By David Owens/CTNow
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (CTNow) — Three police officers have been assigned to desk duty and police have launched an internal investigation after a video surfaced purporting to show the officers beating a man.
A lawyer representing the man who claims to be the victim of the beating has filed a federal lawsuit against the officers, claiming excessive use of force.
The beating occurred May 20, 2011 in Bridgeport’s Beardsley Park, but the video allegedly depicting it did not surface until recently, said Robert M. Berke, the Bridgeport lawyer representing Orlando Lopez, 27, who says he’s the man the officers assaulted.
Bridgeport police Chief Joseph L. Gaudett Jr. learned of the video on Thursday and immediately ordered an internal affairs investigation. When the officers were identified, they were placed on administrative status with pay, he said. The officers were identified as Elson Morales, Joseph Lawlor and Clive Higgins. All have been on the job about 10 years, a department spokesman said.
“I’m concerned by what I saw and ordered the Office of Internal Affairs to conduct an immediate, thorough and timely investigation,” Gaudett said in a statement issued by the department on Monday. “If violations are found, we will take action. Our officers are held to high standards and rightfully so, and we intend to maintain these standards.”
Also Monday, the Connecticut chapter of the NAACP called on Bridgeport police to fire the officers.
“The only way that they can keep public trust in the city of Bridgeport is to make sure that they get rid of all three of these police officers,” said chapter president Scot X Esdaile. “They must go … right now.”
Lopez is serving a five-year prison sentence for criminal possession of a pistol. The assault, Berke said, occurred after police tried to stop Lopez for a motor vehicle violation. Lopez jumped from the car and ran. The officers pursued him and used a Taser to take him into custody. The video shows three officers kicking and stomping Lopez after he was on the ground.
“He had contusions over his entire body,” Berke said. “He has facial injuries, a cut requiring six stitches on his lip [and] a fractured hand.”
Lopez pleaded guilty to a charge of engaging police in pursuit filed the day of the of the incident, and was sentenced to a year in prison, according to judicial records.
Lopez, Berke said, was initially scared to pursue a lawsuit against the police. “He did not believe that people would believe what he had to say because it was essentially his word vs. the police,” Berke said.
Police said the video appeared on YouTube on Jan. 6. Berke said Lopez’s brother learned of the video last week and brought it to his attention. Berke then met over the weekend with Lopez and Lopez authorized him to file the suit.
The city of Bridgeport has not been named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
“Suits against the city are typically based on failure to supervise,” Berke said. “There’s no information I have that I could base that on.” That could change as he investigates, Berke said.
Police said Monday that Lopez has not filed an excessive force complaint with the department.
In addition to ordering an internal affairs investigation into the beating, Gaudett contacted the state’s attorney’s office. City officials have also been in contact with the U.S. Attorney’s office, police confirmed.
Fox CT’s Ayana Harry contributed to this report.