Last minute legal maneuvering bars swearing-in of 2 police officers
William Kaempffer, Register StaffMay 10, 2003
NEW HAVEN — The mayor planned to swear in new detectives Friday, but it was up to a judge how many.
With only an hour before a planned City Hall ceremony, a Superior Court judge granted an injunction barring the city from promoting two officers she concluded weren’t eligible.

So at 4 p.m., Mayor John DeStefano Jr. gave the oath of office to 11 new investigators instead of the 13 he had planned.

The court wouldn’t permit the city to promote the other two, who up to an hour before the hearing through they still might get their gold badges.

Clearly upset, Sgt. Louis G. Cavalier, the union president, leveled blame squarely on the shoulders of the city administration.

"I feel sorry for those two people who were not being promoted because of the spiteful defiance of the city of New Haven," Cavalier said. "As a result of that defiance, these two officers, a half hour before they were supposed to be promoted, will not get promoted.

"What they (the city administration) blatantly did has affected the lives of those officers."

The scuttled promotions resulted from last-minute courtroom drama that began to unfold Thursday.

Officers Peter Beckwith and Shawn Burns had sued the city Thursday afternoon after being passed over for detective, and their attorney, Karen Lee Torre, went to court Friday morning looking for the injunction.

In the suit, Torre claimed that the city improperly applied civil service rules and then ignored decisions by two Superior Court judges in other lawsuits that criticized the practice.

City Corporation Counsel Thomas W. Ude Jr. has asserted that the earlier rulings were non-binding against the city and that the judges were "respectfully" incorrect.

In one of the earlier cases, Judge Lynda Munro ruled against the city last year when two sergeants sued after being skipped over for lieutenant.

Torre handled that case, as well.

On Friday, Torre was back before Munro with two new clients and many of the same arguments.

"I was disappointed," said Ude after the decision. "I thought we put on a strong case and I still stand by my reading of the (city) charter."

In court, Torre contended that the practice of rounding off test scores on promotional exams creates artificial ties, which alone might seem benign.

However, civil service rules permit the chief and other department heads to choose from any of the three applicants with the highest scores in any promotion. When officers are tied in a rank, by the city’s interpretation, they count as one in that "rule of three."

Ude contended that interpretation is correct and presented evidence that it was the testing agency, and not the city, which rounded the scores. Torre scoffed at that assertion, suggesting that the city tried to skirt Munro’s last ruling by telling the consultant to round off the marks before submitting them.

In court Friday, much as she did last year, Munro crunched the officers’ raw scores, which were not rounded, and calculated who could be promoted from that.

In the end, that left out officers Jose Silva and Otoniel Reyes, whom police Chief Melvin H. Wearing recommended for promotion last month. Wearing retired at the end of April.

Acting police Chief Francisco Ortiz said Friday that he hoped the two men would be promoted once the issue legal issue is resolved.

Meanwhile, the two officers’ names were on the program at City Hall, but DeStefano didn’t call their names.


William Kaempffer can be reached at wkaempffer@nhregister.com, or at 789-5727.

İNew Haven Register 2003

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