Waterbury PD release body cam of confrontation with man with an illegal gun and 1,400 bags of heroin

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A Waterbury man was arrested after he allegedly had a loaded illegal gun and over 1,400 bags of heroin in his possession when confronted by police on Thursday afternoon, police said.
Waterbury Police Department officers were patrolling the downtown area around 3:30 p.m. on Thursday when they were notified of an anonymous complaint that an adult male had openly loaded a firearm during a disturbance on West Main and Leavenworth streets. The caller provided a description of the man, Waterbury Chief Fernando Spagnolo said at a press conference Friday.

Officers responded to the area and found a man matching the description. The man, identified as 37-year-old James Thomas of Waterbury, was a suspect in two recent shots fired incidents in the city, police said. He has arrest warrants in each of the two shootings charging him with criminal use of a weapon, first-degree reckless endangerment and illegal discharge of a firearm and is a suspect in two other shootings in Waterbury in recent months, Spagnolo said.

Thomas was on the phone with an ex-girlfriend who holds a protective order against him prohibiting him from contacting her when he was allegedly seen loading his gun on West Main Street, Spagnolo said.

Police approached Thomas to investigate the weapons complaint and he “immediately became uncooperative and physically combative,” according to police. He allegedly refused to show his hands when asked and resisted arrest. Police said he kept reaching for his waistband during the arrest.

The department released body camera footage of the incident, which shows the first responding officers struggling to restrain Thomas. One officer is seen striking Thomas repeatedly, while others try to subdue him. Spagnolo said it took four to six officers to get him in custody. Thomas could be seen with a large bruise on his face following the interaction.

Spagnolo said there were no policy violations committed by police in the interaction and stood by their conduct. He said they had reason to believe Thomas was armed and willing to shoot, based on the 911 caller’s description of the incident Thursday and his suspected involvement in previous incidents of gunfire. He also said he spoke with community leaders from the Waterbury Diversity Council, NAACP and members of the clergy in regard to the incident on Friday.

“The officers, as far as everything we viewed today, there’s no policy violations,” Spagnolo said at the press conference. “The officers made an appropriate choice in responding to the call, they made an appropriate response to how they attempted to take him into custody.”

Once detained, he was searched and police allegedly found a loaded 9-millimeter pistol tucked into his waistband with a high-capacity magazine with 11 rounds of ammunition. Police also allegedly found an additional magazine with 30 rounds of ammunition, 1,458 bags of heroin and fentanyl and 140 grams of raw heroin in his possession, police said.

Thomas was treated on the scene for injuries sustained in the interaction with police and was transported to Saint Mary’s Hospital for evaluation. An officer was also injured during Thomas’ arrest and has since been released from Saint Mary’s Hospital.

Thomas did not own a valid pistol permit and was previously convicted of third-degree assault, which would disqualify him from legally owning a handgun in Connecticut, police said.

“We are grateful that someone stepped up and alerted the WPD of this dangerous threat to our community, which enabled officers to quickly respond and remove another illegally possessed loaded firearm and high capacity magazines off our streets,” Spagnolo said.

Thomas was charged with criminal possession of a pistol, criminal possession of a firearm, illegal sale or transfer of a pistol, possession of a large capacity magazine, interfering with police, possession of an ounce or more of heroin, second-degree breach of the peace and violation of a protective order.

Police expect further charges to be levied in connection with the other incidents he is suspected of being involved in, Spagnolo said.

Thomas was held on a $750,000 bond and appeared in Waterbury Superior Court on Friday.

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