July 6, 2007
By TINA A. BROWN, Courant Staff Writer
The Hartford Police Department has been slow to comply with a 2 1/2-year-old court order to make it easier for citizens to file complaints against officers, according to a court-appointed monitor who is asking a federal judge to hold the department and Mayor Eddie A. Perez in contempt.
The monitor's allegations in court papers filed Monday stem from a settlement in a nearly 40-year-old lawsuit that was last updated in 2004.
The city has argued that the settlement - reached in 1973 and updated periodically - has outlived its usefulness, and the city's attorney said Thursday that he's preparing to fight the monitor's recommendations.
In a 55-page report, attorney Richard A. Bieder, the court-appointed monitor, said the city dragged its feet when ordered to:
Eliminate a backlog of citizen's complaints by hiring more internal affairs investigators.
Install a computer system to track complaints filed against individual officers.
Train community groups to take complaints for the police department.
Notify the public when complaints were resolved.
Bieder recommended to U.S. District Judge Ellen Bree Burns that she cite the city for contempt of court because Perez and then-Police Chief Patrick J. Harnett delayed the implementation of the court order.
City officials did "not diligently attempt to comply in a reasonable manner," said Beider, who was appointed by Burns in 2000. He said his recommendations were based on hearings held with city officials over the past two years after the plaintiffs pursued a contempt order.
Burns must schedule a hearing before Bieder's recommendations can be finalized.
City Attorney John Rose said Thursday that the city would oppose the recommendations because Bieder's appointment expired last October.
"We are going to oppose them," Rose said of Bieder and the plaintiffs. "There is no basis to these findings. It's our opinion that Mr. Bieder is not in office anymore. We disagree with most of what he has said. The city has done all it needs to do.
"This is a deck stacked up against the city," he said. "We aren't rolling over on these. This is a waste of the court's time and the city's time."
Neither Bieder nor Joseph Moniz, the attorney for the plaintiffs, could be reached for comment.
In the wake of riots in the late 1960s, three organizations and four individuals filed a federal discrimination suit in 1969 against the city and its police chief, claiming that police conducted a campaign of violence, intimidation and humiliation against blacks and Hispanics
The original settlement was reached in 1973, setting guidelines for speedy resolution of complaints against police.
In his report, Bieder said that all the parties agreed to the 2004 changes and that responsibility for implementing them rests with the mayor.
"Chief of Police Harnett worked for the Mayor and could have been ordered by the Mayor to strictly comply with all the terms of the Order," the report said.
Bieder said the city agreed that the chief would assign eight investigators to its internal affairs division to clear a backlog of complaints. But rather than assign eight investigators, Harnett added two to four investigators and a commander, he said.
"This passive approach, plainly at odds with the Order's express language, cannot pass muster for diligence; not when the Plaintiffs believed that an agreement (just reached) was going to be followed, and, when (almost before the ink was dry) the Defendants began ignoring it," Bieder said.
At one point, when the internal affairs division temporarily had assigned five investigators, Bieder said, the backlog went down to 59 cases. But when the department cut back on investigators again, the number of backlogged cases rose to 100. The city saved $900,000 when it did not increase the staff of investigators to eight, Bieder said.
The 2004 court order also called for the city to train community based organizations to take complaints that would be forwarded to internal affairs. There was no time limit set for this provision, Bieder said, but he questioned why it took seven months after the order was signed for the training to occur.
"There is clear and convincing evidence that such conduct was in violation of the Court's order and that the training would likely never have occurred, or, at a minimum, would have been much further delayed, were it not for the Plaintiffs' filing of the Motion for Contempt," Bieder said.
The judge also anticipated that the police department would send summaries of its citizens complaints to the Civilian Police Review Board at city hall after 45 days. But those summaries were never sent "because no one knows what it is, or of what information it is to consist," Bieder said.
The internal affairs division was ordered to notify people who complained within 30 days if a complaint was sustained, or within 45 days if the investigators required an extension. Those timelines were not met, nor was the provision to inform the public about ways to appeal, Bieder said.
As a remedy, Bieder recommended that the city enact a public awareness campaign about how to file citizens complaints. He suggested that Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts act as a spokesman on behalf of the defendants. Harnett resigned last year.
Cintron v. Vaughan Through The Years
July 6, 2007
*Significant events in the Cintron v. Vaughan federal discrimination suit:
1966-69: Riots in four consecutive years are marked by confrontations between residents and police.
1969: Three individuals and four organizations file federal discrimination suit against Hartford Police Chief Thomas Vaughan and five others, claiming that police have conducted campaign of violence, intimidation and humiliation against blacks and Hispanics. Lead plaintiff is Maria Cintron.
1970: U.S. District Judge M. Joseph Blumenfeld denies city's motion to dismiss suit.
1973: Plaintiffs and city reach settlement establishing "code of police conduct." Provisions include: written procedure for internal review of complaints against police, including interviewing of all available witnesses and giving complainant written reply; that officers avoid using profane and derogatory terms.
1973: Blumenfeld transfers case to Judge Ellen Bree Burns.
1999: Fatal shooting of black, 14-year-old robbery suspect by police sparks community outrage and call to revisit decree. After long search, 26-year-old court documents are located in federal court archive in Waltham, Mass.
2000: Both sides agree that court will appoint an independent monitor of compliance. Burns names attorney Richard A. Bieder to post.
2004: Court orders city to, among other things: set up computer system to track complaints; appoint eight more investigators to reduce backlog; train community based organizations to assist complainants.
2004: Plaintiffs complain that city has failed to comply with many provisions of order issued earlier in year.
2005: City tries to have settlement declared void because it "has outlived its usefulness."
2007: Independent monitor recommends city be held in contempt for failing to comply.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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