Adrian Kulesza, Staff Photographer
The New Haven Police Department will conduct its second internal investigation on use of force of the year, following a March 2 incident in which an NHPD officer punched a man at a Walmart after that man allegedly threatened to hit him.
NHPD Officer Rafael Ramirez punched Jose DeJesus, a resident of Fair Haven, after DeJesus refused to leave the Walmart located on 315 Foxon Blvd. at the East End of New Haven. The incident drew the public’s attention after a 24-second video was released on Facebook, garnering 32,100 views. After the video was viewed online, NHPD chiefs ordered an investigation on March 4.
“Chief [Otoniel] Reyes ordered an internal investigation,” NHPD acting Chief Renee Dominguez told the News. “I will do a full, complete, thorough transparent investigation talking to witnesses, getting video footage, speaking to any officers and they will come up with findings.”
According to the police report, Ramirez was assigned as an extra duty officer to the Foxon Boulevard Walmart on the day of the encounter. As Ramirez was dealing with an unrelated shoplifting incident, a store associate called him to talk to DeJesus at the front of the store. According to the report, the Walmart employees said they had asked DeJesus to leave the store because he would not wear a mask. Employees said in the report that this type of interaction with DeJesus has occurred several times previously and that they wanted him banned from the store altogether.
DeJesus did not respond to the News’ request for comment.
The report states that Ramirez asked DeJesus to leave the store multiple times. Body camera footage reviewed by the News shows the subsequent argument that arose between the two. In the video, Ramirez attempts to direct DeJesus to the exit by guiding him with his hand. Several Walmart employees ask DeJesus to leave. In the report, Ramirez claimed that DeJesus yelled curse words toward Ray Barnes, an asset protection associate whose job is to deter customers from engaging in theft.
The video shows that DeJesus told the officer not to touch him on several occasions, citing a “fundamental right” to know why he was being asked to leave the store and saying that he was waiting for his wife. DeJesus then said that he would not leave the store unless he was given an explanation, which Ramirez responded to by telling DeJesus that he would explain the situation outside the store.
After this exchange, Ramirez said that he attempted to guide DeJesus toward the exit door, but DeJesus became “further irate,” the police report says, and headed towards the service desk. Ramirez then grabbed DeJesus by the arm.
“DeJesus then got into a fighting stance … and stated, ‘I’m going to fuck your face up,’ in Spanish and began raising his arms with clenched fist,” Ramirez said in the report. This conversation, however, is not audible in the body camera footage.
Ramirez immediately struck DeJesus on the left side of his face, according to the report, which led DeJesus to fall to the ground. DeJesus’ fall is visible in the social media video, while the punch — although audible — is not. Ramirez added in his report that he noticed DeJesus struggling to breathe.
DeJesus told the New Haven Independent that he had done nothing wrong and just wanted to pick up his wife, who works as a cashier, and go home.
“[Ramirez] hit me hard,” Ramirez told the Independent. “Right in my jaw, right in my face. My whole left side is numb. I can’t even eat. I’m in pain.”
Body camera footage shows that upon regaining his senses, DeJesus questioned why he was punched, and told Ramirez that he was a “good guy” and was not about to attack him.
DeJesus was charged with first-degree trespassing, disorderly conduct and interfering with an officer. After the incident, he was arrested by the NHPD. He was released to the Yale New Haven Hospital later that day.
DeJesus suffered a skull fracture and a broken jaw.
In late January, a different use-of-force incident also attracted public attention. On the night of Jan. 29, in the lobby of the Connecticut Financial Center Building on Church Street, a security guard recorded a video of a NHPD officer punching a man repeatedly in the head after the man refused to allow officers to arrest him on counts of assault of a police officer, interfering with a police officer, first-degree trespassing, disorderly conduct and failure to allow fingerprinting. The incident led former Chief Reyes to launch an internal use-of-force investigation. The investigation is ongoing.
In an interview with the News, Dominguez said that it is important for the NHPD to review every use-of-force incident. She added that she does not believe these types of incidents to be recurring problems within the department. She added that the internal investigation may yield changes to officer training, either for Ramirez or the department as a whole. Still, the department intends to continue with its existing use of force protocols, which deem use of force justifiable “to defend the officer or officers from the use, or imminent use, of force” or “to control a situation, and to overcome passive or active resistance to a lawful order,” among other justifications.
The New Haven Police Department was founded in 1861.
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