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Sgt. Allan Doesn't Belong In Hartford

By Stan Simpson
March 26, 2005

A deranged black man was holed up again in his third-floor West End apartment. The last time this happened, he tossed a chemical substance at the Hartford police officers responding to assist him.

This time, it was the mental health workers who were getting nowhere. A police tactical team was called in.

Officer Robert Allan established a rapport with the man, assured him that no one wanted to harm him and talked him out of injuring himself or anyone else.

Police Chief Patrick Hartnett and Capt. Jose Lopez, both of whom witnessed the standoff a few months ago, were impressed.

"He engaged him in conversation and in a very professional way convinced this man to come out, with the idea of `we want to help you, we're not here to hurt you,'" Harnett said. "And the individual listened to him, and he wouldn't listen to the mental health professionals he had dealt with before."

This wasn't the first time Allan had impressed the brass. Now, six years after fatally shooting a fleeing African American teen in a dark North Hartford lot - and being cleared in three separate investigations - Allan was promoted to sergeant this week.

This is worth saying again: Oh my!

Make that: Oh, no!

At a time when the HPD is starting yet another neighborhood effort to engender trust and credibility, they elevate a man whose mere name in North Hartford conjures up every stereotype imaginable of white police officers.

Racist. Trigger-happy. Thugs-with-guns.

The teen Allan shot, Aquan Salmon, the suspect in a robbery earlier that night, was found to be unarmed. There were two gun-shaped cigarette lighters at the scene. Allan's decisions that night not to wait for backup or simply back off are still suspect.

If anything has plagued Hartford's police force over the years, it has been the dubious judgment of its poorly supervised officers. The department's supervisors have come under scrutiny for their officers' decisions, from recklessly chasing a motor vehicle and killing a bystander, to sexually assaulting prostitutes while on duty, to retaliating against a colleague blowing the whistle on internal corruption.

Three decades after a consent decree challenged the city to improve its hiring and promotion practices and to take steps to build respect in community, Allan's promotion is a kick in the groin.

Yeah, he was cleared. And, yes, he deserves a fresh start. But not in Hartford. His credibility in the North End is pretty much shot.

"I'm uncomfortable with this," says Amaechi Ezeugwu, a Nigerian who was making repairs to his three-family home Friday on Enfield Street, near where Aquan was shot. "Police are supposed to be here for the people. They do not care. We are sub-human in their eyes."

The young men hanging out on adjacent Mather Street uttered profane responses when they learned of Allan's elevation.

"It's a lack of respect for the community," said Everett Walker. "They're basically saying `go ahead and shoot the next one.' The most important thing is what message this sends to the police. Because they're going to feel like they can get away with anything."

Allan is a liability in a city that has settled millions of dollars in lawsuits against cops using bad judgment. The level of scrutiny he'll incur is unfair to him, his colleagues and the taxpayers. If he shoots again, the whispers that he's a cowboy will grow louder. If he doesn't shoot, but should have, he risks putting himself or others in danger. And if Allan happens to be having a bad day and takes it out on some unsuspecting citizens, the questions about his temperament will pop up again.

At Thursday's swearing-in, there were no such concerns. Allan received a rousing ovation from cops, their families and friends. Mind you, this was one of the most ethnically diverse sergeant classes in recent memory.

Black, white and Latino cops I talked to said it would be patently unfair to deny Allan a promotion, particularly since he was cleared of any wrongdoing. Allan politely declined comment.

The quote of the day was "it's time to move on."

"He deserves an opportunity to be successful," says Lopez, who has supervised Allan the past two years. "He's been reduced to one incident. ...He takes a lot of pride in his work. He's very dedicated."

Robert Nelson, president of The Guardians, the black officers' fraternal organization, says he believes the investigations into the shooting were fair and that Allan "acted appropriately."

When it comes to an incident like the Aquan shooting, cops close ranks. If put in a similar situation, they don't know how they'd respond.

What can never be measured is Allan's mindset that night. After all, he was a young cop jacked up on adrenaline and fear in a neighborhood in which folks didn't look like him.

His colleagues are right about one thing. After six years, and three investigations, it is time for Robert Allan to move on.

And out of Hartford

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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