A Danbury, Connecticut police officer has been suspended for five days without pay for using a gay slur to describe an activist.
The disciplinary action against Sgt. Vito Iacobellis comes after First Amendment activist Sean Paul Reyes – the person who Iacobellis called a “f*g” – filed a complaint which led to a three-month internal investigation, according to the News-Times.
The incident occurred in July 2021, while Iacobellis was still a police officer. Reyes, who documents interactions with law enforcement and public officials and instances of First Amendment violations on his YouTube channel, was arrested while filming inside Danbury’s City Hall. He was found guilty early this year of trespassing and is appealing that verdict.
In Iacobellis’ body camera footage, which Reyes received through a Freedom of Information Act request, Reyes heard the officer refer to him using a gay slur. Reyes filed a complaint in February. “How can the citizens of Danbury trust that Iacobellis can protect and serve with such hateful and homophobic views,” he wrote.
Following the three-month investigation, which ended on April 28, Danbury police Chief Patrick Ridenhour sent a disciplinary letter to Iacobellis.
“Although you were not speaking directly to (the activist) or to anyone else, your use of such language while in uniform and while on duty caused embarrassment to yourself, to our department, and could hamper our efforts to build and maintain positive relationships with our community,” Ridenhour wrote. “Use of this terminology is never acceptable under any circumstances and will not be tolerated, especially while on duty.”
Internal documents reportedly show that Iacobellis apologized, saying, “It was never my intention to offend anyone.”
In a letter to Reyes, Ridenhour wrote that “The allegation that then-Officer Iacobellis referred to you as a ‘f*g’ as he passed you in his patrol car on July 15, 2021, is sustained.” Ridenhour reiterated that “use of such language is unacceptable under any circumstances and has been addressed with Sergeant Iacobellis through our disciplinary process.”
“I don’t believe the chief went far enough,” Reyes said of the disciplinary action, noting that Iacobellis was promoted to sergeant in December 2021, five months after the incident.
“He did all this to me, and he was promoted,” Reyes said. “I think he should go back to where he was when he committed this misconduct.”
On Tuesday, Reyes posted a video about the case to his YouTube channel, including clips from body camera footage in which Iacobellis appears to coach a City Hall security guard writing a statement about Reyes’ arrest and claiming that the then-officer deleted audio of the slur from his body camera footage. Reyes also took issue with Ridenhour’s claim that Iacobellis “apologized,” noting that he had not received an apology from the sergeant, and with the chief’s claim that audio of Iacobellis using the slur was “muted, but not missing.”