Ceremony celebrates exemplary police work, honors former Monroe officers

Monroe police officers pose for a group photo after their annual awards ceremony at Jockey Hollow Middle School Tuesday.

MONROE, CT — Monroe police officers solved complex cases and responded to a wide variety of calls  in 2022 and 2023, from arresting a woman selling fentanyl and a man calling in a bomb threat, to dealing with the paranormal and embarking on an investigation that led to the arrest of a murder suspect. Officers even helped deliver a baby during one call.

These are just a few of the stories town officers shared at the annual Monroe Police Department Awards Ceremony, held inside the Jockey Hollow Middle School auditorium Tuesday night.

“Tonight is a chance to celebrate our officers with our families and our friends, and celebrate some of our victories,” Chief Keith White told the packed audience from the podium.

Piper Major Angus MacDonald, of Police Pipes & Drums in Waterbury, led a processional at the beginning of the ceremony, the Monroe Police Honor Guard did the presentation of colors and Masuk High School senior, Virginia Grabowski, sang the National Anthem.

A moment of silence was observed for all fallen officers, while MacDonald played “Amazing Grace” on his bagpipes.

Monroe Police Commission Chairman Michael Vitello, left, and First Selectman Terry Rooney.

First Selectman Terry Rooney, State Rep. Tony Scott, R-Monroe, Police Commission Chairman Michael Vitello and other commission members attended the ceremony.

“Folks, as we listen to the stories and see our officers receive their accolades please let’s remember, behind all these awards lies countless hours of sacrifice, late nights and missed family gatherings,” Rooney said. “All these officers have shown us what it means to serve with integrity, compassion and unwavering commitment to the safety of our community.”

“Our Monroe Police Department is a shining example of professionalism, integrity and courage,” Scott said. “Every day you put your lives on the line to protect and serve our community.”

“On behalf of the residents of the town of Monroe, I want to express my sincere appreciation and admiration for your service,” he said. “You are the pride of our town and heroes in our community.”

Officer Michael Frizinia, left, receives the Monroe Officer of the Year Award from Chief Keith White at the annual Awards Ceremony at Jockey Hollow Middle School Tuesday night.

Among the highlights, Michael Frizinia was recognized as the 2022-23 Chief Jacob J. Tufano Officer of the Year.

Frizinia, a member of the Monroe Police Department for over four years, was assigned to the Patrol Division, where he led the department in motor vehicle stops and traffic enforcement in 2022. He was also at, or near, the top of the department in criminal and motor vehicle arrests.

“He maintains a positive attitude, which is evident by the seemingly permanent smile he displays,” Capt. Gregory Smith said. “He accepts any task or assignment given to him with positivity and without complaint.”

Frizinia was selected to the Regional Violent Crimes Task Force in Bridgeport in early 2023, and was commended by Connecticut State Police for his performance.

Smith said Frizinia assisted with the apprehension of a Monroe man who the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania held an extraditable arrest warrant for, as well as the arrest of a Bridgeport man responsible for a bomb threat to a Monroe utility company.

This was in addition to arrests of violent offenders and seizure of narcotics and weapons in the Bridgeport area while assigned to the task force, Smith said.

As a Monroe police officer, Smith said Frizinia exhausts all resources during an investigation, which should serve him well in his current capacity as a detective.

A Life Saving Medal

Sgt. Jeffrey Loomis and officers Nicholas Franzago and Christopher Silkman received the Life Saving Medal.

On December 18, 2023, the three officers responded to an emergency call at a construction site. An unconscious 60-year-old man was lying on the ground and he was not breathing. He was also bleeding from a cut over his right eye.

Smith said the officers performed CPR and applied three shock cycles from an automated external defibrillator before the man gained a pulse and began to breathe again.

Trumbull EMS and paramedics later arrived and took the man to a local hospital where he recovered.

A Civilian Award

Matthew O’Neill, left, and Jonathan Bartek received the Monroe Police Department’s Civilian Award.

On Sept. 10 2022, a man brandishing a handgun was about to enter 574 Wines on Monroe Turnpike around 3 p.m.

Store employees Matthew O’Neill and Jonathan Bartek observed the man outside, recognized the potential danger, and quickly led everyone out the back door and notified the Monroe Police Department.

When the man walked inside the store and saw no one there, he left the business in his van. Based on witness descriptions of the van, driver and license plate, police later arrested the man in Shelton.

