By Richard Weizel
HARTFORD Conn. (Reuters) - The head of the police union in Connecticut's state capital on Thursday blasted the city's police chief for marching with protesters demanding that criminal charges be dropped against a teenager subdued by an officer's stun gun last week.
Dozens of demonstrators marched to police headquarters in Hartford on Wednesday night to take up the cause of Luis Anglero Jr., who was stunned by Detective Shawn Ware as police tried to disperse a crowd earlier this month.
After they arrived, Police Chief James Rovella and other officers joined the marchers, who carried signs such as "Drop the charges Now, Now" and "Stop Police Brutality."
In doing so, the chief sent the wrong message to the force's rank and file, Hartford Police Union President Richard Holton said at a news conference, surrounded by other officers.
"Our membership believes that the chief could have met with the organizers of the demonstration and listened to their concerns," Holton said. "However, to have participated in the demonstration in any form has sent a message to the membership that they are not being supported."
Rovella's decision to join with the demonstrators was reminiscent of the approach taken by Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who took charge of security in Ferguson, Missouri, earlier this month when protests against the killing of an unarmed black teenager by police turned violent. Johnson was praised for helping to diffuse tensions in the St Louis suburb.
The 18-year-old Anglero, who had to be hospitalized after being stunned, faces charges of interfering with police and breach of peace. He is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 3.
When he was stunned, police said, Anglero was acting "aggressively" toward officers who were trying to disperse a crowd and ignored orders to leave the area.
But family said the teen was complying with police orders when the officer used the stun gun.
The police chief sent an email to officers late on Wednesday to explain his decision to join the march.
"I walked among the protesters today for the purpose of exchanging ideas and points of view," Rovella wrote. "I am trying to diffuse any continued animosity towards the police. It
is important to support their freedom of expression."
(Editing by Frank McGurty and Sandra Maler)