Police investigate Conn. officer's gun mishap amid protests
Officer was examining a friend's gun when the gun went off
By Daniel Tepfer
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Carrying signs that read, "Double standard breeds mistrust," and "The law perverted," self-proclaimed "gun lovers" braved the snowy weather Monday night to protest the lack of an immediate arrest of a city police officer who accidentally shot himself in a crowded bagel shop.
"If we had been involved in horseplay with a firearm in a bagel shop, we would have been taken out in handcuffs," James Keyser said as he stood in a puddle of slush outside the Bridgeport Police Department. "But here it is, 42 days later, and he hasn't been charged with anything.
This is the second time the half-dozen men have protested the lack of an arrest in the case of Officer Juan Santiago, a 28-year veteran of the department. Both times, the weather has been inclement.
The protestors said they were too upset about the issue to let bad weather thwart their message.
"The right thing to do here is just so clear," said Palin Smith, of Woodbury. "I love police, but it irritates me to see them treated differently."
On Dec. 17, Santiago was examining a friend's gun in Bagel King on Main Street when the gun went off. The bullet went through his leg and shattered a window in the crowded restaurant.
Santiago, who was not immediately charged, was treated and released from the hospital soon after the incident. The State Police were then summoned to investigate.
Bridgeport State's Attorney John Smriga said he expects the state investigation to be finished "shortly." In the meantime, Santiago is on desk duty with the department.
The protesters said this second demonstration was triggered by the Bridgeport police's recent arrest of a man who had accidentally fired his gun at home while cleaning it.
Officers responded to the home of 23-year-old Kenneth Sullivan, of Midland Street, on Jan. 28 after a report of a gunshot in the area. A bullet allegedly pierced a wall and struck the house next door. Sullivan reportedly told police his gun went off while he was cleaning it.
Sullivan was arrested that day and charged with unlawful discharge of a firearm, second-degree reckless endangerment and criminal mischief in the third degree. He was released after posting $1,500 bond.
In a statement, Police Chief Joseph Gaudett denied there was any impropriety in handling Santiago's incident.
"Some people are working on the false assumption that the incident is being swept under some rug because the person is a police officer," Gaudett said. "The reality is we requested the Connecticut State Police handle the investigation to ensure the public would have confidence that the process would be fair, objective and impartial."
On Monday, the protesters vowed to keep the pressure on city police until Santiago is arrested.
"We are not going away," Keyser said.
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McClatchy-Tribune News Service