In a 21-second video, Bridgeport Connecticut Police Officer Gianni Capozziello is seen striking a teen suspect on the back of the head with his police-issued pistol.
The brief clip shows the suspect being ordered to put his hands out the window of a vehicle stopped by police. The command is yelled three times. The window does not open, rather the door does and the young man steps out and turns toward, and then away, from the officer who is yelling a command: “Hands up, turn around.”
The teen turns, raises his arms and the officer approaches and strikes him on the back of his head with his gun. A loud cracking noise can be heard when the teen is hit. He falls to the ground and it appears that Capozziello also kicks the suspect.
The video was recorded by a resident and posted to Facebook.
Capozziello was placed on paid leave pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation but the city’s mayor says the officer should be fired and prosecuted.
On the Bridgeport police force since 2016, Capozziello wrote in a police incident report that he was afraid the boy had a weapon and so used the “magazine well area of my pistol as an emergency impact weapon.”
This is not the first time Capozziello’s use of force has been the subject of an investigation.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Police Pulled Over a Car Reported Stolen & After Ordering the Driver Out of the Car, Capozziello Appears to Pistol-Whip the Suspect
The video was uploaded to Facebook Saturday morning by Jay Rivera, who goes by Staxx Rivera on the social networking site. Seen by thousands, and shared by thousands more, the video has made its way across social media. It was seen by a police supervisor Saturday who forwarded it to the chief of police. The mayor of Bridgeport Joe Ganim said that if what he saw in the video is “authentic and actually happened …there is no excuse.”
“This is outrageous.”
Ganim told local media early on in the investigation that he had not read the police report, but nonetheless called for the officer to be fired.
“This calls for immediate termination and referral to the State’s Attorney for criminal prosecution. I’m not trying to inflame a situation, but this will not be tolerated.”
Bridgeport Police Chief A.J. Perez said in a statement, that he “instructed Internal Affairs to retain the dashcam and bodycam videos of the arrest scene and to begin an investigation. Everything that can immediately be done to address this incident, has been done.”
In the video, Capozziello and another officer have pulled over the red SUV with the other officer on the passenger side of the car and Capozziello on the driver side. He can be heard yelling loudly, “Get your hands out the window.” The driver side window is closed. The driver, a 17-year-old male, opens the door and gets out and when he does, he tugs at his pants to pull them up, it appears. Capozziello is yelling for him to turn and put his hands up, which he does. Then Capozziello can be heard saying, “get the f**k on the ground” and a moment later, grabs the teen’s wrist or lower arm and smashes him in the head with his gun. It’s not clear if the boy sustained any injury.
2. Saying in a Report he Feared the Teen Had a Gun, Capozziello Said he Used His ‘Pistol as an Emergency Impact Weapon’
In the police report written by Capozziello he said he feared the boy was “reaching for a weapon.” He wrote in his report that he grabbed the boy’s wrist, and he “immediately began pulling away from me,” saying he feared the boy was reaching for a weapon, so, “with his right hand and unable to holster my department issued pistol … I utilized the magazine well area of my pistol as an emergency impact weapon.”
The video does not appear to show what he described.
The police union has said it will not “rush to judgment,” nor should the public based on a Facebook video.
Bridgeport Police Union President Sgt. Charles Paris issued a statement:
“Officer Capozziello was conducting a felony stop of an unknown occupant of a reported stolen vehicle in a location that is known for high drug trafficking and weapons. These are known facts that have already been reported, and should be kept in mind before any rush to judgment based on a Facebook video.
“Our union cannot comment on a case under active investigation. We can say that Bridgeport police force is dealing with adverse working conditions — such as the decision to split up two person squad cars — that jeopardize officer safety and increase occupational stress.”
Paris continued: “This is a difficult and emotional time for everyone, including the dedicated police officers who proudly protect and serve our community.
“Let’s use this moment as an opportunity for constructive dialogue and meaningful action to improve public safety and foster a better understanding of the challenges facing Bridgeport police officers.”
A call for further comment was not returned.
3. Capozziello, A Marine Veteran, Tased & Hit a Suspect in 2017. Three Years Before Being Hired, he was Arrested For Criminal Mischief & Disorderly Conduct
Arrested in 2013 in Norwalk according to a newspaper police blotter report at the time, Capozziello, then 24, was charged with disorderly conduct and third-degree criminal mischief. Online court records don’t show how the case was adjudicated. He was hired by the Bridgeport Police Department in 2016.
In 2017, with a year on the job, Capozziello was one of two police officers who used force, and their tasers, to subdue and take a suspect into custody, accused of having stolen a volleyball. The teenage suspect is the son of a Bridgeport City council member Karen Jackson.
In a Connecticut Post report from the time, Capozziello wrote that he took out is Taser and hit the suspect who was resisting, “multiple times with the bottom portion …to the shoulder area,” and then the young man went down “after a struggle.” Capozziello said he had given “multiple verbal commands to ‘stop resisting’ and ‘show me your hands …’ (and) fearing that (the suspect) may have been going underneath his body to grab a weapon and to gain control (of) his left arm I closed-fist struck him twice in the left rib cage area. … I could not get him under control but grabbed his left wrist and held on to his arm so he could not move it under his body.”
At the time, Chief Perez said that while “…everything was on the up and up, I’m not comfortable with the young man being Tased.”
In 2012, then-Lance Cpl. Gianni Capozziello, “an infantryman and reservist” who had deployed with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, was among Marines welcomed home in a ceremony at Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow in California. Capozziello said he was a machine-gunner and served for eight years in the Marine Corps
According to a US Marine Corps press release and story, he and other Marines were deployed in 2011 as a “personal security detail and stayed in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, where they provided security and conducted many foot patrols, including working “alongside the Female Engagement Team, making sure everyone was respected.”
On a website called Bigger Pockets, Capozziello wrote that he was looking into “flipping and rental property aspect of Real Estate.” He wrote that he makes “just enough to live off of and looking for a different source of income, I also do pistol permit classes on mix in some stocks and bonds.”
4. City Officials Said the Incident Involving Officer Capozziello Sets Back Recent Community-Style Policing Efforts
Bridgeport City Council President Aidee Nieves told Heavy that recent community policing efforts are overshadowed by the force seen in the video. She said the recording appears to show a police officer doing his job and then, when a suspect “appears to be complying the officer made a choice …that’s not something he was trained to do.”
“The job of a police officer is to protect and serve. What I saw in that video was overly aggressive behavior,” at best she said. Nieves said she wants to see quick and thorough investigation and “if warranted,” swift “discipline.”
“People are upset. They feel like we have been trying to change the narrative,” between police and communities of color, and, “we have more officers walking, officers getting out of the car and being in the community and doing a good job of that.And then this happens.”
Nieves said Ganim and Perez “are not pleased at all about this.”
“The chief and officers have been doing a good job of promoting and pushing for more community policing so this is such bad timing. A lot of police are out there and then this. Trust needs to be re-built.”
Nieves also said that the city recently was awarded money for body cameras for police and that she “expects to see” footage of the incident. “We are not going to tolerate this kind of treatment.”
5. The 17-Year-Old Was Charged With Drug Possession & Larceny
The 17-year-old was charged for allegedly having, and selling, drugs, stealing the car and resisting arrest. He was released to his mother.
According to the report, the 17-year-old who is not named as he’s a minor under Connecticut law, had “five glassine wax paper folds containing an off-white powdery substance,” which Capozziello wrote was likely heroin.
The teen was charged with possession with intent to sell, first-degree larceny, tampering with physical evidence and interfering with an officer. Since he is a juvenile, he was released into the custody of his mother, the report said.