NHPD officers arrested for off-duty shooting

Three New Haven Police Department officers were arrested Friday for their involvement in an off-duty shooting incident outside the State Street bar Christopher Martin’s last Sunday.

The NHPD secured arrest warrants from the state’s attorney’s office Thursday evening for the three officers, who voluntarily turned themselves in at police headquarters on Union Avenue Friday morning, according to NHPD spokesman David Hartman. Officers Charles Kim and Lawrence Burns were charged with interfering with a police officer, unlawful discharge of a firearm and reckless endangerment in the first degree, while officer Krzystof Ruszczyk was charged with interfering with a police officer.

The arrests came after a week of investigation conducted by the NHPD’s Internal Affairs and Investigative Services divisions. Those investigations began after the NHPD responded to a report of gunshots around State and Pearl Streets at 2:27 a.m. Sunday and learned that fellow officers were involved in the incident.

While Hartman declined to comment on the details of the incident, the New Haven Register reported that Kim and Burns fired their guns into the air while Ruszczyk did not fire his gun. All three face a charge of interfering with a police officer, for allegedly leaving the scene after being ordered to remain by another officer.

“No one was shot at, no one was hit, no property was damaged,” NHPD Chief Dean Esserman said at a press conference last Sunday in response to the incident. “The actions of the few do not speak for the many.”

Esserman asked the three officers to surrender their guns, badges and police identification Sunday afternoon and promised that the NHPD would “move rapidly” in its investigation of the incident.

The swift response comes as Esserman seeks to build public trust in the NHPD as part of his efforts to revive community policing in the Elm City, an approach that emphasizes strong public-police relations as a crime-reduction strategy.

“The behavior [of the arrested officers] is unacceptable,” Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said in a Friday statement. “It is not representative of the hard work and commitment of the men and women of the police department.”

The NHPD’s response to the off-duty shooting incident was “appropriate,” DeStefano said. Since Esserman took office in November, DeStefano and the Board of Aldermen’s public safety committee have been supportive of the NHPD’s efforts to improve the department’s community relations, including its introduction of walking beats in the city’s 10 policing districts and monthly meetings between police management teams and the public.

Ward 29 Alderman Brian Wingate, chair of the public safety committee, said Esserman handled the “bad situation” of the shooting incident well.

“Police officers are meant to uphold the law — there’s no excuse for this if the officers are convicted of the crimes they have allegedly committed,” he said. “We’re trying to build a community based police force, and to have any kind of incident like this is negative for what the chief and new assistant chiefs are trying to put together.”

The three officers will appear in court for arraignment April 20.

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