The New Haven Board of Police Commissioners has voted to terminate an officer accused of using excessive force while responding to a call last December. The decision was made at a virtual meeting as protesters gathered outside city hall to call for an end to police brutality.
New Haven Police Chief Otoniel Reyes said at a press conference last week that the incident happened on Christmas when Officer Jason Santiago, an eight-year-veteran of the force assigned to Fair Haven, and other officers responded to a call about someone who was intoxicated.
In police body-worn camera video, Santiago takes a man into custody after a struggle. Santiago is seen kicking a man in the groin while the man is on the ground in handcuffs, and then stands him up.
In the video, officers are heard saying the man spit in the direction of Santiago. Santiago is then seen punching him in the face.
Officers were able to subdue the person the call was about and Reyes said Santiago's behavior during the call constitutes excessive force and he has been placed on paid administrative leave.
Reyes said he was recommending firing Santiago.
"This is solely about what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s that simple for me," Reyes said during Tuesday's meeting.
An attorney for the police union argued Santiago made a mistake and should be disciplined, not fired.
The officer spoke about his eight years with the department, highlighted his accomplishments and expressed regret for what he calls a split-second decision.
“I am remorseful. It does not describe who I am as a person. I’m sitting here before you taking accountability for my actions," Santiago said.
Santiago said he’s never been previously disciplined, and even the chief had praised him as a tremendous officer, aside from this.
On Tuesday, the board, which includes Mayor Justin Elicker, voted 4-2 in favor of termination.
“I think this is an opportunity for us to make clear that we take officer conduct very seriously," Elicker said.
The New Haven Police Union said they respected the decision of the board, but they plan to appeal the decision.
Another officer was found to have violated department rules during the call and was placed on leave, Reyes said.
He said the other second officer had no opportunity to stop Santiago and was not complicit, but he violated three department policies. Those three policies did not involve use of force, according to an internal affairs report on the investigation.
The second officer was suspended for 15 days, which is the maximum amount Reyes was allowed to institute.
Reyes said he would have like to have seen officers deescalate the situation. He added that there is a lot to learn from the video, and the department will.