Connecticut State Police are investigating a racially charged letter that has circulated within the Bridgeport Police Department.
The anonymous note, obtained by the News last week, is printed on the official letterhead of the department and begins and ends with the phrase “White Power.” The memo was placed in mailboxes of several police officers, as well as a communal mailbox that can be accessed by all police officers in the department.
“These Black Officers belong in the toilet,” the letter reads.
The memo also singled out Clive Higgins, an African-American police officer who had previously faced charges of police brutality in an incident that became known as the “Beardsley Park Stomp.” In 2011, Higgins, along with officers Joseph Lawlor and Elson Morales, was caught on camera kicking a man in Bridgeport’s Beardsley Park. According to the Connecticut Post, Lawlor and Morales pled guilty in 2011 and received short prison sentences, while Higgins pled not guilty. Higgins’s case went to trial last year and the jury found him innocent, allowing him to return to work after being on paid administrative leave while on trial. The February letter criticized Higgins for not supporting the other two officers in court, adding that he did not belong in the department. The letter further states that because Higgins was not given a duty weapon upon his return to the police department, he had “better watch [his] back.”
“We know where you live,” the letter read.
The Bridgeport Guardians, an organization for minority police officers, held a press conference Wednesday where they called for the dismissal of those responsible for the letter. Bridgeport detective and vice president of the Guardians Harold Dimbo said in the press conference that the letter was distributed mainly to white officers in the department, but that one African-American officer did report having received the letter — Dimbo said he assumed this was a mistake.
Dimbo further reasoned that the letter was from someone within the police department, since only they would have access to the official letterhead and to officers’ mailboxes. The fact that the letter was from inside the department is more troubling than it would be had the letter been from someone outside the department, Dimbo said. Letters from the public can be treated differently because the department understands that there will sometimes be backlash from the community, he said.
Higgins, who was present at the press conference, but did not speak, could not be reached for comment over the weekend.
State police spokesperson John Vance said in a Sunday email to the News that the department is conducting an investigation at the request of the state chief of police, and that crime detectives are looking into the case. He declined to comment further about the details of the case.
Brett Broesder, the Bridgeport City Hall spokesperson, said in a Friday email that if the investigation reveals any wrongdoing, immediate action will be taken against those found responsible.
“Racial discrimination will not be tolerated. Period,” he said.
Paul Bucci, the attorney representing the Bridgeport Guardians, said during the press conference that the organization will closely monitor the situation, and will seek legal action if the situation calls for it.
Dimbo added that the letter has caused many officers to fear for their own safety, and that it has created a hostile environment for workers. He added that the incident aligns with Black History Month, and expressed disappointment that, even in 2015, an officer would be threatened because of the color of his or her skin.
Rochelle Bilal, vice chairman for the National Black Police Association, said that in the past few decades, many officers of color across the country have been forced to sue the police department they work for in order to find resolution for their cases of racial discrimination. While Bilal said she has heard of a number of websites and emails expressing racially charged messages against black police officers, she has never seen an anonymous letter on a department letterhead. If those found responsible for the letter are police officers, she said, they should be immediately fired.
“If they are saying this about officers, you can imagine what they are saying and doing to their citizens,” she said. “They are a danger to the department.”
Bilal added that the letter deepens a common perception that all police officers are bad, something her organization tries to combat. The good officers, of whom there are many, need to stand up to this kind of bigotry, she said.
Dimbo said three other racially charged letters have been distributed within the Bridgeport Police Department over the past few months, but he said this letter was the most severe.
The department has a long history of investigations into racial discrimination. In 1983, the Bridgeport Guardians filed a lawsuit against the police commissioners of the department, accusing them of institutional racism and inconsistent disciplinary action that discriminated against officers of color. The plaintiffs also reported that the department fostered an environment that permitted racial harassment. The court’s order, which appointed a “special master” to continually investigate the department for incidents of racial discrimination, was lifted only in 2010.