New Haven Police Officer Alex Morgillo didn’t dispute that he called his girlfriend a “little whore,” punched her in the face, threw her to the ground, and spat chewing tobacco on her.
He did argue he deserves a chance to avoid jail — and a judge Monday granted him that chance over a state prosecutor’s vociferous objections.
That happened Monday morning in a third-floor courtroom at the state courthouse at 121 Elm St., where Superior Court Judge Denise Markle accepted Morgillo’s application to participate in the pre-trial Family Violence Education Program (FVEP) and have his case dismissed if he completes it.
Morgillo and his attorney Tim Gunning had submitted the FVEP application at a court hearing in December.
Per Markle’s order on Monday, Morgillo will attend nine court-monitored domestic violence education and rehabilitation sessions over the next year. He also has to abide by a year-long protective order that bars him from carrying any guns or live ammunition.
If he successfully completes the program, abides by his protective order, and avoids getting arrested for any other reasons over the next year year, then the court will consider dropping the charges of third-degree assault and second-degree breach of peace with which he’s been charged. That’s usually what the court decides to do.
Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney David Strollo argued passionately against Morgillo’s admission to the pre-trial diversionary program. Strollo wanted to prosecute the case.
Morgillo’s poor judgment, violent conduct, and status as a police officer should require him to go to trial and face a potential conviction, Strollo told the judge.
“He’s a police officer,” State Prosecutor David Strollo argued during Monday’s hearing against Morgillo’s admission to the pretrial diversionary program. “In our society, I believe, police officers who are entrusted with a gun, with a taser, with the ability to arrest someone with handcuffs, should be held to a higher standard.”
That may be so, Markle said. But Morgillo is entitled to the same education and rehabilitation services that every other eligible defendant with no prior convictions and facing misdemeanor domestic violence charges can receive, Markle argued.
“The statute does not preclude any government [employee] or police officer from participating in this program simply by nature of the occupation,” she said.
So, for now, and potentially for the year to come, Morgillo remains a police officer on administrative duty.
Police Chief Anthony Campbell said the department is still conducting an internal investigation into Morgillo’s alleged misconduct. The department will not conclude the internal investigation until the court renders its final verdict, he said. Per Markle’s order, the final verdict (and likely dismissal of charges) won’t come until January 2020.
“I have to wait and see ultimately what this officer’s adjudication will be,” Campbell said, “then, based on the Internal Affairs investigation, I’ll present to the Board [of Police Commissions] to see what they would do.”
Morgillo is the latest city police officer to be arrested and go to court for charges of domestic violence. Four other city cops were arrested on domestic violence-related charges in separate cases during a three-month period in 2018.
The Facts Of The Case
Monday morning was the first time in three court appearances that the facts of Morgillo’s case were read in open court. Even the judge said that she had not yet read the arrest report written by city police.
Raising his voice so that no word in his argument was lost in the high-ceilinged court room, Strollo read through the details of the arrest report as he made his case for why Morgillo should face trial rather go to rehab.
According to Strollo’s presentation and the New Haven Police Department arrest report that he read in court, city police responded to a domestic violence complaint at Morgillo’s home in New Haven on Oct. 15, 2018.
Strollo said Morgillo had been out watching football, and came home to find his current girlfriend at home with her ex-boyfriend. “He came home to find them together at the house,” he said. “Not in any particular state. Just in the house.”
The ex-boyfriend left; Morgillo followed him. The two men yelled at each other outside of Morgillo’s house. Morgillo ultimately pulled the ex-boyfriend out of the latter’s car.
“They basically had a mostly verbal confrontation,” Strollo said.
Then Morgillo’s girlfriend came outside.
“This defendant called her ‘a little whore,’” Strollo said, “punched her in the face, threw her to the ground, and spit chewing tobacco on her.”
Morgillo’s girlfriend went back into the house, called the police, and hid Morgillo’s police belt, which contained his gun, Strollo continued.
Judge Markle slowed Strollo down.
Was Morgillo on duty? the judge asked.
No, Strollo said.
Did he give any indication that he wanted to find his police equipment with the intent of inflicting more harm on his girlfriend? the judge asked.
