A decade ago, Belair made headlines for his actions during a traffic stop with an undocumented immigrant that was captured on audio; Belair's conduct during the stop resulted in his termination by then-Mayor Mark Boughton.
After a five-year legal battle, a judge ruled against the city's appeal of an arbitration panel's order to reinstate Belair as an officer.
For this throwback Thursday moment, I want to take you back to 2013 to read the news accounts of this incident that reignited tensions in the city and listen to the audio of Belair in his own words during the traffic stop.
DANBURY -- "If there weren't four other cops here, I'd beat the s--- out of you."Here's audio of the Belair's remarks at the traffic stop.
Those are the recorded words of Danbury Police Officer Chris Belair, whose profanity-laced tirade directed at an undocumented immigrant in March has put his career on the line, led to stiff disciplinary action against three other cops and raised questions about the larger culture of the department.
Belair also faces an allegation that he used unreasonable force against the unidentified motorist. Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said the video and audio recordings of the incident have been turned over to the Danbury state's attorney to determine if there are grounds for criminal charges.
Following a nearly daylong series of hearings at City Hall, Boughton suspended the other officers, Rob Madore, Andrew Katkocin and Ryan Howley, without pay for 30, 120, and 180 days, respectively. The mayor said he would decide on Belair's punishment within a few days. All four had been on administrative leave since the incident came to light in April, after Howley, who recorded Belair's diatribe on his cellphone, circulated it among other department members.
The case has refocused attention on the city and its police force, which in the past has been the target of criticism for enforcement efforts that raised tensions among Danbury's large undocumented community. At a time when the nation is moving toward a broader accommodation with undocumented immigrants, the episode had some minority leaders asking if it reflected a broader culture of hostility toward immigrants by the city's police department.
"Whenever you have an incident like this, you wonder what is going on there. Is this profiling?" said state Sen. Andres Ayala, D-Bridgeport, who said he "was alarmed" when he heard the recording.
"It's only one case and I don't know if it's a pattern, but the manner in which this officer approached the person was shocking," Ayala said.
Ingrid Alvarez-DiMarzo, executive director of the Hispanic Center of Greater Danbury, said the incident could raise fears the city is headed back to the days of 2007 and 2008, when relations with the immigrant community were at a low ebb.
"We've made some inroads and something like this has the opportunity to create that schism again," she said. "But I'm still looking at it that the glass is half-full. Sometimes things have to fall apart so you can build them again."
Latinos constitute approximately 25 percent of the city's 80,000-plus population, and about 16,500 people aren't U.S. citizens, according to the Census Bureau. Boughton said he was "very concerned" about the use-of-force charge against Belair. A video camera on one of the police cruisers indicated that Belair appeared to have struck the motorist, a source familiar with the case said.
Boughton added there was no indication the motorist had been targeted because of his ethnicity or race, and he cautioned against "a rush to judgment."
"This was a good traffic stop. The car was covered in snow and there was no way the police could see who was in it," he said. "It went bad when Officer Belair got there."
In an interview, Boughton briefly outlined the stop, which occurred March 8.
Madore initially stopped the car for running a red light on White Street, but the driver was intoxicated and came to a halt in the middle of an intersection, necessitating that Katkocin and Howley respond as backups.
The motorist was determined to be driving without a license, so police "used their discretion" and issued him tickets for the red-light violation and unlicensed operation, the mayor said.
"The net effect was the same as if he had been charged," Boughton said. "His car was towed, he was off the road and he was no longer driving."
Sometime during the stop, Belair showed up and began verbally abusing the driver, angrily shouting that his own uncle had been killed by in a traffic accident with an undocumented immigrant who was driving without a license, according to the 85-second recording, which was made by Howley and obtained Thursday by The News-Times.
At another point, Belair said, "But stop being in this country and almost (expletive) killing people, `cause you're too (expletive) stupid to call a ride. All right?" The driver responds, "I'm sorry, man."
"You got here somehow, right, right? You got here somehow," Belair said. "Then walk back home. Take the f----g bus."