Cop On Leave Amid Drug-Text Allegations

BREEN PHOTOA 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.”


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posted by: duncanidaho645 on April 25, 2018  8:40pm

He and Conklin are going to have to duke it out for Chief one day.

posted by: challenge on April 25, 2018  10:00pm

A continuing mess under this leadership. Who is vetting these officers? I’m confused if he allegedly sent text to drug dealer warning them of police activity why was he not arrested for conspiracy or aiding and abetting illicit drug activity and instead sent home with pay?  Is there a certain protocol for the men and women in blue when they are involved in criminal activity? Anyone else suspected of the same would be in jail trying to make bail and facing a court appearance.

posted by: robn on April 25, 2018  10:35pm

1st round TKO goes to D645

posted by: new havener on April 25, 2018  11:29pm

“he scored second-highest out of 61 people who passed the promotional exam”

for a cop, this means book-smart, street-stupid…

posted by: 1644 on April 26, 2018  6:53am

His retention is a product of court decisions, state laws, and union contracts that protect questionable cops.  These could be changed legislatively, but cops leftist Democrats support them under the guise of protecting labor rights, and conservative Republicans protect them under the guise of supporting law and order, as if supporting cops and the law were the same.  (Giuliani’s defense of police torture was the worst example of this.). Most dangerous, under the present due process protections, each incident is viewed and judged in isolation, rather than cumulatively.  This process defies common sense.
    His promotion is the product of a union contract and policies meant to protect against racial bias in which promotion is based solely on test scores, and police are never evaluated on their on-the-job performance.  Perfomance evaluations are, subjective, but also offer the opportunity to document things outside of test scores into the promotion process.

posted by: Peter99 on April 26, 2018  7:02am

It sounds like there is definitely smoke here, but the amount of fire is questionable if you are honest. This cop has a problem, but the magnitude of the problem has to be honestly determined and then addressed through disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment. To terminate someone in CT the charges must be proven conclusively, and a degree of progressive discipline used, How quickly the termination takes place is predicated on the severity of the charges. This process must be followed or the termination will be reduced to suspension and/or overturned on appeal with loss wages paid. If the investigation is honest, the progression of discipline reasonable then the employee stays fired with no back pay. It takes intelligence, adherence to proper personnel policy and good judgement on the part of the terminating authority to make these things stick, so the employee stays fired. New Haven does not have a good record doing this. There is not enough information or detail in this story to be able to say with certainty that this person should receive an unpaid suspension or termination. If an unpaid suspension is given, then the employee must be told in writing that and additional serious proven charge will result in termination of employment. That is the way progressive discipline is used to terminate an employee, and have that termination sustained on appeal. They will all be appealed by the union so that has to be prepared for by management. The appeal is handled by arbitrators at the state level, so proper documentation and following of personnel policy along with issuance of consistent application of progressive discipline is critical to each case.

posted by: alphabravocharlie on April 26, 2018  7:46am

Peter99 is right. A smart attorney once told me, “There are no employment law emergencies”. Better to take one’s time and come to the right resolution whatever that may be.

posted by: Morgan Barth on April 26, 2018  8:52am

I really believe that NHPD has so many great officers who are well-meaning in keeping our city safe and building community. But a few bad apples…It’s really hard to fire bad cops, or really any members of public-employee unions!

posted by: Peter99 on April 26, 2018  9:11am

The City of New Haven does not place a lot of value on protective service employees (police and fire) having earned college degrees and advanced college degrees. There are police officers and firefighters who have taken the time to get bachelor and master degrees in criminal justice and fire science disciplines. They have worked around their personnel and family schedules for years at personal expense to earn these degrees. We give civil service points to people for living in the city, but do not take into consideration levels of education when hiring and promoting police or fire. People should not be precluded from advancement because they do not have a college degree, but the city should be seeking to promote the best and brightest at least into positions of authority where they command others. Most companies value and use education in the selection of employees because it is a predictor of future performance. The city does not and as a result we promote on the basis of flawed civil service exams that have been challenged in court and overturned. The pool of candidates taking exams should receive points for degrees and advanced degrees if we want the best and brightest to run our departments. We do it for jobs in city hall and a lot of other city departments. If we do not change the way we hire and promote protective service employees, why should we expect changes in performance? What is being done now is not working, and is producing employees and supervisors who create lawsuits which cost the taxpayers large sums of money which could be better spent elsewhere.

posted by: 1644 on April 26, 2018  10:35am

Peter99: Is there solid evidence that a degree actual makes one a better commander?  I know the evidence is that master’s degrees do not increase teacher effectiveness, although they are required.  I have certainly known many folks in life who have done very well, and been effective leaders, without a higher education. Frankly, you sound like someone who has invested in a degree but nonetheless not been able to score well enough on the exam to be promoted.  Presuming both the education teaches and the exam tests job requirements, shouldn’t the degree make one a top scorer?

posted by: challenge on April 26, 2018  10:56am

I hear the argument about having degrees and yet what this officer is being investigated for has nothing to do with how educated one is. It has to do with how principled one is. How we can allow officers on the force to go out and enforce the law when clearly they lack the integrity to obey the law themselves is ludicrous to say the least. On another note I’m wondering why McDermott’s picture is not in the article instead of the chief. This cite celebrated his promotion; therefore there must be a picture on file.

posted by: Peter99 on April 26, 2018  11:39am

Re:1644, I am actually happily retired and did really well getting promotions. I currently teach at a local university and am a state instructor. Levels of education achieved demonstrate that a person has discipline, and a level of intelligence. I have, however, met a lot of very well educated fools who I would not put in charge of the dog pound on a good day. All I was trying to say is that education is a positive indicator in a process of selecting supervisors, You should look at the entire person, their work record and the test scores and oral scores. I also think that professional development courses and degrees should be part of the selection process. I have known some fine supervisors who did not have formal education past high school, but did have extensive professional development courses in their personnel jackets. This was an indicator of their work ethic in seeking career advancement. I could continue on, but I think I have stated where I was coming from.

posted by: 1644 on April 26, 2018  12:42pm

Peter99:  Okay, no disagreement.  I believe promotion, and retention, should be based on a holistic evaluation of an employee’s performance and potential,  with more emphasis on potential in the promotion process.  The Navy operates an up-or-out system for all its personnel, as well as periodic culls of low performers.  It’s not always fair on an individual basis, but it does help ensure the organization has the best people, and less deadwood. Given the awesome powers of police,  it’s amazing we allow consideration for individual employees to outweigh the overall public interest in having the best workforce possible.

posted by: NewHaven06512 on April 26, 2018  7:41pm

Baton strike to the head of a handcuffed suspect?  he should’ve been arrested and fired for felony assault.

posted by: Razzie on April 27, 2018  12:10pm

“The discipline McDermott received as a result: retraining.”

Retraining?!! No that’s an interesting punishment!