Bridgeport, CT – Two Bridgeport police officials who recently found the body of a colleague were suspended without pay for allegedly not following the chief’s orders afterwards, even as the chief himself is under a federal investigation for the way he got his job.
Bridgeport Police Chief Armando Perez confirmed that Lieutenant Ronald Mercado and Sergeant James Geremiah had been placed on unpaid administrative leave for not following his orders, the Connecticut Post reported.
Chief Perez did not specify which orders Lt. Mercado and Sgt. Geremiah had failed to follow but the discipline was believed to be related to their finding of Bridgeport Police Sergeant Mark Belinkie’s body on March 2.
The chief said the suspensions were not necessarily related to them finding Sgt. Belinkie’s body but reiterated they were “not following chief’s orders,” the Connecticut Post reported.
“[Belinkie’s suicide] was a critical incident,” Chief Perez said. “It has saddened and shaken all the members of the Bridgeport Police Department.”
The head of the local police union, Bridgeport Police Sergeant Chuck Paris, said his organization was trying to help the suspended officials, the Connecticut Post reported.
“There’s things that we have available to us, and we’re trying to do whatever can to support them,” Sgt. Paris said. “I believe the suspension is going to be reversed and put into administrative status.”
He said the suspension had not affected the officials’ pay yet.
Chief Perez defended his actions and said his decision to suspend Lt. Mercado and Sgt. Geremiah had not been made lightly, the Connecticut Post reported.
“I needed to send a message that we all need to follow the guidelines of this department to keep everyone safe,” he said.
Sgt. Belinkie’s suicide was believed to be linked to an ongoing investigation of 17 officers who who have been cited for wrongdoing while they were breaking up a party in 2017, according to the Connecticut Post.
Bridgeport Police Officer Thomas Lattanzio, who was also a target of the internal affairs investigation, was found dead of suicide on Dec. 4, 2018.
Chief Perez himself is the subject of a new investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Connecticut Post reported.
Federal law enforcement authorities are investigating the process that led to the hiring of Chief Perez, who was ultimately chosen to lead the department by his longtime friend and political ally, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim.
The now-police chief worked as Ganim’s driver during the mayor’s first administration in the 1990s, the Connecticut Post reported.
Ganim was convicted of corruption in 2003 and left office.
Although Chief Perez was never charged with a crime, the Connecticut Post reported that he stored expensive wine that the mayor received as part of his pay-to-play schemes at his own home as a favor.
Then-Captain Perez was by Ganim’s side on the campaign train when the former mayor made another run for office.
When he became mayor in December of 2015, Ganim ousted Bridgeport Police Chief Joseph Gaudett and replaced him with Acting Chief Perez, the Connecticut Post reported.
A search for a new chief, which the city’s charter required, wasn’t launched until two years later, and then a search panel selected Chief Perez over 16 other candidates.
“I worked very, very, very hard to get to this point in my life, in my career. I’m hoping to continue. My job is not done,” then-Acting Chief Perez told the Connecticut Post when he was named as a finalist for the job.
Despite the ongoing FBI investigation, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission recently dismissed a separate complaint by another finalist that alleged a 34-year-old black candidate was “equally or more qualified” than Chief Perez but had been discriminated against because of his race.