LORAIN — A Lorain police officer accused of attacking his wife last month has a string of alcohol-related problems while off duty, according to a review of his personnel file.
Although the documents provided Monday by Lorain police don’t go into extensive detail about the prior incidents, it makes clear that the department was concerned about James O. Connell’s alcohol use before the March 22 incident in which he was accused of attacking Nicole Connell after a day of drinking.
A July 2015 document said that Connell first got into trouble in January 2014 after he was caught “trying to walk home at night while intoxicated.” The second incident came in May 2014, “when officers responded to a noise complaint and found you riding an ATV while intoxicated,” Police Chief Cel Rivera wrote.
Connell’s third incident came Aug. 9, 2014, when he was pulled over by Garrettsville police in Portage County.
“It was determined that you were intoxicated; the officer decided to transport you and your friend to their Police Department facility to allow you to ‘sober up’ before being permitted to drive,” Rivera wrote. “The Lorain Police Department was notified by GPD officials.”
Connell was never charged in connection with those incidents.
After the last incident, Connell was ordered to undergo alcohol addiction treatment and received a three-day suspension from work that was held in abeyance on the condition of one year of good behavior. Connell also was required to report any contact with law enforcement within one hour of it happening and submit to random alcohol testing.
Rivera wrote that it was clear to Connell’s supervisors that he had a drinking problem. An earlier report in Connell’s file noted that he told the Police Department’s Employee Review Board that it was the last incident in 2014 that convinced him to seek treatment and begin attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Capt. Jim McCann wrote in a June 2015 recommendation to Rivera that Connell’s problems appear to be alcohol-related and all happened while he was off duty.
“The ERB also acknowledged Officer Connell has been a good police officer and has had no issues while on-duty,” McCann wrote, something backed up by the rest of Connell’s personnel file, which contains mostly positive performance reviews and several positive citations.
Connell’s defense attorney, J. Anthony Rich, said his client’s past disciplinary actions are “immaterial” to the allegations against Connell, who is on paid leave, for what happened in March.
Rich also said Connell is innocent of the domestic violence charge leveled against him by his fellow Lorain police officers after Nicole Connell declined to press charges.
A police report on the incident said officers went to the couple’s home after receiving a call from Nicole Connell’s father, who told them James Connell had choked his daughter during a fight.
When officers arrived, James Connell, who police reported smelled of alcohol, told them he and his wife got into an argument after she caught him texting with another woman.
Nicole Connell told police that James Connell was drinking throughout the day and became argumentive after a birthday party for their 2-year-old son. She said she took the boy to a relative’s house before coming home.
When she returned, Nicole Connell said James Connell refused to turn down the television and followed her into the kitchen and began making advances toward her.
Nicole Connell said she rejected her husband and about that time he received a text from a woman and tried to hide his phone from her. She told police she grabbed his phone and ran into a bathroom and locked the door behind her.
She said she read the text before James Connell opened the locked door. Nicole Connell said she ran into the kitchen, but James Connell tackled her and put her in a chokehold when she refused to return his phone.
Police reported that Nicole Connell said she hit and hit her husband and at one point pushed him off, but he grabbed her again and put her in a chokehold. She said she felt herself start to lose consciousness, but James Connell released her before she passed out.
She told police she then ran toward the living room, but James Connell tackled her again and held her wrists while sitting on top of her. She said she continued to fight until James Connell let her up and then called her father.
James Connell told police that he was “defending himself” and received scratches on his face and left hand during the encounter and asked his fellow officers to take photos of those injuries.
The police report said Nicole Connell had swelling and bruising on her left arm, a raised red mark on her neck and a split lip with dried blood.
Rich said his client had tried to keep the situation under control and likely was charged because he was the one who had been drinking that night.
“I think he was arrested under an overabundance of caution,” Rich said. “He was absolutely trying to prevent the situation from escalating.”
Connell, who is free on bond, is due back in Lorain Municipal Court next month.