A text message invitation to bet on the location of next year’s first homicide in Hartford has resulted in a major shakeup within the city’s police department.
Detective Jeffrey Placzek was suspended without pay Monday by Chief Jason Thody. He’s also been removed from HPD’s Major Crimes Division.
“I find the behavior and the lack of empathy that he showed in that text message to be disturbing and I want to make sure that he is mentally and emotionally fit to be a police officer,” Thody said.
The suspension lasts for 120 days and Thody said Plazcek’s return is contingent on him passing a “fitness for duty evaluation” and a program that will include some community service.
Placzek, a 16-year member of the Hartford Police Department, is being disciplined for sending out a group text in which he welcomed others in the department to bet on where the city’s first murder of 2021 would take place.
The news broke on Friday when a local blogger wrote about it on his web page, saying he had heard about a group message inviting department personnel to the “Major Crimes Dead Pool.” Thody reacted with a Facebook post hours after the blog post was published and called for “immediate action.”
“While no wager took place, this represents an appalling lack of judgment, an extreme insensitivity toward our community, and a clear violation of Department policy for which there will be serious disciplinary consequences,” Thody said in the post.
The text message -- according to Thody -- was sent out on Wednesday, December 2. He also said that Placzek’s department supervisor received it. But until it got out on the blog, Thody said he hadn’t yet been apprised of the pool.
“I’m disappointed that supervisors within the major crimes department [didn't bring it to light sooner] -- it looks like on the text message chain it went all the way up to the lieutenant in the Major Crimes Division, Paul Cicero,” Thody said.
As a result, Lt. Paul Cicero is suspended from his post as division supervisor and he’s being replaced as the department’s spokesman. It’s possible he could face more discipline, but Thody did say that any punishment is pending an investigation into the text message.
Thody also said the text elicited just one reply -- “ty” -- which he assumed to be shorthand for “thank you.” The chief said the investigation will examine that response and whether the message was forwarded to anybody else, and he expects it to be finished by the end of the week.
For now, Lt. Aaron Boisvert will replace Cicero atop the unit. Assistant Chief Rafael Medina temporarily takes over for Cicero as public information officer.
Josh Michtom, a Hartford city councilman, says the “Dead Pool” is a symptom of a systemic issue.
“When more than half of a division is implicated in behavior that undermines the humanity of Hartford residents, the culture of the institution is rotten,” he said.
Michtom and fellow council person Wildaliz Bermudez belong to the Working Families Party. In between the leak and the shakeup, Bermudez spoke to Connecticut Public Radio.
“The Hartford Police Department thinks that we’re animals – how are you going to bet on someone’s death?” Bermudez said.“That’s just unconscionable.”
Both Bermudez and Michtom have been critical of Thody this year. One instance was Thody’s reaction to an officer’s apparent physical contact with a bystander filming an arrest on May 20. An independent auditor concluded that a Hartford officer “open-hand pushed” the arm of an unidentified man who recorded a physical altercation between officers and Hartford resident Percival Joseph. They also criticized Thody’s conduct after he got into an off-the-clock crash Memorial Day Weekend – one that resulted in a letter of reprimand from the mayor.
“He is the person who is in charge of this department that employs over 400 individuals who – most of them – don’t even live in Hartford,” Bermudez said.
Thody was asked if he feared he’d lose his job over this scandal.
“If my service to the department and this community ends at some point before I’m willing to resign or retire, then so be it,” Thody said. “But I can’t make decisions out of fear because I don’t think they would be the right ones. I’ve got to make the decisions that I think are best for the community and best for the department.”
Mayor Luke Bronin, responded to the major crimes shakeup with a written statement emailed to Connecticut Public Radio.
“The officer who sent this message demonstrated a profound disrespect for our community and a deeply troubling lack of judgment,” the statement read. “Chief Thody has imposed serious discipline, including both demotion in rank and a lengthy four-month suspension without pay, which I support, and I expect that additional discipline will be coming for supervisors who received this message and failed to take action.”
Bronin’s office has yet to grant an interview request on the subject of the pool.
Prior to Thody’s announced sanctions in response to the text sent by Plazcek, Democrats on city council weighed in via a joint written statement over the weekend -- Nick Lebron referred to the incident as sad but too believable, Council President Maly Rosado said she hoped Hartford’s re-imagined civilian police review board would look into the matter, TJ Clarke pointed to it as an example of what the new Police Accountability Review Board could examine, and James Sanchez said the state’s attorney’s office should investigate.
Bermudez and Michtom want the city to go further.
“You could start by dramatically reducing their funding and shifting that money over to, frankly, a lot of the services that police do that aren’t really police services,” Michtom said.
Bermudez added that the city should employ more people that look like members of the community they serve.
The timing of the misconduct is rough: shootings in 2020 are up higher than they’ve been for the last five years, and 22 people have died from gun violence in the state capital this year.