By DAVE ALTIMARI and MIKAELA PORTER, firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Hartford Courant
The Enfield police officer recently accused of brutality has been the subject of 14 internal affairs investigations over the past seven years, department records indicate.
The citizen's complaints against Officer Matthew Worden range from his being "rude and discourteous" during traffic stops to allegations of racial profiling and ordering his dog to attack a man he mistakenly thought was a burglar.
The Courant reviewed more than 400 pages of internal affairs reports on eight complaints registered against Worden since 2010. In all of those cases Worden was either exonerated or the complaint was not sustained by the investigating officer from the Enfield police department.
Worden was suspended once, records show, when he got into a fight with a fellow officer in 2007 during a domestic dispute with his then-girlfriend. He was arrested on assault charges later dropped. Worden was suspended for 60 days by Chief Carl Sferrazza.
Enfield, a department with nearly 100 sworn officers, has had 26 civilian complaints in the past four years. One-third of those were against Worden, records show. In 2013, Worden had half of the six citizen's complaints against the department.
The Courant reviewed eight of the most-recent complaints. Six of the eight were made by either Hispanic or African American residents, some who live in or near the Thompsonville section of town. Three allege that Worden and other officers are racially profiling the complainants. Police have denied the allegations.
Sferrazza said because of the "sheer volume" of complaints against Worden he had his deputy chief last year review all of the previous internal affairs investigations to make sure they were all investigated properly. The conclusion was each case was properly investigated.
"Nothing jumped out as a pattern. We didn't see it as any particular group of people were being singled out," Sferrazza said. "If we can sustain that a department rule was violated we take corrective action. The mere fact that there are a lot of complaints against an officer doesn't mean anything."
Sferrazza said Worden was ordered to take a one-day class at the Hartford Police Department in 2012 that focused on dealing with the public and improving his attitude. The chief said because Worden is a dog handler he responds to more high risk situations than many other officers.
Worden is currently on paid administrative leave while the department investigates a complaint filed by Mark Maher of Windsor. Maher was arrested on April 1, 2014.
Maher alleges that Worden struck him several times in the face while he was handcuffed. Maher was charged with resisting arrest. His attorney has asked the court the dismiss the charges because of the on-going investigation into Worden's conduct. A hearing is scheduled in Enfield Superior Court for Aug. 18.
The town council met Thursday to discuss Maher's arrest but could not discuss the situation because there was a lack of a quorum.
Of the eight most recent complaints against Worden, three involve either a use of force allegation or that Worden, one of the town's K-9 officers, inappropriately unleashed his dog who severely bit a man in 2011.
That incident occurred on April 9, 2011 while Worden was working a DUI shift paid for by a federal grant. A call came in about a possible burglary at 133 Columbia Road and Worden left the DUI spot check area and responded to the call with his dog Falco.
Worden told investigators he turned his strobe lights off, parked down the street and approached the house by foot where he saw a truck in the back and flashlights illuminating the inside of the house.
As Worden walked toward the front of the house, two men came out the front door. Records indicate Worden ordered them to the ground. As he approached, he saw two others running in the back. Worden released the dog and commanded him to "get them," the report said.
The dog eventually trapped one of the men in a pickup truck and bit him numerous times. When other police arrived they determined one of the men, Anthony Deven, had just purchased the house and had permission from the Realtor to install a new furnace. The three other men were helping him.
A notice of intent to sue the town was filed in the case, but a lawsuit was never filed, according to Hartford attorney Eric Schoenberg.
"The officer claimed that he believed our client was teasing the dog but he only speaks Spanish so I don't know how that could have happened,'' Schoenberg said.
The case in which the investigating officer recommend discipline against Worden occurred on New Year's Eve in 2013 when Christopher Therrien and two friends were walking home from a party on Church Street. Worden was in his cruiser parked at nearby Sylvia's restaurant.
Worden rolled down his window and started talking to the three men when he claimed that Therrien spit at his cruiser and called him a racial epithet. Worden got out of the car, pulled out his baton and called after Therrian.
Worden brought him back to the cruiser. Therrien alleged Worden pushed him to his knees either with his hand or baton and threatened to "beat his ass." Worden denied hitting Therrien or using vulgar language.
Another officer arrived at the scene and when it was determined that Therrien had no outstanding warrants he was allowed to leave without being charged.
Sgt. Marianne Christenson concluded because of the discrepancies in witnesses' stories that the charges could not be sustained. Captain Jeffrey Golden reviewed her report and signed off on her conclusions, although he questioned Worden's initial stop and recommended more training.
"I believe Officer Worden did not have reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity," Golden said.
Deputy Chief Gary Collins cleared Worden a week later and did not recommend any training. Collins wrote that he felt Worden was "justified in approaching Mr. Therrien" and that he had an obligation to investigate suspicious activity.
Many of the complaints about alleged racial profiling are from parents whose sons have been arrested multiple times by Enfield police.
Myrtis Foster wrote a seven-page letter to police in March 2012 about how Worden was rude and harassing her son Justin Foster.
"Justin is afraid to go anywhere because the Enfield police are always, and I say always harassing him. I refuse to have my child afraid to go down the street or the store because of rogue police officers on the beat," Myrtis Foster wrote.
Police interviewed Foster but found her allegations "unfounded." The final report indicates investigators reviewed call records and reports and determined "Justin is not always the most cooperative person when police arrive and if he is arrested there is resistance on his part."