No, Strollo said.
Why did she hide his police belt? she asked.
Strollo said the girlfriend is an emergency room nurse, and is familiar with these types of domestic violence altercations escalating into even more violence.
“She wouldn’t have done that if she did not have some grave concerns about some type of violence,” Strollo said.
When the police arrived, Strollo said, the girlfriend told them that she did not want to get Morgillo into trouble. But according to police body camera footage recorded at the time of the arrest, she did provide a verbal statement describing the facts as Strollo presented them.
“Here’s a person that society entrusts to have a gun,” Strollo said, “to have a taser, to have handcuffs, to have a nightstick, and this is the way he acts.”
Strollo argued that the pretrial diversionary Family Violence Education Program is designed for people of sound judgment who are capable of education and reform. Morgillo knew that his girlfriend spent time with her ex-boyfriend from time to time, he said.
“It’s not a spur of the moment thing,” Strollo said. “It goes to his character and his ability to be a police officer.”
Past Misconduct Inadmissable?
Strollo then moved to present an additional bit of evidence to bolster his argument .
“On Jan. 24, 2018,” he said, “a convicted felon was found in possession of a firearm registered to this defendant ...”
That’s as far as Strollo got. Gunning, Morgillo’s lawyer, interjected that the incident Strollo was referring to was unrelated to the current charge and FVEP application under consideration.
Judge Markle agreed. She asked Strollo if the prior incident precipitated a conviction. No, he said. Did it involve a firearm? Yes, he said.
Did it involve the same complainant — that is, the girlfriend whom Strollo allegedly punched in October? No, Strollo said.
Markle said that prior act of misconduct, therefore, was irrelevant to the matter at hand.
“If the state were allowed to bring in every prior bad act by somebody,” she said, “and argue that that prior bad act precludes a defendant from getting any diversionary programs, then quite frankly, Mr. Strollo, the court would be denying this program” in many, many cases.
Strollo pressed his case. He said that the prior incident, though it didn’t factor into the material details of the case at hand and would likely not be eligible to be presented if the case went to trial, nevertheless shed light on the persistent poor judgment that Morgillo has exercised while employed as police officer. Morgillo has been on the force since graduating from the police academy in 2008.
“He clearly is a candidate for this program,” Gunning argued instead. When the court reached out to Morgillo’s girlfriend, he said, the girlfriend said she approved of Morgillo attending the program.
Gunning said the court should leave the determination of Morgillo’s fitness to be a police officer to the police department itself.
Markle said she would have to think on it. She temporarily passed on deciding on the issue, and went into an hour-long recess, during which she consulted with the the two lawyers and the court’s victim justice advocate.
The judge returned to her bench just after noon on Monday. She asked Strollo to explain one more time why the state thinks Morgillo should not have access to the pre-trial diversionary program and should go to trial istead.
“He knows better,” Strollo said. “He’s not like the average person.” He went through training to become a police officer that should have provided him with an adequate understanding of how not to act with his girlfriend, Strollo argued.
The training likely pertained to how to respond to calls of domestic violence, Markle said, and not necessarily to how he should act when off duty.
“The emphasis in family violence has always been towards education and rehabilitation over punishment,” she said.
Then she approved Morgillo’s application to participate in the pre-trial diversionary program. She said he must attend nine sessions over the next year, and, if he successfully completes them, the court will consider dismissing all charges against him.
She also left in place the protective order that bars Morgillo from carrying a gun or live ammunition for the next year.
“It most probably will have an impact on the defendant’s employment as a police officer,” she said.
After the hearing, Campbell declined to comment on the specifics of Morgillo’s case, as it is still under internal investigation by the police department and as it is still technically under the province of the state court until Morgillo’s next hearing in January 2020.
“We’ve had people on administrative duty who cannot carry a weapon,” Campbell said, usually for medical rather than criminal reasons. “I can’t honestly remember having someone we know could not hold a weapon for a year.”
The internal investigation over whether or not Morgillo should remain employed by the police department will continue, he said. “We will be in close contact with the court,” he said.