Bob Stefanowski vows to bring back full qualified immunity, review use of force standards.

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Days after the funeral for two slain Bristol police officers, Republican candidate for governor Bob Stefanowski vowed to bring back qualified immunity for police, reinstate consent searches, and review use of force standards. 

Stefanowksi, who was among thousands who attended the funeral for Bristol Police Lt. Dustin DeMonte and Sgt. Alex Hamzy late last week, only briefly mentioned the tragedy at the end of his remarks at a press conference Monday where he called for repealing sections of Connecticut’s police accountability bill on the north steps of the state Capitol. He said he did not want to focus on the killings at a campaign event “out of respect to the families.” 

“But I'll tell you anybody sitting at that funeral for officers DeMonte and Hamzy on Friday, and seeing them and their families walk in, if you tell me that keeping police officers safe is not your number one priority, you ought to move out of this country,” Stefanowksi said. 

Stefanowksi took a somber – and sometimes angry tone – as he cast blame on Democrats including Gov. Ned Lamont for creating an environment that put law enforcement officers at risk and made them feel disrespected, with their support of a police accountability bill, signed into law in the summer 2020 at the height of national protests against racism and police brutality. 

The GOP nominee for governor was joined by the head of the Connecticut State Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed him and his running mate, state Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, in the spring, and the wife of a Farmington police officer who was seriously injured by a fleeing suspect, both of whom voiced support for Stefanowski's second bid for governor.

Democrats said Stefanowski’s message, delivered just days after DeMonte’s and Hamzy’s service, was politics at its worst. Norwalk Mayor Harry W. Rilling, a former police chief, said in a statement Monday he was “disgusted to learn that Bob Stefanowski is attempting to politicize the horrendous murder of two heroic law enforcement officers just days after they were laid to rest.” 

Any attempt to connect police reform to the killing of the Bristol officers “is disgraceful political pandering” Rilling said. In his statement, he painted a different picture of the relationship between the Lamont administration and law enforcement, saying the governor has “consistently supported our men and women in blue.”

But that message was countered Monday by Det. Sgt. John Krupinsky, one of most vocal opponents of the police reform law and president of the state FOP. "The Democrats and the Democrats only own this police accountability bill," he said. Asked whether the bill created an unsafe environment for the Bristol officers, Krupinsky said "1,000 percent."

Police in Connecticut and across the country have been "demonized" since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Krupinsky said. But with the public fearful about crime he thinks the tide is "turning back" in the other direction, he said. "I'd like to see it turn back a lot faster. I'd like to have a legislature up here that supports the police."

A spokesman for Lamont's re-election campaign in a statement Monday highlighted investments in public safety made under Lamont's tenure including hiring more officers, investing in training and new forensic technologies, and dedicating additional resources to reduce gun violence and fight property crime. He also pointed to Lamont's record on gun safety. 

"Connecticut residents know they can count on Governor Lamont to keep fighting for their safety, and the strongest gun control laws to make sure illegal guns are off the streets,” said Jake Lewis, spokesman for the Lamont campaign. 

Stefanowski has continually cast Connecticut as an unsafe place to live under Lamont's watch despite recent statistics showing crime was down last year – a point the state Democratic Party highlighted in a news release Monday. "I've been campaigning for months. I haven't met one person – not one – who said they feel safer than they did four years ago." 

Kris O'Donnell, whose husband,  Farmington police officer James O'Donnell was struck by a car driven by a New Britain man who was fleeing during an active attempted theft from a motor vehicle, said she's reached out to Democrat and Republican lawmakers about revisiting the law.  "A system that holds police officers more accountable than criminals, like the man with 24 arrests who nearly killed my husband over a catalytic converter is a flawed system," she said. O'Donnell appears in a new campaign ad for Stefanowski released Monday that is critical of Lamont's record on public safety. 

O'Donnell, who lives in Bristol, said hearing about the deaths of DeMonte and Hamzy, it was "difficult not to relive my nightmares from a year ago, when I too thought I might be planning a funeral for my young husband." While her husband was recovering in the hospital last year, O'Donnell said Bristol Police cruisers frequently parked outside her home, "watching over me and my babies." Officer Alec Iurato, who was injured in the ambush that killed DeMonte and Hamzy, found and returned the family's "mischievous" German Shepherd who had escaped on the day of her husband's surgery, she said. 

Stefanowski has vowed to bring back full qualified immunity for police – the most controversial provision in the 2020 law.  The law limits government immunity for police in certain serious situations where a person’s constitutional rights have been violated by “malicious, wanton or willful” conduct of an officer. 

The law also prohibits police from asking motorists for permission to search their car during routine traffic stops – a provision Stefanowski said he wants do away with.  

At the funeral for DeMonte and Hamzy, Stefanowski said a police officer came up to him and said he’d recently pulled over a driver and the passenger in the car was smoking a bong. “He couldn't do anything. Let him go, said ‘Have a nice day.’ Is that really where the state of Connecticut is?” Stefanowski said. 

Stefanowski seemed to be conflating two laws – the police reform bill and Connecticut’s adult-use cannabis law, under which smelling marijuana is no longer justification for probable cause to search someone’s vehicle. 

The Republican from Madison also called for revisiting use of force standards but provide few specifics on what changes he would like to see. “Cops have to wait until the criminal shoots before they do anything,” he said. The law limits the circumstances in which deadly use of force can be justified, adding a requirement that an officer exhaust “reasonable alternatives to the use of deadly force.” 

Devlin, who "proudly voted no" on the bill, said it was rushed through in a special session "in an atmosphere that had been generated full of anti police sentiment." Referring to a visit she and Stefanowski made to the neighborhood in New Haven where he grew up, Devlin recalled a conversation with a woman who said she heard gun shots nightly –  an encounter Stefanowski mentioned earlier in his remarks. "I said to her, you know, this is not normal. Do not accept that you hear gunshots every single night," she said.