NEW LONDON – The abrupt suspension this week of the city’s recently-appointed first Black police chief has inflamed long-simmering tension and debate within the ranks and the city over racial fairness and the overall morale of the department.
Less than three months after his July appointment, Chief Brian Wright on Wednesday was placed on paid administrative leave following a complaint made against him that day that originated from within the department, which has about 70 officers.
Mayor Michael Passero, who issued the suspension, would not comment Friday on the nature of the complaint, but said in a statement that he “remains confident in Chief Wright’s leadership” of the department.
Wright, a city officer for 27 years, replaced former Chief Peter Reichard, who retired in June after secretly-recorded audio surfaced of him making highly-critical remarks about the city and about his allegedly being unfairly passed over for promotion in favor of minority officers.
Internal issues of racial fairness have plagued the department for years, and have led to several lawsuits alleging discrimination in promotions.
While most officials declined comment about Wright’s suspension citing the pending investigation, city police Officer and State Rep. Anthony Nolan took to social media Thursday evening to air his view of the situation.
“Unfortunately we have a few officers at NLPD that can’t handle black men in charge or in leadership positions,” Nolan wrote on his personal Facebook page in a posting that featured a photo of Wright with the caption “I got your back Chief.” “They also can’t handle how Chief Brian Wright is putting those in check that have been out of control for years both inside and outside of the New London Police Department.”
While not specifically mentioning Reichard’s administration, Nolan in the posting said that he was proud of Wright’s attempts to “change the narrative” at the department.
“It is horrific and shameful to know that there are coworkers planning and plotting character assassination on Chief Wright because some officers/supervisors skeletons have surfaced of them doing wrong,” he wrote.
Nolan could not be reached Friday for further comment.
The complaint against Wright was the subject of a City Council executive-session special meeting Thursday night that lasted more than an hour and was attended by Passero. Executive sessions are closed to public view.
When the public portion of the video-conference meeting resumed, Council President Efrain Dominguez, stated: “No motions were made and no votes were taken” in the executive session.
During the closed portion of the meeting, several members of the public who logged into the video conference made remarks to the effect that they hoped Wright was not being placed under harsher scrutiny than his predecessor, Reichard.
“Looks like it’s good for the goose but not for the gander,” one man said.
City Councilor Curtis Goodwin would not comment Friday on the investigation or Thursday’s executive session, but expressed confidence that the complaint against Wright will be dismissed.
“It’s unfortunate that he has to be in this predicament,” Goodwin said of Wright, who he described as a lifelong friend and a “stand-up guy.”
Goodwin, who called Nolan’s comments about the situation “courageous,” said the investigation presents an opportunity for the city to finally identify and deal with issues facing the department that have been festering for years.
“These issues don’t just go away,” Goodwin said. “And with new leadership…we’ll change the culture.”
Police union President Officer Joseph Buzzelli declined to discuss the issue Friday.
“The Union will not be issuing a statement or elaborating on any comments the Mayor or his Office made in regards to this investigation as Chief Wright is not a member of Local 724,” Buzzelli said. “We anticipate the City Administration will perform their due diligence and that this matter will be resolved appropriately.”
In a June posting on the union’s website after Reichard’s retirement, union political director Sgt. Chuck Flynn praised Reichard’s administration and said morale in the department has cratered after the passage of police-accountability laws by the state General Assembly, prompting several officers to leave the department and more planning to do so.
“We predicted this exodus last year from regressive legislation at the State Capitol and zero support from City Hall,” Flynn wrote, referencing city “Councilors safe inside their Zoom meeting progressive echo chamber.”
“Our elected officials have bent over backwards,” he continued, “to appease the small but vocal anti-police crowd at the expense of public safety.”
Flynn said union members were “blindsided” by Reichard’s sudden retirement after nine years as Chief.
“He shall be remembered as a cop’s cop who balanced service to the public with fairness to his personnel,” Flynn wrote. “We thank him for his selfless public service and wish him good health and fortune in his next chapter.”
Passero has named Neville A. Brooks, a retired deputy chief of the Hartford Police Department, to replace Wright as the investigation into the complaint continues.