WALLINGFORD — Police Chief William Wright said the handcuffed man that Officer Joseph Smith knocked out with a punch earlier this year had pulled a knife on one officer and headbutted another during the incident.
Smith served a two-week suspension last month for excessive use of force after he struck a handcuffed Gary Joseph King in the head while responding to a domestic violence call on Ward Street on June 14.
The Record-Journal obtained video recorded in Officer Nicholas Judkins’ cruiser through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The call came in between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., Wright said. In the video, police can be heard saying a neighbor called the police to report loud fighting.
In the video, a woman is heard screaming. Wright said King, who was “on an intoxicant,” pulled out a knife at that point.
Officers then handcuffed King and checked his pockets, an interaction that occurs only partially within the frame of the video.
During the search, Wright said King headbutted Officer Anthony Baur. This was not observable on the video, but King can be seen next on the ground.
Officers attempted to subdue King and place him in the rear of Judkins’ cruiser. Wright said King was still resisting when Smith delivered the blow to King’s head.
The video shows Smith striking King while struggling to get the man into the back of the cruiser.
The blow rendered King unconscious. King was evaluated by medics at the scene and then taken to MidState Medical Center, Wright said.
King pleaded guilty to felony assault on public safety personnel.
He was also charged with five misdemeanors and violations. He is free on a promise to appear and is due back in Meriden Superior Court on Dec. 17.
Wright said while the strike by Smith was excessive, the officers otherwise responded to the call appropriately.
“Everything up until the strike, everything is appropriate,” Wright said, “and then thereafter the strike, everything is appropriate… They lended the due care that was necessary. It was that moment in time that, in an attempt to finally gain control of the situation, that the strike to the head took place that we can’t condone.”
Wright said cruiser video was reviewed by the shift commander, who showed Wright the video the next day.
Wright said he reviewed the video with other police officials, and then contacted the New Haven Judicial District prosecutor’s office, which sent an investigator to review the video.
The investigator recommended that the Connecticut State Police review the video.
The state police decided, Wright said, that there was no criminal intent by Smith to harm King and referred the investigation back to Wallingford police, where two officers state-certified in use of force concluded that the strike by Smith was excessive.
“Through their instruction, it’s consistently held that you never, ever, ever, strike anyone in the head,” Wright said. “Even in this case where (King) is fighting with them.”
Wright said police training and protocol, and the department’s value system, are against excessive use of force.
Smith has been out on worker’s compensation since the incident after being injured during that call, Wright said. He could not immediately be reached for comment.
Larry Dorman, spokesperson for Council 4 AFSCME on behalf of Local 1570, the Wallingford Police Union, issued a statement Tuesday regarding the incident.
“(Smith’s) record to this point had been spotless,” Dorman’s statement said. “This is an isolated incident that should not be interpreted as a reflection of the dedicated police officers who protect and serve the people of Wallingford."
Smith has been with the Wallingford police department for nine years, Wright said, and has no other disciplinary record. He also received a Police Officer of the Year Award from the local Elks lodge in November 2017.