Hartford Officer Charged With Assault After Punching Suspect in Custody: Police

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A Hartford police officer is facing an assault charge after he was accused of punching a female suspect in the face, according to documents released by the Hartford Police Department.

Sgt. James Guzie, 47, is accused of hitting the woman in the face with a closed fist in the booking area of the Hartford Police Department on March 15.

According to an internal investigation report, the suspect, 44-year-old Felicia Jenkins, was arrested during what police described as a domestic incident. During booking, Jenkins reportedly argued and fought with officers, police said. During this period, the suspect called Guzie names and spit at him, according to the report, and he punched her in the head.

In body camera footage released of the incident, you can hear Jenkins yell and spit at officers and see the moment Guzie appears to hit her.

After the incident was reported it was flagged for review. Internal investigators found the use of force unreasonable and in violation of department policies.

"No matter the behavior of the arrestee, the officer should never have reacted the way he did and it’s simply unacceptable,” said Police Chief Jason Thody in a statement. "We review every use of force, and our review process led us to the conclusion that his conduct could be a violation of law and policy. We had not received a complaint, and we proactively referred this incident to the State’s Attorney. We worked with the State’s Attorney on this investigation, and our officers conducted a professional and impartial review of the force used in this incident. While this incident should not have happened, it is evidence that our use of force review process is thorough and effective and that we take accountability seriously."

In an incident report, Guzie wrote that he hit Jenkins because he feared that she was going to attack him.

"This strike was delivered quick to cause a stunning affect to Jenkins to end her assaultive behavior," Guzie wrote.

Investigators noted in the investigative report that a closed fist hit to the head is not recommended or best practice except in "extreme cases of self-defense." The investigation, which included a review of body camera footage, determined the situation in booking, where other officers were present and attempting to restrain the suspect, did not qualify as such.

Guzie turned himself in on Monday and is charged with third-degree assault. He is on administrative leave pending the resolution of his criminal case.

Jenkins was charged with second-degree breach of peace and first-degree trespass. She has not entered a plea in court. He is due in court on May 19.

NBC Connecticut has reached out to the police union for comment and Officer Anthony Rinaldi, president of the Hartford Police Union, released a statement Tuesday.

"Police Unions across the state have pushed back against the Police Accountability Bill because of these types of situations. When you watch the Body Worn Camera footage you will see an arrestee that is not only using racial and derogatory names towards Hartford Police Officers but is also threatening officers with physical violence. These same officers are seen on camera hesitating to use force to get the arrestee in compliance as she assaults one of them. When an officer is assaulted there is no time for hesitation on the part of the officer—Officers need to act swiftly in order to keep the situation from getting out of control. Sergeant Guzie could see that the arrestee was getting more aggressive towards his officers and that action needed to be taken before his officers were injured. He used appropriate and minimum force to bring the arrestee under compliance, and his actions were in line with Hartford Police Department policy and procedures. The Hartford Police Union stands by its members—Law Enforcement is under attack as they continue to keep law and order," the statement says.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin reacted with a statement Monday night:

“There is no excuse for striking someone in this situation, and Chief Thody did exactly the right thing, which was to order an investigation and refer this incident to the State’s Attorney for independent action. The Chief and the Department acted proactively and quickly, and I hope their handling of this incident sends a clear message about how seriously the department takes any inappropriate use of force, even when no weapons are used.”

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