ed] the needs of motorists.”
After watching “for a long period of time” as his mom couldn’t get out, and while Serfilippi “completely ignored the situation,” Serfilippi “stepped into the street and helped his mother get her car out of the driveway and then returned to his house.”
Having “observed this,” Conklin “became enraged and began pounding his fist” on Serfilippi’s front door, “demanding that [he] step onto the porch.” Serfilippi instructed Conklin to “get off his property.”
“Fear[ing] for his safety,” Serfilippi dialed 911 to request a police supervisor. The supervisor, Sgt. Jason Rentkowicz, arrived and instead of “protecting” him, helped arrest him.
Conklin handcuffed Sefilippi and kept him on his front lawn for about an hour while waiting for a prisoner transport van. Meanwhile, in the presence of his supervisor, Conklin “seized the plaintiff’s cellphone which contained video of the incident. The cellphone never has been returned to the plaintiff.”
The complaint charges that the cops had no warrant or probable cause to make an arrest, and that Conklin “prepared a false and malicious police report which falsely accused the plaintiff of committing the crimes of assault on a police officer (a felony), interfering with police, and disorderly conduct.” The charges were “unconditionally nolled” in Superior Court in February. Serfilippi’s subsequent suit accused Conklin and Rentkowicz of making a false arrest that violated his Fourth Amendment rights as well as state common law.
The Officer’s Version
In court filings, attorneys for the officers deny the allegations. City Assistant Corporation Counsel Michael Wolak III represents Conklin. Here’s the version Conklin offered in the police report from that day:
That afternoon on Elm Street, Laydon Industries’ crew “needed to utilize a ‘roller’ machine to tramp down loose asphalt into place. While this occurred I stopped traffic from proceeding west on Elm St. so the ‘roller machine’ could operate in a safe manner ...
“Moments later I heard an individual shouting from the area in front [of Serfilippi’s house], but I was unable to make out what was said.”
Conklin wrote that he saw Serfilippi converse with a Laydon foreman, then “enter the roadway and start shouting something at the work crew. Mr. Serfilippi then started to direct traffic in the middle of the roadway, nearly causing an accident between a sedan and the ‘roller’ machine which was in operation.”
The officer claimed that when he then approached Serfilippi and ordered him out of the street, Serfilippi “started to shout at me and stated, ‘Do your job so I don’t have to.’” The officer repeated his order to leave the street. Serfilippi complied.
The officer then asked for identification. Serfilippi said he had none on him and returned to his house. The officer followed, “requesting his name and date of birth, which he ignored.
“Mr. Serfilippi then opened his front door and began to speak with me again inside his doorway. I again reiterated that I was issuing him an infraction ticket and requested his information or a form of identification. At that point Mr. Serfilippi shouted, ‘Get an arrest warrant’ and slammed the front door with my right index finger in the doorway. This cause a significant amount of pain as well as bleeding under the nail, a broken nail, bruising, and blistering.”
The officer stated that he continued requesting, through a window, that Serfilippi come outside. Serfilippi refused and asked the officer to leave, and said he’d come out only if a supervisor arrived. So, Conklin wrote, he called in Sgt. Rentkowicz.
Conklin said that when he told Serfilippi that he had injured his finger, he “responded by informing me that he donates to the New Haven Emerald Society and pays taxes, so he is my boss and that I should not have been on his property in the first place.”
Serfilippi did come outside when Rentkowicz arrived, at which point Conklin handcuffed him and “advised him that he was under arrest. Mr. Serfilippi did not resist and complied with all my commands.” Conklin searched Serfilippi “and found no contraband or weapons.” No mention of a cellphone.
The celllphone, a Samsung, cost $700, Serfilippi said Wednesday. He said he had valuable business data stored on it.
Serfilippi’s court complaint doesn’t mention the injured finger.
“If I was in East Rock, I don’t think this guy would have done this to me. If I was a minority, I might not have had the ability to fight back,” said Serfilippi, who’s white. “If that’s what they’re doing to me, I can only imagine what this guy is doing to people who have no means.”