Lieutenant Lonnie Blackwell and Captain Robert Sapiro will be demoted one rank in connection with the fabrication of a racially charged letter that has generated unrest in the Police Department dating back to the mayoral administration of Bill Finch. Blackwell is president of the Bridgeport Guardians minority police organization. His lawyer, former Mayor Tom Bucci who specializes in employment discrimination and labor law, declares “The findings of wrongdoing are based on the uncorroborated testimony of a witness who has been found to have outright lied on numerous occasions about this incident, even in the face of indisputable evidence, and even after admitting to previously lying.” Case documents (see below) do not connect Sapiro to drafting of the letter, but reprimand him for improper supervision of Blackwell.
Blackwell and Sapiro are expected to report for duty on Monday each less one rank, assigned to patrol. In addition, they will be required to undergo training at the discretion of Police Chief AJ Perez who notified them of the disciplinary action Tuesday afternoon.
Both Blackwell and Sapiro were high on the list of top 100 wage earners for 2015, benefiting from police overtime.
The findings of wrongdoing are based on the uncorroborated testimony of a witness who has been found to have outright lied on numerous occasions about this incident, even in the face of indisputable evidence, and even after admitting to previously lying. There is a total absence of corroborating evidence. Here we have a police lieutenant with an unblemished record who, at the very most, may have not followed proper reporting procedures, is demoted two ranks (yes, two ranks, because he is indisputably in line to be made a Captain) for a technical violation. The chief could compare him with those who have been disciplined for criminal violations, but that is not the case here, no matter how the chief tries to spin it. The most serious charge of untruthfulness is solely based on Higgins’ spurious allegations. How do you find him more credible than a Lieutenant who has never received discipline for any serious violation, who has been an active participant in community activities, and who has worked unceasingly for a police department that reflects the community it serves? The chief fails to answer this question. He adopts without questioning the unscrupulous and personally biased investigation and false findings of the OIA investigator assigned to this investigation.
The following letter, in part, was issued by Chief Perez to all commands on Tuesday:
DISCIPLINARY ACTION-LIEUTENANT LONNIE BLACKWELL
As a result of my review of The Office of Internal Affairs Case # 151-015, I have determined Lieutenant Lonnie Blackwell to be in violation of the following Department Rules and Regulations:
1.3.4 KNOWLEDGE OF DEPARTMENTAL RULES AND REGULATIONS
1) Members of the Department shall familiarize themselves with these rules and regulations and each member shall conform to and abide by the same.
2) These rules are a basis for action and are not meant to be all-inclusive. No member of the Department will be excused from action in accordance with sound judgment merely because a situation is not covered by a rule.
1.3.5 VIOLATION OF RULES
Officers shall not commit any acts that constitute a violation of the rules, regulations, directives, or other orders of the Department whether or not stated in this manual. Rules regulations, directives, or other orders shall be posted at Area Commands, in bureaus and divisions, as well as other departmental areas that are deemed appropriate.
Any superior officer of the Department, who observes any subordinate violating any rule or regulation and fails to take proper corrective action, shall be in violation of these rules.
Blackwell was cited for unbecoming conduct, insubordination, untruthfulness, violation of law enforcement code of ethics and policies covering racial, ethnic or sexist slurs and/or graffiti.
Sapiro was found in violation of departmental rules and supervisor accountability.
The motive and authenticity behind a racially charged letter distributed throughout the department in February of 2015 also involved now-retired police officer Clive Higgins, the only one of three city police officers acquitted in federal court with the stomping of a suspect in Beardsley Park several years ago. State law enforcement officials also simultaneously conducted a criminal investigation involving the role of city police officers manufacturing the letter typed anonymously on police letterhead to embarrass police leadership.
A local police internal investigation centers on fabrication of the letter that investigators believe was a ruse to set the appearance of a racial divide within the department. In one letter threatening language was directed at Higgins, an African American veteran police officer. Another letter distributed in 2015, headlined “White Power,” falsified the name of then-Assistant Chief James Nardozzi who stated following disclosure of the letter, “I am disgusted that someone would make such a hateful statement and falsify my signature to the document. I did not write or sign this letter nor have I made statements that even remotely reflect the sentiments of this letter.”
Higgins was also mentioned in another letter as well as Blackwell. As the investigation gained traction, Higgins resigned from the police department, was charged criminally and received probation.
Retired city police lieutenant Ron Bailey, who also served as president of the Guardians, asserts prior to his retirement in 2013 that Blackwell urged him to write a report claiming Nardozzi was a racist.
“He wanted me to make up some things about Nardozzi making him out as a racist, he kept after me to do it but I refused,” Bailey is quoted in a Connecticut Post article.
Police Chief AJ Perez admitted to being frustrated by the pace of the investigation. He wanted to administer the punishment so the department can move on from the controversy. The case had been under review by the City Attorneys Office for quite some time.
See accompanying case documents: