WALLINGFORD — After 23 years of service, including countless investigations like the reopening of the Barbara Pelkey homicide in 2009, Lt. Cheryl Bradley is retiring from the police department.
A familiar face at press conferences, Bradley has been department spokesperson for the past six years. She will be taking a position with the Southern Connecticut State University Police Department after retiring from Wallingford.
Bradley, 51, started as a patrol officer in 1997 and had an opportunity early on to join the detective division where she spent 10 years. That was her favorite assignment, she said in a recent interview.
“Each had its own adventures and challenges,” she said of her various roles. “... I really enjoy investigating crimes, being able to get into the nitty gritty. The interviews, figuring out who did something, collecting evidence.”
Deputy Chief John Ventura said he started working with Bradley in 2006 in the detective division. Bradley took him under her wing and showed him how to conduct an investigation. Ventura said Bradley taught him the importance of always treating people fairly and putting the victim first.
“That kind of set the groundwork for me to be able to progress in my career,” Ventura said. “I owe a lot to her. She showed my how to do things and do them properly.” Pelkey case
One of the most memorable cases Ventura worked on with Bradley was the 1986 Barbara Pelkey homicide — which had resulted in a wrongful conviction prior to their tenure with the department. Kenneth Ireland served 21 years in prison before being exonerated through the use of a DNA test sought by Ireland’s lawyers at the Connecticut Innocence Project.
Pelkey, a mother of four, was found dead at a Wallingford industrial park where she worked the overnight shift. Following Ireland’s release from prison, advances in DNA testing linked Kevin Benefield to the crime leading to his conviction in 2012. Benefield was one of dozens of industrial park workers who agreed to provide saliva samples in the early days of the murder investigation.
Bradley, Ventura and Lt. Robert Flis pored over the case file from the original investigation, Bradley said. They sent the saliva samples to the state forensic laboratory for DNA testing, which was not available in 1986. While they were waiting for the results, the detectives conducted more interviews and watched videotapes of all of the original interviews.
“We really gave it a good effort and did a lot of work in coming to the right conclusion,” Bradley said. “... Ultimately in the end, although it was our agency who put (Ireland) in jail, I think we did some justice in having some part in making that right.”
Ventura said looking back the most important lesson Bradley instilled in the detective division was never to forget the victim. Sometimes in police work officers can get focused on catching the bad guy, but Bradley always made sure to keep the victim informed and let them know the police were there for them, he said.
“We’re going to miss her experience, her smile,” Ventura said Friday. “You can’t replace an investigator, officer, supervisor like (Bradley).” ‘Critical role’
Police Chief William Wright worked with Bradley for several years on the same shift in the detective division, he said. Wright described her as a “highly dedicated and professional police officer” and said he would miss her.
She took over the role of public information officer from the now retired Deputy Chief Marc Mikulski.
“Her commitment to the agency and her critical role as our P.I.O. will be hard to replace, although not surprisingly she has been mentoring her P.I.O. replacement for the past few weeks,” Wright said. “I wish her nothing but the best as she continues her law enforcement career at Southern and I have no reservation in saying that she has been a tremendous asset to our department and I’m sure she will be for Chief Dooley and his department at Southern.”
Bradley said she was happy to work for an agency that has high moral and ethical standards. She said if a member of the department wants to be successful, they have the opportunity here. Core mission
She often tells the officers reporting to her that they should treat every incident as if it were a relative making the complaint, Bradley said.
“How would you want (a family member) to be treated if they were looking to us to help them with something? I tell all the guys I supervise, I instill that in them. We are service oriented, that is our primary goal here,” Bradley said.
The job has gotten more difficult over the past year with the pandemic, Bradley said, but noted that police officers always have to adjust to change.
The core mission of service to the community, however, is still the same.
“We still have a function, still need to go out there and protect people and property and serve the community,” Bradley said.