“If not for the quick actions of Matthew O’Neill and Jonathan Bartek, identifying a dangerous situation and escorting the store customers and employees out the back door, this incident may have escalated to a more serious incident that may have led to injury or death,” Smith said. “For their actions, Matthew O’Neill and Jonathan Bartek are being awarded the Monroe Police Department Civilian Award.”

The Civilian Award is presented by the Monroe Police Department whenever a civilian goes above and beyond in assisting the police department in its vital function.

Community Service Award

Officer Michael Panza, center, is congratulated by retired police sergeant, Peter Howard, left, and Chief Keith White for his volunteer of the year award.

Officer Michael Panza received the Sgt. Peter Howard Community Service Volunteer Award.

Panza, a member of the Monroe Police Department for 10 years, has shown a passion for the community with his enthusiastic involvement in police sponsored events such as toy and food drives and the Penguin Plunge, according to Smith.

When the K-9 unit needs a volunteer to don the bite suit for its public demonstrations, Smith said Panza is always the first one to step up.

“Even more than this, Officer Panza is receiving this award for service that many times goes unnoticed and doesn’t draw attention like the above stated events,” Smith said.

Panza frequently responds to citizen complaints, working closely with residents to find a solution, whether it’s a noise complaint from illegal quad riding, a neighborhood complaint of trespassers at the Warren property, or someone experiencing mental or emotional issues who repeatedly calls police for various reasons, Smith said.

“Officer Panza never shies away from taking these issues on, lessening the burden on his fellow patrol officers and, most importantly, showing that community member their problem, which is the most important thing in the world to them at the time, matters to the Monroe Police Department,” Smith said.

Smith said residents often come up to Panza to thank him for what he has done for them and their family. He also assists Jockey Hollow Middle School and Masuk High School in building stage sets for various performing arts productions throughout the school year, Smith added.

“He fully embraces the community policing model and flourishes in that role,” Smith said. “For these reasons, Officer Michael Panza is the recipient of the 2022-2023 Sgt. Peter Howard Community Service Volunteer Award.”

Certificates of Appreciation

Retired police chief, John Salvatore, left, is honored by current chief, Keith White.

John Salvatore served as Monroe’s police chief from 1998 to 2022. On Tuesday night he was honored with a Certificate of Appreciation presented by his successor Chief White, who once served as his captain.

White praised Salvatore for leading the department through the evolution of law enforcement techniques and new technologies, while always finding a way to ensure his officers had what they needed to do their jobs successfully.

Salvatore also led the effort to modernize the Monroe Police Department’s facility through a building project.

Mark Abriola, left, was among the retired police officers honored. He is standing next to Chief Keith White.

“It was such an upgrade. It was needed so badly at the time,” White recalled, adding of Salvatore, “I’m just thankful for the time I was able to work with him, the leadership he provided the department — and I wish him well in his retirement.”

Officers who recently retired after distinguished careers of serving Monroe were also honored with Career Appreciation Certificates including, Mark Abriola, Peter Howard, Park Ranger David Solek, Edward Collins, Animal Control Officer Ed Risk and Jay Torreso.

Busting up a used car scam

Detective Michael Chaves was awarded a Meritorious Service Ribbon for his role as the primary investigator into a complaint of a fraudulent motor vehicle sale through Facebook Marketplace.

Chaves and other detectives uncovered a larger scheme to buy used cars at auction, roll back the odometers and sell the vehicles at inflated prices to unsuspecting customers. Thousands of dollars worth of property was seized during the investigation, which led to two arrests in 2023 and prevented others from being victimized.

Officer Francisco Jimenez was also awarded a Meritorious Service Ribbon for his role in the investigation, helping Chaves to execute a plan to set up a meeting with the two suspects for the return of $14,000 to one victim in exchange for the vehicle’s title and key. It resulted in the seizure of cellphones and other evidence leading to the arrests.

Jimenez’s fluency in Spanish also helped the investigation, according to Smith.

Family matters

Sgt. Jeffrey Loomis, Officer Dominick Ebert and Officer Jonathan Mendez earned Special Recognition Certificates for helping deliver a baby on an early morning call on Sept. 8 2023.

