May 12, 2021 21:01

Two officers face suspension over response to “Major Crimes Dead Pool”

The city’s police chief says two supervisory members from the Major Crimes Division each face up to a five-day unpaid suspension for code of conduct violations in connection with their response to a recent text message scandal that has led to the demotion and suspension of a detective.

Hartford police last week released the interrogations and findings from an internal review authored by Capt. Jeffrey Rousseau regarding what was repeatedly described in the 20-page report as an “inappropriate” text message sent by then-Detective Jeffrey Placzek, who was demoted to the rank of officer and given a four-month unpaid suspension.

Released with the report was a statement from Chief Jason Thody, who indicated two supervisors each face up to five days of unpaid suspension for code of conduct violations, and a third was ordered to undergo documented counseling.

Thody said Placzek’s return to the department is contingent on a fitness-for-duty evaluation as well as a restorative justice program involving discussion with community members.

Placzek admitted to Rousseau during the internal probe that he sent a group text around 1 p.m. on Dec. 2 to 20 individuals in which he proposed a betting pool in regards to the location of the city’s first homicide of 2021, according to the report.

The text told the recipients they had been selected to participate in the “Major Crimes Dead Pool” through a $20 donation, the report said. The text indicated that once payment was made, the participant would choose an address or intersection where they thought the first homicide of the year might take place, according to the report.

Placzek’s text was received by 20 people, including Lt. Paul Cicero, commander of the Major Crimes Division, Sgt. Anthony Rykowski and Sgt. Jeffrey Morrison. Eleven detectives in the division also received the text, as well as an officer in the Traffic Division, the report said.

There were no replies to Placzek’s text, other than one detective who responded with a generic “thank you,” which he later explained was because he did not fully read the message, but wanted to acknowledge receiving it.

The report said phone numbers of Senior Assistant State’s Attorney David Zagaja and Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice inspectors Joseph Buyak, Gerald Kumnick and Craig Davis were also identified among the group message’s recipients.

Rousseau said Zagaja and Davis acknowledged they received the text, Kumnick said he uses an older style phone that does not receive texts and Buyak did not confirm or deny receiving the message, the report said.

The text was made public when it was posted on a blog page on Dec. 4, the report said. Rousseau said the incident “has significantly damaged police and community relations.”

Sgt. Anthony Rykowski, Placzek’s direct supervisor in the division, verbally counseled Placzek about the text on Dec. 3, according to Rousseau’s internal report. Rousseau said although there was some supervisory intervention, it “failed to meet the expectations” of the department.

“The conduct of Detective Placzek should have been instantly recognized as a serious violation of the code of conduct that demanded an immediate supervisory investigation with speedy notifications made through the chain of commend,” Rousseau said. “The investigation shows that Sgt. Anthony Rykowski and Lt. (Paul) Cicero did not communicate about the incident until approximately two days after receiving the text message.”

Rousseau said Rykowski failed to properly supervise subordinates or take appropriate action, the report said. Thody said Rykowski faces up to five days of unpaid suspension.

Cicero failed to properly supervise subordinates or to prefer disciplinary action, or take other appropriate action; and failed to make proper notifications as a supervisor, in violation of the department’s code of conduct, the report said.

Rousseau said Cicero should have made notification to other police officials about the text on Dec. 2 when it was initially sent and not two days later on Dec. 4.

Thody said Cicero, who was previously removed from major crimes as well as from his role as public information officer, faces up to five days of unpaid suspension for his failure to supervise charge, and a verbal reprimand on the failure to notify charge.

Morrison was found to be inattentive to duty or assignment in violation of the code of conduct. During his interview for the internal investigation, Rousseau said Morrison told him that although he received Placzek’s text during his shift, he didn’t fully read it until after work. He was the only one to receive the text on his work phone, the report said,

“As a supervisor who is issued a work cellphone as part of his job function, the department would have expected that he be more attentive to communications, especially while at work,” Rousseau said, adding that this might have allowed for quicker intervention on the matter.

Thody said Morrison will receive documented counseling, the maximum penalty for that charge.

The chief said from his perspective, the supervisors “did not take strong or quick enough action.” He said speaking with Placzek about the text after the fact was “simply not enough.”

“The detectives who received the text on their personal phones may not have had a duty to report the incident, according to the code of conduct, but I am discouraged by the fact that they did not take more proactive action to address the behavior of their peer,” Thody said.

The report indicated there were no code of conduct violations by any of the non-supervisory personnel that received Placzek’s text, and no formal discipline was recommended for them. Rousseau did, however, recommend the personnel assigned to the Major Crimes Division be included in additional division-wide sensitivity training.

Sgt. Michael Rykowski, a supervisor for the Patrol Division who was included in the group text, contacted Placzek’s direct supervisor, Sgt. Anthony Rykowski about the text, Rousseau said. There was no formal discipline recommended for Michael Rykowski.

Rousseau said there was no evidence to suggest the “dead pool” ever took place, nor that “there were any previous incident that occurred that were similar in nature.” He said longstanding detectives and supervisors in the division indicated Placzek’s text offering a betting pool was “the first of its kind.”

“There were no responses that would suggest Detective Placzek, or anyone else from the Major Crimes Division, was involved in following through, or collecting any money to be used as bets or wages in a pool,” Rousseau said. “Neither was any money ever offered by any of the recipients of the text message to participate in such a pool. The consensus among the responses was that it was a bad joke on the part of Detective Placzek.”

“There is also no information to indicate there is an environment within the Major Crimes Division that would help foster this type of behavior,” Rousseau said, citing the lack of responses as proof.

In his findings, Rousseau called it “concerning” that someone who seemingly received or was linked to the message in some way released it to be shared publicly.

“The fact that the text message was shared immediately, with the likely intent of having it made public, without first allowing management the opportunity to address it, I find to be dishonorable,” Rousseau said.

He said there are many internal and external avenues that exist for someone to report wrongdoing in the department without publicly releasing the information.

Rousseau said while the investigation didn’t reveal who shared the content of the text message, he “will pursue a follow-up investigation and determine if a violation of the code of conduct occurred” if that information is ever learned.

Shortly after noon on Dec. 5, Placzek sent another text to the group, apologizing for “placing a poor decision on your ‘doorstep’ during the holiday season.”

“My text was in poor taste and I take ownership of it,” Placzek wrote in the text, according to the report. “Not only did this cause a black eye to our police department, but an even bigger one with the city.”

Thody said since the initial text message came to light, he has held individual and small-group meetings with all supervisors to emphasize his expectations of them.

“The bottom line is that this conduct crossed the line by a big margin, and every member of the department, myself included, now has the responsibility to help fix the damage this caused,” Thody said.

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