Federal authorities have arrested Bridgeport, Connecticut, police chief A.J. Perez along with the city’s personnel director amid allegations they rigged the city’s 2018 search for a new chief.
Bridgeport’s charter required the city to conduct an open and competitive exam to present Mayor Joe Ganim with three candidates for police chief. Perez was acting chief at the time.
Authorities said Perez and personnel director David Dunn enlisted two officers to secretly write part of the exam, and tried to influence a panelist to ensure Perez was one of the top candidates. Authorities said they also lied to the FBI during the investigation.
Both are charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and lying to federal investigators, which carry a maximum of more than 20 years in prison.
A spokesperson for the city of Bridgeport said they learned about the arrests Thursday morning, and are preparing to make any immediate and appropriate changes in personnel.
Ganim said he’s appointing assistant chief Rebecca Garcia as the city’s acting police chief.
“Certainly, there is a grappling for some of the answers as to what has happened. Disappointment, uncertainty. But I can tell you this. The members of this administration remain committed to you as residents of this city,” Ganim said.
Bridgeport, Connecticut, lawmakers and activists reacted to the arrest of the city’s police chief with disappointment — but not always surprise. State Representative Steve Stafstrom’s district includes Bridgeport.
“We appreciate and support the hard work of the rank and file officers who patrol our city every day. However, it has become abundantly clear that change is needed at the top to bring about real accountability and transparency in policing the City of Bridgeport,” Stafstrom said.
The local advocacy group Generation Now was among the most vocal critics of the process. Co-director Callie Heilmann said at the time it lacked transparency and could be rigged.
“We were met by stall tactics and silence by the administration. We would push for public forums and there’d be closed-door meetings. We would push for the names of the search panel. The search panel was, quote, ‘secret,’” Heilmann said.
Heilmann said the arrests are more evidence the department needs reform.
“Our police department has a very unfortunate history of abuse, corruption, misconduct, assault, over time that’s out of control. The department continues to be the largest and fastest-growing item in our city budget,” she said.
The city’s long history of corruption includes sitting mayor Ganim, who served time in federal prison for corruption — and who appointed Perez.
State Senator Marilyn Moore ran for mayor of Bridgeport in 2019. She called for Perez’s removal during the campaign. She says the arrests weren’t a surprise to many residents.
“That’s a sad thing to say that we are always prepared for the worst in Bridgeport. But conversely so, I also want people to know we also are prepared to protect and serve the people of the city of Bridgeport,” Moore said.
Moore called the actions a betrayal of public trust and said she suspects others are involved.