Sgt. Helio Ramalhete, Officer Nicholas Franzago, Officer Christopher Rampino, Officer Christopher Silkman and Detective Michael Chaves earned Meritorious Service Ribbons for their response to a domestic disturbance on March 20, 2022, which was continuing to escalate.

The officers established a perimeter around the house, led an innocent victim to safety and negotiated the peaceful surrender of an armed man.

A terrible fall

Officer Caitlin Wood earned a Special Recognition Certificate for her actions while on patrol on April 21, 2023. At 1:52 a.m., Wood found an elderly woman lying on the ground beside a building at High Meadows Estates, an age 55-and-older community in the northeast section of town.

The woman told Wood she had gone outside to move some plants at 7 p.m., when she fell and rolled down a hill on the side of her residence.

Wood immediately called for medical personnel to be dispatched to the scene and administered medical care to the woman, until Monroe EMS arrived and took her to a hospital.

Overnight temperatures were in the 40s. If Wood did not see her, the woman may not have been found until later in the morning. Smith said Wood’s observant patrol, quick response, rapid assessment of the patient and immediate request for medical personnel may have spared her from serious medical issues.

Fleeing suspect brings chaos

Sgt. Helio Ramalhete, Officer Christopher Rampino, Officer Seth Twohill, Officer Jonathan Mendez, Officer Nicholas Franzago, Officer Dominick Ebert, Dispatcher Joshua Koval and Dispatcher Mark Babson earned Special Recognition Certificates for their handling of a wild incident on April 3, 2022.

Waterbury police units pursued a fleeing suspect in a white Hummer and the chase spilled into Monroe. The vehicles entered town via Route 110, and cleared the roundabout.

By the time the Hummer crashed into a utility pole — severing it in two places — seven Waterbury police cruisers had also been severely damaged.

The suspect had serious injuries and seven of the officers had non-life-threatening injuries.

Monroe’s officers took control of the scene, which was over a quarter of a mile long, closed the road, got medical care to all involved and secured the scene for the ensuing investigation.

The dispatchers coordinated with multiple agencies, including police, fire and EMS — getting needed resources to the scene.

Defusing a bomb threat

Lt. Stephen Corrone, Sgt. John McAulay, Officer Michael Panza and Officer Christopher Silkman earned Special Recognition Certificates for their actions following a bomb threat called in at Aquarion Water Co., 200 Monroe Turnpike on December 20, 2023.

The officers successfully evacuated the building, bringing innocent civilians to safety, secured a safe perimeter and, with assistance from the Stamford Police Department’s bomb detecting dog, deemed the facility clear of all explosives.

Smith said these officers’ actions allowed detectives to investigate, leading to the arrest of a suspect 11 days later, who was charged with threatening in the first degree and falsely reporting an incident.

Detectives Nicole Buckley, Michael Chaves, William Lazzara and Jeffrey Marcel received Special Recognition Certificates for the investigation. Smith said they took the lead on the case when other agencies had deemed it unsolvable.

Following a murder suspect’s trail

Detective Kyle Stevens was awarded a Meritorious Service Ribbon for his investigation into the burglary of a Monroe home, in which 12 guns were stolen.

Stevens tracked down some of the stolen firearms and interviews with suspects helped him to identify a primary suspect, who was also wanted for a murder in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

His investigation helped lead to the man’s arrest at a hotel in Danbury in June of 2023. Smith said two of the guns stolen in the Monroe burglary were found in his room.

On January 8, 2024, Stevens served a Monroe arrest warrant to the suspect at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institute in Suffield.

Smoke inhalation

Officer Michael Phillips earned a Special Recognition Certificate for his response to an active kitchen fire on Oct. 19 2023.

One of the two females in the driveway told Phillips her 86-year-old mother was still inside the house. Phillips, who had taken a fire extinguisher from his patrol car with him, went in to get her.

Heavy smoke was billowing out of the front door and the kitchen was engulfed in flames. Phillips found the elderly woman in the living room. She was not speaking or moving. Smith said Phillips directed the woman to exit the residence multiple times, but she refused.

Phillips used the fire extinguisher to put out the flames, but the fire had become too large and the house was filling up with smoke.

He escorted the woman outside, bringing her to safety, and the Monroe Fire Department arrived and extinguished the fire.

Monroe EMS personnel evaluated the residents, who did not sustain injuries. However, Phillips was exposed to heavy smoke and was hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

Smith commended Phillips for his quick actions to enter a dangerous situation and rescue a woman from a burning building.

