Bridgeport, CT – A Bridgeport police officer has been placed on paid administrative leave after cell phone footage surfaced that showed him using his pistol to strike a suspect in the head (video below).
The incident occurred at approximately 9:45 p.m. on Friday, when Bridgeport Police Officer Gianni Capozziello spotted a red Volkswagen that matched the description of a car that had been reported stolen, the Connecticut Post reported.
The lone officer radioed for backup, and began following the vehicle without activating his emergency lights as he waited for additional units to arrive, according to his report.
But when the 17-year-old male driver turned onto Jane Street, Officer Capozziello activated his siren and lights in order to initiate a “felony stop,” the Connecticut Post reported.
In his report, the officer said he had his “department issued pistol unholstered” as he approached the suspect’s vehicle.
Another officer made his way over to the passenger side of the window as Officer Capozziello issued commands to the driver, cell phone footage showed.
“I gave multiple verbal commands to the operator to stick his hands out the window,” the officer’s report read, according to the Connecticut Post. “I observed the operator moving around and ducking under the seat in the vehicle and popping his head up while turning back to face me multiple times.”
Officer Capozziello repeatedly ordered the suspect to put his hands out of the window, but the teen opened his driver’s door and got out of the car instead, the video showed.
The suspect momentarily dropped his hands to his waist, at which point the officer became concerned that he was “reaching for a weapon,” according to the report.
“He turned away from me in [a] quick manner with his right side facing away from me and [I was] no longer able to see his right hand,” Officer Capozziello wrote, according to the Connecticut Post.
He said he grabbed ahold of the suspect’s wrist, but that the teen “immediately began pulling away” from him.
“Fearing [he] was reaching for a weapon with his right hand and unable to holster my department issued pistol…I utilized the magazine well area of my pistol as an emergency impact weapon,” Officer Capozziello explained in his report, according to the Connecticut Post.
The suspect immediately fell to the ground after being hit in the head with the officer’s duty weapon, cell phone footage showed.
After he was taken into custody, the officers discovered he was in possession of “five glassine wax paper folds containing an off-white powdery substance,” that was suspected to be heroin, according to the police report.
The suspect has been charged with interfering with an officer, tampering with physical evidence, first-degree larceny, and possession with intent to sell, the Connecticut Post reported.
Cell phone footage of the incident was posted to Facebook on Saturday, and was soon forwarded to city leaders.
“No one should be treated in this manner, regardless of the crime,” City Council President Aidee Nieves told the Connecticut Post, adding that the video was “unacceptable and disturbing.”
“We cannot allow this treatment from our officers to our families and our community,” Councilwoman Maria Valle agreed.
Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim acknowledged that he had no information about the incident other than having seen the video footage, but said that he believes Officer Capozziello should be fired.
“This calls for immediate termination and referral to the State’s Attorney for criminal prosecution,” Ganim told the Connecticut Post. “I’m not trying to inflame a situation, but this will not be tolerated.”
“If what I see is authentic and actually happened…there is no excuse,” he railed. “This is outrageous.”
Bridgeport Police Chief Armando Perez has placed Officer Capozziello on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation, The Connecticut Post reported.
Chief Perez said that the cell phone video showed only a snippet of what occurred that night, and that investigators will also be reviewing bodycam footage of the altercation.
“I will not tolerate anyone abusing anyone in that manner,” the chief added. “We want to be totally transparent.”
City Councilman Ernest Newton said there is no question that Officer Capozziello was in the wrong.
“You see it point blank,” he railed to the Connecticut Post. “That was an aggressive police action. The man put his hands up, and he hits him.”
Officer Capozziello served as a U.S. Marine for eight years before he joined the Bridgeport Police Department (BPD) in 2016, according to Heavy.
Bridgeport Police Sergeant Charles Paris, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1159, urged city leaders and citizens to wait for facts to be gathered before rushing to judgement.
“Officer Capozziello was conducting a felony stop of an unknown occupant of a reported stolen vehicle in a location that is known for high drug trafficking and weapons,” Sgt. Paris said in a statement. “These are known facts that have already been reported, and should be kept in mind before any rush to judgement based on a Facebook video.”
The union said it cannot comment on an ongoing investigation, but noted that the BPD “is dealing with adverse working conditions – such as the decision to split up two-person squad cars – that jeopardize officer safety and increase occupational stress.”
Sgt. Paris noted that the incident has been “difficult and emotional” for everyone, to include the “dedicated police officers” who serve Bridgeport.
“Let’s use this moment as an opportunity for constructive dialogue and meaningful action to improve public safety and foster a better understanding of the challenges facing Bridgeport police officers,” he said.
According to Heavy, Officer Capozziello was arrested in Norwalk in 2013 on charges of third-degree criminal mischief and disorderly conduct – three years before he was hired by BPD.
The outcome of that case is unknown.
You can watch cell phone footage of Officer Capozziello’s most recent altercation in the video below: