|Article Last Updated: 4/14/2005 09:40 AM|
|'Lawless' cops face court ire|
|Harsh punishment sought in bias case|
|MICHAEL P. MAYKO email@example.com|
|NEW HAVEN — Repeated failures by the Bridgeport Police Department to obey federal court orders in a 25-year-old discrimination case prompted a request on Wednesday to get the U.S. Attorney's Office and federal court Grievance Committee involved.|
"Court orders have been willfully disobeyed and the court has been lied to and misled," William H. Clendenen Jr. — a lawyer appointed by the federal court to resolve discrimination issues in the department — wrote to U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton. "The [police] department's lawlessness must end," he added. Clendenen urged Arterton to "impose promptly the strictest of sanctions."
Just last year, Clendenen recommended the city pay $945,000 in penalties for failing to implement policies and file timely progress reports. Arterton has yet to rule on Clendenen's prior or new requests. Instead, the judge is conducting a series of hearings. The next is scheduled April 27.
"Investigations are necessary," said Antonio Ponvert III, a lawyer with Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, who represents the Bridgeport Guardians, a group of black officers that filed the suit in 1978.
Clendenen also attached documents disclosing that nearly a quarter — 100 officers — of the department had their assignments changed since January.
These included 43 officers who Clendenen contends were protected from transfer by a stay Arterton issued on Dec. 15, 2003.
"The history of this case tells a sad story of public officials repeatedly disregarding and failing to comply with federal court orders," Clendenen wrote. "Neither the assessment of fines nor the threat of more fines has had any measurable impact on more than 20 years of continued violations."
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Hughes, who heads U.S. Attorney Kevin J. O'Connor's civil division, was in the courtroom Wednesday as the hearing on police officer rotations began.
O'Connor said his office is aware of the rulings.
"We have concerns about the impact any rotations will have on Bridgeport police officers working with our various task forces," O'Connor said.
As to the transfers, Acting Police Chief Anthony Armeno told Arterton during the hearing that former Chief Wilbur Chapman, who stepped down on Jan. 21, left a "functionally unsound" department behind.
Armeno explained he had to transfer officers just to fill patrol cars on the morning and midnight shifts. Nevertheless, Clendenen advised the judge that one of Chapman's transfers was Lt. James Baraja. Baraja is the department's internal compliance officer. Many of his duties involve compiling reports on discipline, job assignments and transfers for the federal court, as well as making sure federal court orders are circulated to police administrators.
In a ruling Clendenen hopes Arterton will approve, the New Haven lawyer accused Chapman of transferring Baraja on Jan. 5 after he criticized the lieutenant for giving federal court testimony that made the department look bad.
"It is hard to imagine how the department thought it could retaliate against and punish Lt. Baraja for actions taken in aid of the federal court and its orders," Clendenen wrote.
Armeno returned Baraja to the compliance position last month.
"What Chapman did to Baraja is no different than what he did to a lot of people," claimed Lt. David Daniels, president of the Guardians. "I got transferred three times in a year. If he liked you, you were on his A team. If he didn't, you were made to feel less than worthless."
In a second proposed ruling, Clendenen wants the department's Office of Internal Affairs to investigate allegations that Chapman harassed and intimidated Deputy Police Chief Karen Krasicky.
Clendenen cited a complaint by Krasicky to the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. In it, Clendenen said, Krasicky accused Chapman of creating "a hostile or offensive work environment" for her and other women in the department.
Among other complaints, Chapman allegedly told women "to change their Kotex napkins" during a break in a staff meeting, Clendenen wrote.
Chapman, who accepted a buyout, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
City Attorney Mark Anastasi said his office was in the process of filing a written response to Clendenen's recommended rulings.
"We are confident we will adequately address the concerns raised," he said.
Michael P. Mayko, who covers legal issues, can be reached at 330-6286.