Investigations find no cause to discipline chief over daughter’s racially charged posts

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Andreas Yilma and Elio Gugliotti, Citizen’s News

Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren ‘Pete’ Hess speaks at a news conference as Deputy Chief C. Colin McAllister listens Friday at the Naugatuck Police Department. -ELIO GUGLIOTTI

NAUGATUCK — Separate investigations conducted by two law firms concluded there is no evidence or “just cause” to warrant disciplining Police Chief Steven Hunt regarding social media posts that contained racist and violent language made by his daughter in 2019.

“We will live with the report and we will do everything in our power to make sure everyone is rowing in the same direction, working together, and if any problems arise will squash them on the spot,” Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said at a news conference Friday at the Naugatuck Police Department.

Borough officials on Friday released the findings of the investigations, which were conducted by the firms Karsten & Tallberg, LLC, and Michelson, Kane, Royster & Barger, P.C.

(The full reports are available on the borough’s website.)

The reports concluded there is no evidence that Hunt knew about the messages or bears any responsibility for them.

“While there is a possibility that the posts have undermined public confidence in the (Naugatuck Police) Department, there is no misconduct attributable to Chief Hunt to merit discipline,” the Karsten & Tallberg report states. “The conduct of a minor child of sworn personnel is not grounds upon which discipline or termination can be based.”

The borough initiated the investigations in January after screenshots of the two-year-old social media posts made by Hunt’s daughter surfaced on social media. The posts were shared as private messages in 2019 by Hunt’s teenage daughter via Snapchat with another teenager, who shared them on social media this year.

The posts were made around the time Hunt was sworn in as chief in March 2019.

One of the posts read, “My dad is now officially police chief so that means he’s more advanced in shooting black people then [sic] he just was a couple minutes ago.”

Another one of the posts read, “I’ll make my dad drive with lights and sirens and if we see any black people we will shoot them.”

Hunt and his wife, Naugatuck High School associate principal Johnna Hunt, have been on leave since late January.

Hess said Steven Hunt will be removed from administrative leave effective Monday.

Naugatuck Police Chief Steven Hunt. –FILE PHOTO

“I’m pleased with the findings of the independent investigations,” Hunt said Friday night. “I look forward to returning to work and doing my part to assist the community in healing.”

Hunt has been a police officer since 1994. He spent the first six years of his career with the Waterbury Police Department before becoming a Naugatuck officer in 2000. His contract as chief runs through June 30, 2022.

The Board of Education also initiated an investigation. Hess said Friday that he believes school administrators have a report in hand and he expects they’ll respond to it next week.

Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini and Board of Education Chairman Jeffrey Litke could not be reached for comment Friday.

The Greater Waterbury NAACP conducted its own investigation after the posts became public.

Greater Waterbury NAACP President Ginnie-Rae Clay said the chapter’s three-member investigative team has finished its report and will contact Hess to sit down with him next week to go over its findings and recommendations. She said the NAACP looks forward to sharing its information with the mayor.

The reports released Friday point to language in Hunt’s contract that require “just cause” to fire him. The reports concluded that Hunt did not violate any department rule, regulation or policy, and the “just cause” standard would not be met in this case.

“You can’t essentially be disciplined for the actions of your child,” said Hess, who added the incident brings to light much broader racial and social issues that the nation is grappling with.

Hess said the borough is working with the NAACP on diversity, equity and inclusion issues.

The Karsten & Tallberg report found four internal affairs investigations involving allegations of racial discrimination against the department were conducted since 2008. The report stated that discipline was meted out against officers in the two instances in which the complaints were substantiated.

The Karsten & Tallberg report stated the Naugatuck Police Department is ahead of most of its peer law enforcement agencies in Connecticut in terms of training its officers regarding fair and impartial policing, and implicit bias. The report cited supplemental training that focused on understanding structural racialization, social cognition and implicit bias, as well as racial bias in policing that was initiated after the death of George Floyd.

Deputy Chief C. Colin McAllister said the department is committed to providing service in a manner that the community has confidence in the department. He said the department is adding a social worker to work with police next fiscal year as one step to continue that effort.

McAllister asked the community to maintain trust in the department.

“The men and women of this department are out there every day,” he said. “They’re giving they’re all and they’re best to ensure that the citizens are safe and provide the highest quality service to everybody in a fair and equitable manner.”