Taking fentanyl off the street

Officer Dominick Ebert earned a Meritorious Service Ribbon for a traffic stop on Main Street at 3:36 a.m. on August 4, 2022.

Ebert noticed a white sedan with a temporary license plate and no information from found from a Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles check.

After initiating a traffic stop, the 18 year old female driver told him she had a Connecticut learner’s permit, which Ebert learned was suspended. The driver admitted the vehicle was just purchased and was not insured.

When Ebert asked if any illegal substances or weapons were inside the vehicle, the driver admitted to having marijuana on driver’s side of the car.

Ebert conducted an inventory of the vehicle and found 336 wax folds, equal to 96 grams of a powdery substance that later tested positive for fentanyl.

The driver was charged with possession of a controlled substance, possession with intent to sell and possession of alcohol by a minor.

Smith praised Ebert for his vigilance and interviewing skills.

“Thanks to his proactive actions a criminal offender was arrested and 336 doses of fentanyl were seized,” Smith said. “This seizure has potentially prevented a significant number of drug overdoses and deaths in the area.”

Rounding up robbery suspects

A police investigation into the robbery at Rite Aid, 508 Monroe Turnpike, was still underway at 5 p.m. on July 13, 2022.

Detective Nicole Buckley Meritorious Service Ribbon for her role as lead investigator of the robbery of the Rite Aid on Monroe Turnpike that took place on July 13, 2022.

Four suspects in an out-of-state rental car entered the store. One stood lookout, while the other three went behind the counter and demanded employees open the safe.

Smith said the store employees complied out of fear for their safety and the robbers made off with $32,000 worth of prescription painkillers with a street value of $133,000. They were in and out of store in less than two-and-a-half minutes and were gone prior to police arrival.

Detectives processed the scene for digital and forensic evidence and submitted it to the state lab.

Smith said Buckley immediately identified the rental car used in the robbery. The car had been brought back to a rental business in New York and had not been rented since its return.

Buckley and Detective Kyle Stevens drove there and processed the vehicle for evidence. They also obtained surveillance video from the neighborhood, which showed a party matching the description of one of the suspects exit the rental car with the same duffle bag he used in the robbery.

Buckley obtained court orders and search warrants to identify the man who rented the car. On August 29, 2022 results from the state lab identified two suspects from fingerprints Buckley obtained from the vehicle, as well as a third suspect from a DNA hit from an item left inside the vehicle, Smith said.

Using resources from the NYPD and the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force, Buckley located three suspects, all from the Bronx, N.Y., who were taken into custody at Rikers Island Prison.

A fourth suspect has been identified, but is being held in New York on unrelated charges.

Smith praised Buckley for outstanding investigative work leading to the identification and apprehension of these dangerous felons.

‘St. Michael the Archangel’

No trespassing signs are posted in front of late ghost hunter Lorraine Warren’s house on Knollwood Street.

Officers Timothy Larkin, Jessica Legen and Francisco Jimenez and Sgt. Helio Ramalhete were awarded Meritorious Service Ribbon for the safe apprehension of a psychologically impaired person.

Neighbors of the property of the late paranormal researchers Ed and Lorraine Warren frequently complain about trespassers, despite numerous “No Trespassing” signs that are posted on the property.

“Due to its famous past residents and recent Hollywood productions, this residence has been a destination for all those intrigued with the paranormal, literally from all over the world they come,” Smith said.

On September 17, 2023, the property received a visit from a Wisconsin man claiming to be St. Michael the Archangel.

The officers responding to the call found him trying to break in by kicking in the back door. The man allegedly said he had a sword and would strike an officer down. While advancing toward officers Larkin and Legen, Smith said the man told them they could tase him, because he is protected by God.

Both officers tried to speak with him, but he presented in multiple forms and failed to comply, according to Smith, who said the man spoke in loud aggressive tones, followed by a soft spoken reasonable manner.

Smith said the man’s altered mental status presented itself as an argument among multiple personalities.

The man allegedly charged at Larkin and hit him in face, before Legen used a taser on him and he fell to the ground.

The two officers were wrestling him on ground when Ramalhete and Jimemez arrived on the scene and the four officers got the man under control — all while he continued to claim to be possessed.

After the arrest, a bottle of holy water and a book of the Old Testament were found in the door the man had been kicking in, according to Smith.

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