Truth, Not Blue Wall Of Silence, Should Rule In Windsor Locks

Cops Often Protect Their Own, But There's A Dead Teen Involved This Time
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The question now in Windsor Locks is how much worse is it going to get for the police department once all the details surrounding one of their own hitting and killing a teenager in a fatal crash finally come out.

Already it looks bad, with damning details piling up fast against Windsor Locks police Officer Michael Koistinen.

Just before midnight on Oct. 29, the off-duty officer was driving the car that hit and killed 15-year-old Henry Dang at the intersection of West and Spring – maybe a half-mile from the teen's apartment. Henry was riding his bike home, having turned down the offer of a ride because he needed his bike the next day.

The rumors started swirling immediately and within days the stories came out: State cops have Koistinen drinking at two separate places before the crash – at a tailgate party outside a UConn football game in East Hartford, and later at a bar in Suffield.

Not good.

But a bigger question here is how deep this trouble is going to run inside the police department.

Problem one: Why was Koistinen's father, a sergeant in the same department, allowed anywhere near the scene? The father, Sgt. Robert Koistinen, was the highest ranking officer at the crash site. He's now on sick leave.

Problem two: Why wasn't Officer Koistinen tested for drugs or alcohol? He wasn't administered a Breathalyzer at the scene and no blood was taken from him at Johnson Memorial Hospital. He's now on paid administrative leave.

Problem three: Why weren't state police immediately called in?

When I spoke to Henry's brother Ha Tran last week, he said that even when another brother called him in Arizona to say their youngest brother had just been killed, something wasn't adding up. It felt, he said, as if they weren't getting the whole story. In the days that followed, he'd realize how right he was.

"They are trying to cover up for one of their own," he's said. The family has hired a lawyer.

But this isn't just about one cop. The integrity of a whole department is on the line.

Windsor Locks residents I talked to the other day weren't exactly shocked that cops might attempt to protect a fellow officer. But they were disappointed that such blind unity might still hold in the face of such a tragic event.

"A little boy is dead," one mother told me, as she watched her own young son riding his bike on the sidewalk in front of us.

And if there does prove to be something wrong here, it's not like we've never seen it before. Officers have been known to close ranks and subscribe to the blue wall of silence when looking out for another officer. The Windsor Locks cops I tried to talk to said they had nothing to say.

Understandable. But in the end, you'd hope that a dead 15-year-old who ironically dreamed of being a police officer would trump protecting one of your own.

And if more than one cop tried to hide the truth here, then more than one cop should be punished.

Helen Ubiñas' column appears on Thursdays and Sundays. Read her blog, Notes From Hel, at courant.com/helen.


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