1 day suspension for CT cop who repeated racial slur criticized


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May 08, 2023

1 day suspension for CT cop who repeated racial slur criticized

A one-day, unpaid suspension for a Wolcott Police Department officer who failed

A one-day, unpaid suspension for a Wolcott Police Department officer who failed to activate his body camera and repeated a racial slur to a girl while breaking up a fight between students at Wolcott High School last month has drawn criticism.

Officer Jeffrey Bender told a 15-year-old student "I ain't your (N-word)" after the girl said to him, "Get off of me, (N-word)," while he was restraining her from a fight involving her sister and another student on May 10 in a bathroom at Wolcott High School, police reports and body camera footage from another officer show.

An internal affairs investigation released on May 22 concluded that Bender violated the department's body cam policy — which is mandated under the state's police accountability bill passed in 2020 — when he failed to ensure his camera was on despite saying he believed he had touched the activation button. The internal investigation also found he violated the department's policy concerning being respectful to citizens when he repeated the racial slur the girl used and told her to shut up.

The investigation, conducted by Wolcott Police Department Lt. Pat Malloy, concluded Bender did not violate the police department's policy on intolerance toward any race or ethnic background.

Bender's one-day suspension — which was served Sunday — was based on the body camera violation, and he was issued a written reprimand and will have to attend sensitivity training.

"Officer Bender should have been suspended without pay for at least six months," Ija Callender, the mother of the two girls arrested, told The Courant. "Or terminated."

The reprimand handed down to Bender, Callender said, "just proves what we already know to be true here in Wolcott and the Greater Waterbury area. That racism is thriving in Wolcott, especially within the police department and Board of Education … ."

Calendar also contends that Wolcott school officials are not concerned with racism in the school system and that at least one school official has acknowledged that an "abundance of racism" has been going on in Wolcott for well over 20 years.

Wolcott Chief Edward Stephens, who decided Bender's punishment, acknowledged that his officer should not have repeated the racial slur, though he pointed out that he believes it would have been an entirely different situation had he used the inappropriate word to describe the student.

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Stephens said he believes Bender was expressing his disapproval of the racial slur and could have used better judgment when choosing to actually repeat it.

"He shouldn't have repeated it back to her," Stephens told The Courant. "He should not have said what he said."

Stephens added that Bender would have been facing a much longer suspension or possibly termination had he used the inappropriate word toward the student who was arrested along with her 18-year-old sister following the fight.

"Of course, he gets a slap on the wrist," said Ivelisse Correa of Black Lives Matter 860.

"It doesn't matter if a student was using it toward him," Correa said of the slur. "If you’re not Black or of African descent you can't use it. It's a very dehumanizing word. If he felt comfortable using that word, he should be fired."

"He's the adult in that situation," Correa said. "Police need to be held to a higher standard. This is not an officer holding himself to a higher standard."

According to the internal investigation, Bender's lack of history of previous department policy violations factored into the disciplinary action handed down. During the investigation, a random check of previous calls were reviewed to determine if Bender had a history of not turning on his body camera, and no violations were uncovered. His personnel history did include, however, a number of letters from citizens commending him for "jobs well done," which included working as a D.A.R.E. officer and on the Citizens Against Substance Abuse panel.

Stephens said he has "zero tolerance" for an officer not ensuring his body camera is turned on, which he said Bender should have done prior to entering the bathroom to break up the fight between Callender's two daughters and another student who was not arrested.

Stephens also noted that Bender was honest and cooperative during the internal investigation and that, had he lied, he would have been fired and de-certified — preventing him from ever working as a police officer.

Callender said her two daughters, who come from a mixed-race family, have previously dealt with racism in Southington and now have the same issue in Wolcott. Since the incident in the high school received publicity, she said, she received a racist phone message left on her work voicemail. Believing the message was left by a former state worker, she said she tried to have the individual arrested but was unsuccessful.

Callender is being represented by New Haven-based civil rights attorney Alex Taubes in connection with the incident at Wolcott High School.

"I have no comment except to say that we are exploring all avenues of accountability for this unacceptable conduct and expect the Town of Wolcott to uphold its responsibility to protect the family from reprisal or retaliation for holding this officer accountable," said Taubes, who took to Twitter to say he believes what happened is "a fireable offense."

Wolcott Superintendent of Schools Shawn Simpson said he had "no comment at this time" when reached by The Courant.

Editor's note: This story originally contained a file photo of a police body camera not related to the story.

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