HARTFORD – A day after police Chief James C. Rovella joined marchers who were protesting the Taser shooting of a city teen, the Hartford Police Union held a press conference Thursday to condemn the chief's actions.
"Even though the chief stated he wants a fair and impartial investigation and he tried to explain why he marched with protesters, it sent the wrong message to the rank and file," union President Richard Holton said as he read from a statement at the union hall in Hartford, backed by dozens of officers. "Our membership believes that the chief could have met with the organizers of the demonstration and listened to their concerns. However, to have participated in the demonstration in any form has sent a message to the membership that they are not being supported."
About 75 protesters gathered near Albany Avenue and Main Street Wednesday night and marched to police headquarters on High Street, seeking to get police to drop the charges against Luis Anglero Jr., 18, who was shot with a Taser by Det. Shawn Ware as police were attempting to disperse a crowd at Albany Avenue near Garden Street on Aug. 19. Rovella, who has been chief since September 2012, and other officers joined the protesters during the march.
Protesters carried signs saying "Stop racist police brutality" and shouted "HPD: shame, shame" and "Drop the charges, now, now." Rovella also addressed protesters when they arrived at department headquarters.
"He did the right thing by talking with them and voicing his opinion in what he's looking for, but he also has to remember the people that do the work for him," Holton said. "He can't forget about those people."
Rovella could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon, but sent an email to officers Wednesday night after the protest. The Courant obtained a copy from a source.
In the email Rovella states: "I walked among the protesters today for the purpose of exchanging ideas and points of view. I'm not one to wait at 10-2 and appear from behind doors to address the group. I am trying to diffuse any continued animosity towards police. It is important to support their freedom of expression. It is equally important to explain the police side and several people spent time talking with me. Our continued partnership with the community is important. Just as important, is a fair and impartial investigation and I stressed that with the group. I pass no judgement and remain neutral pending the outcome of the internal investigation."
However, Holton said Rovella's actions sent the wrong message.
"Walking with protesters conveying anti-police sentiments and calling for the arrest of Det. Ware conveyed a message to the rank and file that politics will overshadow the facts," Holton said.
Cornell Lewis, who was at the head of Wednesday night's rally, said Rovella was trying to "explain his position" to protesters as he walked among them.
"That was his decision to make," Lewis said, adding that "in the beginning I thought it might have been ill-advised" because Lewis said the chief was receiving "chirping in his ear" from many of the protesters.
The stun gun shooting took place Aug. 19 after police said Anglero was acting "aggressively" toward officers who were trying to disperse a crowd and was disobeying orders to leave the area. But family and witnesses said Anglero had stopped advancing toward Ware, was complying with his orders and didn't pose a threat when he was shocked.
The encounter was captured on a surveillance video.
Anglero was charged with interfering with police and breach of peace. He is scheduled to appear in court on the charges Wednesday.
"What the police said is an indication of their disconnection with the community," Lewis said of the union's statement. "All we did was exercise our First Amendment rights and we did it in a manner that I felt was somewhat respectful, and it didn't have to go like that."
The police department's internal affairs division and a civilian review board are investigating the Taser shooting.
Both Holton and Rovella stressed that the investigation needs to be completed before any decision is made on the next step.
"A grainy video absent of any audio does not tell the whole story," Holton said. "You must look at the incident in its entirety, not in fragments or segments to fit one's political or personal agenda."
The mayor's communications director, Maribel La Luz, said Segarra had no comment on the union's statement.
Ware remains on active duty, and Holton said the spoke with the detective Thursday morning and that he was doing "pretty good" but was concerned about the negative attention he has been getting.
"It has become 'politically fashionable' to criticize and prejudge a police officer's decision," Holton said.
The union also appeared to criticize Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Thursday, paraphrasing a statement by Malloy at a forum last Friday.
"When watching that video, I was momentarily sickened," Malloy said at the forum.
Holton used the phrase "sickened momentarily" in his statement Thursday, which he attributed to an "elected official" whom he didn't want to name, and said the comment was "prejudicial toward the officer and a severe rush to judgement."
"What sickens us are these so-called leaders who rush to judgment in any incident without knowing the truth or the facts," Holton said.
Courant staff writer Jenna Carlesso contributed to this story.