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Police Chaplain on Leave After Norwalk Fight Fallout

NORWALK, Conn. – In a highly emotional yet civil meeting of the Norwalk Police Commission on Thursday, the Rev. Nellie Mann defiantly stood by the words that offended the Norwalk Police Department and resisted calls for her resignation.

Mann's use of the term "racial profiling" in reference to a report of Bloods and Crips fighting Monday at Calf Pasture Beach prompted a call for her resignation as police chaplain Wednesday from the Norwalk Police Union, in what Chief Harry Rilling called a "horrible situation." After more than 40 minutes of talks, Mann agreed to step down for three months, which police commissioners agreed would give everyone time to reflect and heal.

Many of the comments made during the discussion shed light on what happened at the beach, information the media has found difficult to obtain.

Rilling has said that up to 200 13- to 17-year-olds were on the beach. Sgt. Charlie Perez, an officer highly trained in recognizing gang members, was alone in attempting to deal with them. Mann said she had been told that seven members of the group were identified by Perez as being in gangs.

Not every kid had a baseball cap on, according to Mayor Richard Moccia, who was not at the scene. But "all the people throwing punches at the red caps were people wearing blue caps" and "probably those not wearing caps were as intimidated as everybody else."

"As I told Rev. Mann today, someone crashing into a glass window or door , people being intimidated, it was not just some kids being kids," he said.

Rilling, other members of the commission and some police officers repeatedly insisted that Perez did not characterize the entire group of up to 200 teenagers as being part of a gang when he sent out a radio broadcast calling for help. That broadcast led to a news report in The Hour about a massive gang fight at the beach.

"If we are saying the officer in question did not intend to broad brush everyone as a gang member, then it's incumbent on him also to make a statement of clarification," said the Rev. Jeffrey Ingraham.

Rilling shook his head sharply at that suggestion and said Perez has no need to apologize or clarify a broadcast that was not meant to reach the public at large, but to warn other officers what they might be dealing with when they arrived. Moccia and other commissioners agreed. "A police officer under duress doesn't need to be clarified when he is facing a group of 200 people," Moccia said.

Members of the police department are disappointed in Mann, according to a statement released by their union Wednesday. "As they were disappointed with me, I am disappointed with them," she said, refusing to resign. "In my mind I haven't done anything wrong. If you feel that I have, I should apologize to the sergeant and to the police department. I would never call you racist. That is not in my character, and I think most of you know that."

"Sgt. Perez is one of the most dedicated, diligent police officers I know," Rilling said. "He was almost in tears with me on the phone because he felt his reputation was being challenged."

Moccia called a five-minute recess to allow people time to think. After more than 20 minutes, the meeting reconvened. Mann stood in front of everyone, facing the seated panel, prompting Moccia to comment that she wasn't on trial.

She agreed to a three-month break from being chaplain.

"I think three months is excessive," Ingraham said. "She has apologized, but she still expresses her concern that an entire community seems to be painted as gang members, presumably, by the words of this particular officer, so he also has a responsibility to offer clarification."

"He never stated that everybody down there was a gang member," Rilling said. "He never stated that on the radio. It's unfortunate that the newspaper ever picked up or printed those words of the sergeant."

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