BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Officer Juan Santiago looked up from his lap where a thin ribbon of smoke was rising from a hole in a cloth gun pouch, blood trickling from a corresponding hole in his left thigh.
"Why didn't you tell me the gun was loaded," he asked his breakfast mate, Detective Juan Gonzalez.
On Tuesday morning, the 56-year-old Santiago, a 29-year veteran of the police force, surrendered at the State Police barracks in Bethany, where he was charged with unlawful discharge of a firearm -- a move many in the community said was long overdue.
The charge is a misdemeanor and Santiago was released on a promise to appear pending arraignment in state Superior Court here on Feb. 18. In the meantime, Santiago is on paid administrative duty. His lawyer, John R. Gulash, declined comment.
"First, I would like to say we are grateful that the officer is recovering from his injury," Bridgeport Police Chief Joseph L. Gaudett Jr. said. "We have said from the outset that we requested the state police handle the investigation so the public would have confidence that it would be fair and unbiased. The state police conducted a thorough investigation, consulted with the State's Attorney's Office and made a determination that we will respect."
The state police investigation also pointed out in the arrest warrant affidavit the things Bridgeport police did -- and didn't do -- in their own initial investigation.
For instance, while at St. Vincent's Medical Center after the shooting, police officers spoke to Santiago, but only discussed his well-being. They didn't discuss the incident, citing the fact he was on medication at the time.
Twenty days later, Santiago submitted a written memo to Bridgeport Police Capt. James Viadero on the shooting. Although Santiago states he unzipped the pouch and was holding the gun when it fired, the state police investigation determined the gun was fired through the pouch.
Police never recovered the bullet, the state police affidavit noted.
The shooting incident sparked two protests in front of Bridgeport police headquarters calling for Santiago to be charged. At the most recent event Feb. 4, the protesters demanded to know why Santiago hadn't been charged, while a man who accidentally fired his gun in his home on Jan. 28 had been arrested almost immediately.
The suspect in the January case, 23-year-old Kenneth Sullivan, of Midland Street, was charged with unlawful discharge of a firearm, second-degree reckless endangerment and criminal mischief in the third degree, all misdemeanors.
On Tuesday, organizers of the protests said they thought Santiago should face more charges.
"The officer who was in a public place was probably more reckless and probably endangered more people," said Palin Smith, who wondered why the officer hadn't been hit with the same charges as Sullivan.
"It's still not exactly fair and equal application, but at least it's something, finally," said Jonathan Hardy, a firearms instructor from Meriden.
On Dec. 17, police said Santiago was examining a handgun in the Bagel King restaurant when the gun went off, wounding him in the leg and shattering a window in the crowded restaurant.
Although Santiago was surrounded by fellow police officers at the time, he was not immediately arrested. Instead, after an initial investigation, Gaudett agreed to turn the case over to the state police, a decision that sparked much criticism especially in light of a recent arrest by city police of a resident who accidentally fired a gun while cleaning it.
Bridgeport police also got "memos" from the three other police officers who were with Santiago when the gun went off.
Following the morning lineup Dec. 17, the four officers, Sgt. James Remele, detectives Mark Graham and Juan Gonzalez and Santiago, went to Bagel King for breakfast while on duty, according to the warrant affidavit. Gonzalez carried the .45-caliber Beretta he had borrowed from Dr. Richard Lovanio, of Trumbull, in a zippered cloth pouch.