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Rising tensions between Manchester police and political leaders as officials prepare to discuss reforms

Hartford Courant logo Hartford Courant 6/13/2020 By Jesse Leavenworth, Hartford Courant
a person talking on a cell phone: Melanie Diaz yells \"no justice, no peace,\" as Manchester community members gather during a peaceful protest against police brutality in the parking lot of Illing Middle School next to the Manchester Police Department on June 6. © Kassi Jackson/The Hartford Courant/Hartford Courant/TNS Melanie Diaz yells \"no justice, no peace,\" as Manchester community members gather during a peaceful protest against police brutality in the parking lot of Illing Middle School next to the Manchester Police Department on June 6.

Town police officers say they are angry and dismayed by a statement from local Democratic leaders that cops say portrays them as thugs with badges while ignoring all the good they do in the community.

“The men and women of the Manchester Police Officers Association,” police union President Lt. John Rossetti said Friday, “are outraged that our local politicians would take the opportunity to release a statement attacking officers that was lacking factual data, when our citizens and entire country are looking for positive change and reform to address the issues they have.”

Addressing the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and a recent police-involved fatal shooting in Manchester, the statement from the Democratic majority on the board of directors said they “recognize that for many, the terror associated with police interaction is a certainty.”

“Whether it manifests as an elevated heart rate when a squad car passes by, or a bead of sweat that forms on your lip as an officer walks toward you on the street," Mayor Jay Moran and his fellow Democrats wrote, “the horror is real, and it is palpable.”

The rising local tensions come as the directors prepare to join communities around the nation in a review of police practices. The board at its July meeting is to discuss body cameras and a push for tighter restrictions on use of force.

Republican board members also released a statement.

“Our country and our community," they wrote, "have been rocked by the recent, horrific and tragic deaths. There is great pain in our community, most especially for our black and brown residents. Please know that in the wake of these deaths, we share this grief with you, and we are striving to be mindful and vigilant.”

Citizens and government and law enforcement leaders across the country have been talking about how to curb fatal encounters between police officers and citizens, particularly minorities, after Floyd’s gruesome death on the evening of May 25. Officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder, along with three other officers who were at the scene.

Pressure from both sides

Moran, who was booed at a recent local rally for not immediately answering protesters’ call for defunding police, is getting pressure from both citizens and police. The mayor said people define “defunding the police” in many ways. One possibility that directors will discuss, Moran said, is narrowing the scope of officers’ responsibilities, so they are not dealing as much with mental health issues and trying to keep order in local schools.

“The ultimate goal,” he said, “is finding what makes the community safer for our citizens and what makes the community safer for our police.”

But town officers and former officers say Moran and other leaders caved to the loudest voices. An editorial in Law Enforcement Today by an anonymous author identified only as a retired cop focused on the Manchester Democrats’ statement.

Video: Protests Over George Floyd’s Death Prompt Lawmakers To Pass Police Reforms (CBS New York)


“One thing you can always count on from Democrats … they love to pander,” the editorial says.

The writer also pointed out that the Manchester Police Department has submitted to thorough reviews since 1989 by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies and is one of 20 nationally accredited municipal departments in Connecticut.

Local police have also pointed to their year-round work in the community, including block watch meetings, an annual Christmas Day gift run for kids, a homework club, basketball tournaments and other programs.

“What does get lost in all of this," Moran agreed, “is the charitable work that our police do.”

Police spokesman Lt. Ryan Shea said the department would have no comment on the directors’ statements. Windsor Locks police Sgt. Jeff Lampson, a Manchester native and former head of Manchester’s detective bureau, responded angrily to Moran.

Lampson wrote in an email to the mayor that Moran “capitulated to the anti-police sentiment and false narrative about systemic racism and abuse within my profession, of which I, and hundreds of thousands of others, have served honorably and professionally, day in and out.”

“You took the easy way out and continued to fuel the rhetoric,” Lampson wrote in the email, which was copied to The Courant. “Police officers nationwide are sickened over George Floyd’s death and the conduct of those Minneapolis officers, as well as any other officer who polices with any sort of harmful bias, prejudice, or contempt in their hearts.”

‘We see you’

The Democrats’ statement, released Wednesday and signed by the mayor and the other five majority members, says, “As the events of recent weeks have unfolded, the members of the Democratic Caucus of the Manchester Board of Directors want to reaffirm our commitment to our residents, in particular our Black and Brown residents.

“We see you,” Moran and his fellow board members said. “We acknowledge your pain. We share in your grief. We stand with you in this fight for equity and justice. Your lives MATTER."

The statement goes on to note the officer-involved fatal shooting in Manchester of Jose Soto on April 2. State Department of Correction officers went to Soto’s mother’s Oak Street home to take him into custody on a violation of parole warrant. While speaking to a family member at the home, the officers said they heard a man in the basement saying he was going to start shooting, authorities have said.

A SWAT team surrounded the home and made contact with Soto, who agreed to surrender. However, once he was outside, there was “a confrontation,” authorities have said, and four officers, including two from Manchester, fired their weapons. Soto, who sources have said was not armed, was pronounced dead at Hartford Hospital soon after from rifle wounds to the neck and torso. Tolland State’s Attorney Matthew Gedansky is investigating the shooting. Manchester police do not wear body cameras.

“These harsh realities require us to act,” the Democratic board members said. “We are committed to a full and transparent examination of the Manchester Police Department. We are committed to the ongoing dialogue and action necessary to support true and meaningful change. We are committed to examining our own biases. We are committed to challenging systems of oppression.”

Jesse Leavenworth can be reached at


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