Hartford, CT – A Hartford police officer was demoted and then fired for telling a group of suspects he was “trigger-happy” so they would not run away from him (video below).
Hartford Police Chief David Rosado announced that the department had terminated Officer Stephen Barone on Wednesday, CBS News reported.
"This officer's conduct does not reflect the values of our agency," Chief Rosado said. "It's clear to me that there's no scenario in which Mr. Barone can return to his duties as a productive member of the Hartford Police Department."
“I did not make this decision lightly,” the chief continued. “We hold ourselves to high standards, and when we fall short, we take responsibility for it.”
The incident occurred on Aug. 9, when then-Sergeant Barone responded to a report of a trespassing and encountered a group of seven men, the Hartford Courant reported.
One of the men he stopped, Rashawn Johnson, recorded the interaction with his cell phone.
“We get complaints all the time of people hanging out,” Sgt. Barone told the group, as he explained why he had stopped them. “When we see a building that none of the lights are on, and I see a bunch of people hanging out, I don’t know what the deal is.”
“That’s the reason for the stop… [we] wanna figure out who lives here,” he said. “Were you guys breaking into the place? You just hanging out having a few drinks? Really no big deal.”
Sgt. Barone then explained that they were all being held under suspicion of trespassing, and that he planned to confirm their identities and to verify that they did not have guns or drugs.
“If anybody wants to fight or run, I’m a little trigger-happy, guys. I'm not gonna lie,” Sgt. Barone said in the video. “You know I get paid a ton of money in overtime if I have to shoot somebody, so don’t do anything stupid, alright?”
The sergeant then told the group that if they had anything illegal on them and willingly turned it over, he would issue them a summons instead of arresting them.
“If you guys are cooperative and honest with me, I will afford you the same opportunity in this process,” he said.
When the sergeant asked one of the men why he wasn’t responding, the group said his comment about being “trigger-happy” had concerned them.
“Yeah like, that’s spooky, for real,” one of the men said.
Sgt. Barone pointed out that he was outnumbered by the crowd, and had previously told the group that officers had been seizing an average of one gun per week in the area.
The remainder of his encounter with the group appeared to be cordial and professional.
According to the Hartford Courant, the city released another video of the incident in September.
That video showed Sgt. Barone listing off the reasons why he wouldn’t want to shoot someone in the line of duty, to include being ineligible for overtime.
“That means I got to sell my cars, move from my nice house,” he said, according to the paper.
According to investigators, Sgt. Barone said he had used words he believed were “effective in maintaining control,” but said he could have used “a better choice of words.”
He was also apologetic about the way the interaction was portrayed.
An internal affairs investigation determined that Sgt. Barone had not violated the men’s civil rights during the encounter.
But they also found Sgt. Barone had violated department policy during a July pursuit that he failed to call off, the Hartford Courant reported.
During that instance, two of the city’s officers drove their patrol vehicles the wrong way down the interstate at speeds of nearly 60 miles per hour.
In September, Sgt. Barone was demoted to the rank of officer and was placed on desk duty.
The demotion reduced his base pay salary from $89,200 to $76,800.
At the end of a week-long hearing process, a hearing officer recommended that the department suspend Officer Barone without pay for 100 days, Chief Rosado said.
“I took everything — I took both reports, I took the report from the hearing officer,” the chief told the Hartford Courant. “I reviewed them for a few days to really think about this, because this is not a decision you can make lightly. And I made the decision today.”
Chief Rosado said he expected Barone to appeal his termination.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Connecticut Executive Director David McGuire claimed that the chief ultimately fired Barone due to the video Johnson recorded and pressure from the public.
“It is good news that Barone is no longer employed by Hartford,” McGuire said in a Twitter post, “but the department never should have promoted him in the first place.”
“Hartford’s overall lack of police accountability guarantees a bad system, not just bad apples,” he continued. “As long as Hartford’s mayor’s office and some city council members continue to bargain away Hartford’s ability to create true police accountability, the kind of unacceptable behavior displayed by Stephen Barone will be a feature of Hartford’s police department, not a bug.”
According to the Hartford Courant, Officer Barone was suspended for four days in 2016, after he turned off his dashcam during a pursuit that ended with another sergeant kicking a handcuffed suspect who was lying on the ground.
The other sergeant was convicted of assault as a result.
In that instance, internal investigators determined that Officer Barone had violated department standards by shutting off his dashcam, resulting in a four-day suspension.
Four months later, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant.
You can watch cell phone footage of the sergeant's encounter with the trespassing suspects in the video below: