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Detectives who punched motorist didn’t break rules, Meriden police say

Hartford Courant 2020-01-14 01:15:34

A Meriden police spokesman said Monday there is no evidence that detectives seen in a video punching a motorist while he’s on the ground violated department policy.

Police “haven’t found any information that’s led us to believe that our officers are in violation of our department use-of-force policy,” Lt. Christopher Fry said.

Asked if there will be an internal investigation of the incident, Fry said, “I don’t think there’s going to be one.”

The cellphone video doesn’t show what prompted the plainclothes detectives to punch the man, one repeatedly, on Friday. They were not wearing body cameras, and their unmarked car had no dashboard camera, Fry said.

He said he is not permitted to elaborate on what immediately preceded the punches, which he confirmed were thrown by two Meriden detectives. He would not release their names.

“I’ll leave it up to the prosecutor to release the report,” Fry said. “I’ll respect the process.”

The man, David Michael O’Brien of the Higganum section of Haddam, remained in the hospital Monday, Fry said. He would not elaborate on his injuries.

The driver of a car O’Brien is accused of crashing into also was taken to the hospital after a collision that preceded the use of force Friday afternoon. Both that driver and O’Brien sustained injuries that Fry said were not life-threatening, although he provided no details.

While Fry said he could not release details about what triggered the detectives to punch O’Brien, he released O’Brien’s charges and explained what led to them.

Police charged O’Brien with having a weapon in a motor vehicle but Fry declined to say what type of weapon it was and whether O’Brien had tried to use it against the detectives.

His other criminal charges are first-degree reckless endangerment, interfering with an officer and possession of a controlled substance – Xanax, Fry said. In addition, O’Brien faces motor vehicle charges: reckless driving, theft of plates and misuse of plates.

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According to Fry, about 1:30 p.m. Friday, the two detectives were undercover, conducting surveillance for an investigation that has nothing to do with O’Brien. They saw a man they identify as O’Brien driving erratically and dangerously, maneuvering in and out of traffic, passing a school bus and blowing through red lights. The car crashed into another vehicle.

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The detectives saw the way O’Brien was driving and became so concerned that, at some point, stopped conducting surveillance and went after him. It wasn’t clear if that was before or after the crash.

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Undercover officers usually don’t leave their posts when watching suspects, Fry said, but they saw O’Brien’s driving as a threat to public safety.

The cellphone video, recorded by someone in the front passenger seat of a passing car and posted on Facebook, shows smoke rising from a crashed car in the distance. As the motorists get closer, O’Brien is moving around on the ground with one detective on top of him. Both detectives are taking swings at the suspect, one punching him at least five times.

O’Brien can be heard crying out, the video shows, and someone can be heard shouting “Stop resisting!”