MERIDEN – Moments before an officer stormed into a crowd of people on the front porch of a home on Hillside Avenue, police can be heard in body-worn camera recordings expressing frustration that the group was not following commands to stay inside.
Police were not there to debate, one officer said during the Sept. 2, 2018 incident. “Either we collar up or we’re leaving,” an officer shouted to the crowd from the sidewalk across the front lawn.
“We got enough cops here, let’s do something,” one officer said to another, though official reports on the incident indicate police were significantly outnumbered.
The reappearance of homeowner Jose Negron’s 17-year-old son on the porch, agitated officers. “Hey, bring him inside, or he’s getting arrested,” an officer shouts. “I’m not saying it again.”
Officer Michael Lounsbury can then be heard saying the 17-year-old spit at a fellow officer. Lounsbury handed off his pepper spray and headed directly toward the crowd on the porch as other officers urged him to “Stop, stop, stop.”
Officer Christopher Morin then joined Lounsbury in the melee, which ended with Jose Negron being dragged off the porch and suffering a broken leg during his arrest on the front lawn.
The Record-Journal obtained body camera recordings of the incident through a Freedom of Information request after the city paid $550,000 earlier this year to settle an excessive force lawsuit filed by Negron. Police officials and the outside counsel that handled the case for the city did not return requests for comment. Negron’s attorney declined comment on his client’s behalf, citing the confidential settlement with the city.
The video footage captures a chaotic confrontation on the porch. At one point, Lounsbury’s own camera is detached from his uniform and falls to the ground.
Shouting continues, but the physical struggle quickly subsides. The officer later attaches the camera back onto his uniform.
The recordings subsequently show officers separating Negron from the crowd and dragging him to the front lawn. Negron can be seen standing with his hands behind his back. He doesn’t appear to resist officers’ attempt to handcuff him.
Footage from another officer’s body camera then shows an officer kicking Negron’s leg out from under him, forcing Negron face down into the grass. Shortly after, officers learn Negron suffered a broken leg and they call for an ambulance. Through multiple camera lenses
The Record-Journal reviewed four body-worn camera recordings of the incident after submitting public records requests for the footage. The recordings showed Negron prior to his arrest appearing to urge those around him to calm down as he spoke with officers. Negron during the verbal exchanges with officers learns that one of his children has been detained by police and that another son, the 17-year-old, was involved in a verbal altercation with officers.
The Record-Journal compiled footage from three of the four recordings so that all three of those officers’ perspectives aligned simultaneously, enabling a three-camera view of the incident and how it unfolded.
The interactions start on the sidewalk and front lawn of the property, as officers step out of their police cruisers. Officers continuously order the crowd to stand back and to move inside. Several individuals stand on the porch with Negron in front, the recordings show.
Lounsbury, the first officer, would later tell fellow officers and his supervisor that he saw Negron’s 17-year-old son attempt to spit at him. They discuss the charges that would later be listed in the officers’ incident and supplemental reports.
In an arrest warrant application related to the incident, Lounsbury wrote he had probable cause to believe Negron committed assault on a public safety officer, second-degree breach of peace and interfering with an officer. Morin’s supplemental report mirrored Lounsbury’s narrative.
Lounsbury in that written report also wrote that Negron attempted to punch the officer in the face, below his left ear. Neither of those claims are clearly supported by the footage that was reviewed.
No IA investigation; charges dropped
While the arrest warrant that was filed detailed charges and included a scheduled court appearance, state judicial records show no record of a conviction, nor do they indicate whether charges against Negron were pursued.
Officials did not respond to a reporter’s inquiry related to the charges.
The officers’ conduct during the incident was not investigated by the police department’s Internal Affairs Division because a complaint was not filed with the police department that would have launched such an investigation, according to former police Chief Jeffry Cossette, who was chief at the time of the incident and has since retired.
It is also unlikely that the Police Civilian Review Board, established by the City Council in late 2021, will review this incident or others like it that occurred before the board’s formation.
“I don’t think we’re going to backtrack to previous complaints,” said Nancy Burton, the board’s vice chairperson. “That was not the game plan.”
Burton told the Record-Journal that board members recently completed 40 hours worth of training related to use-of-force matters. Burton described that training as “extensive and quite informational. We learned a lot,” she said.
The board is scheduled to hold its next meeting in late April.
If an excessive force complaint is filed as a lawsuit in the courts and not with the police department, it would not be forwarded to the board for review.
Other use-of-force complaints settled, in litigation
Negron’s complaint is not the only excessive force complaint the city recently settled. Legal records also show that some of the same officers named in the Negron complaint were also named in other excessive force lawsuits. Those complaints include a lawsuit filed in 2018 by the family of resident Rafael Margary-Rivera, who claimed officers’ use of force during a raid of their apartment was unnecessary and their detention by officers unlawful. The city agreed to pay $135,000 to the family of the plaintiff.
Lounsbury, one of the defendants in Negron’s complaint who is no longer employed by the city, is also listed as a defendant in another federal excessive force lawsuit still in litigation: Stephanie Howell v. City of Meriden, et al.
Cossette, when reached by phone, provided a general defense of Lounsbury. “He was a good officer,” Cossette said.
The city agreed to settle a third complaint, Jose Caban, Sr. v. Brian J. Wilkinson, et al, according to legal filings earlier this month. The Record-Journal submitted a public records request for the terms of that settlement that is still pending. Challenge to obtain video
The Record-Journal’s pursuit of police-recorded footage related to the Negron incident underscores frequent challenges in accessing such records. State law established that body-worn camera footage of law enforcement encounters with the public is subject to public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. However, the process for obtaining such records can be burdensome, time-consuming and costly.
The state statute regarding the public disclosure of body-worn camera recordings states that such recordings shall be disclosed to the public no later than 48 hours upon an officer’s review of a camera recording. If an officer does not review that recording, not later than 96 hours “following the request for disclosure… such recording shall be disclosed to the public,” subject to disclosure exemptions already provided under the FOIA statute. They include the presence of minors, as well as discussion and the administration of medical treatment and other exemptions already granted under FOIA.
A reporter found that despite the four-day requirement having been written into state law, the lapse of time between when a request for disclosure is made and when the footage is actually released can be far longer than four days, even for footage that is already several years old — and thus presumed to have been reviewed by the officers involved.
The Record-Journal filed its initial request for the Hillside Avenue footage on Jan. 5, the same week the City Council authorized a settlement of Negron’s complaint.
However, following a series of email exchanges with city attorneys, a Record-Journal reporter did not actually review the footage until mid-March — more than two months after the original request was submitted.
On Jan. 17, nearly two weeks after the Record-Journal submitted its request, Associate City Attorney Christopher Clark emailed the newspaper with a notification that the requested records had been collected, but that they consisted of nearly five hours of footage some of which contained medical information “that is confidential under state and federal law.”
“.... Redaction of the confidential portions of the video would cost the City significant time and resources,” Clark wrote. “You may be assessed a separate fee equal to the hourly wage of the employee(s) tasked with such redactions in the event that you wish to obtain copies.”
The Record-Journal, after reviewing officers’ written reports, as well as Negron’s lawsuit, narrowed its request for footage to four individual officers: Lounsbury, Rodriguez, Morin and Patrick Ouellette.
A revised request was submitted on Feb. 22, narrowing down the overall footage from 296 minutes to less than 90 minutes contained in four recordings. Twelve days later, on March 6, city attorneys notified a reporter the footage was available for review. After reviewing the video, the Record-Journal requested copies of three of the four recordings.