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Reluctant Mayor Testifies At Hearing On Police

Case Involves Court Order

June 10, 2005
By OSHRAT CARMIEL, Courant Staff Writer

In an important case that has nevertheless been short on courtroom drama, the city of Hartford has had to answer for weeks whether it's failed to comply with a federal court order aimed at making its police force more sensitive.

Testimony in the case, the latest chapter of the decades-old Cintron vs. Vaughn lawsuit, has centered on some hard - but dry - details: the number of internal investigators at the police department and the length of the citizen complaints backlog.

On Thursday, though, Mayor Eddie A. Perez offered a moment of courtroom intrigue - not so much because of what he said, but because he didn't want to say it.

Plaintiff lawyers subpoenaed Perez to try to determine whether he instructed the city police department to disregard a federal judge's 2004 order, which gave detailed instructions on how to make the department more friendly toward minority group members.

U.S. District Judge Ellen Bree Burns had ordered that the department put more investigators on its internal affairs staff and make the citizen complaint process less bureaucratic. Members of the Cintron group, who have been pushing for enforcement of a consent decree agreed to in 1973, have argued that the city failed to do any of that. They filed three motions of contempt, which are the subject of the current hearings.

Perez refused to testify but was ordered in April to do so by Richard Bieder, the court appointed "special master" who is overseeing this case.

On Thursday, Perez appeared for his scheduled testimony. But before he took the stand, city lawyers tried once again to argue that he shouldn't have to testify.

Corporation Counsel John Rose Jr. said: "The mayor is going to reiterate what other people have already testified, when he ought to be running the city."

Taking the mayor away from his mayoral duties to testify is a "complete waste of time," Rose argued. His testimony wouldn't differ that much from what Police Chief Patrick J. Harnett testified to in March.

Bieder disagreed. And before long, Perez was on the witness stand, looking at ease and reclining against the back of his chair, as he answered questions from plaintiff lawyer Joseph Moniz.

Moniz asked the mayor how he learned about Burns' June 2004 order and whether he conveyed the importance of implementing that order to Harnett, whom Perez had just hired as police chief.

Perez eventually testified that he didn't know about the judge's order until the city had already agreed to it. Perez said Rose, the city's chief lawyer, signed the order without consulting him.

"I had no knowledge," that it was signed or going to be signed, Perez said - a comment that elicited an "OOOhh" from the observers in the Hartford court.

Thursday's observers included members of the city's NAACP branch, plaintiff representatives from the Cintron vs. Vaughn case and state Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, a critic of the mayor's.

Perez's spokeswoman, Sarah Barr, called a reporter Thursday afternoon to highlight one piece of the mayor's late-in-the-day testimony. Barr said the mayor testified that the backlog of civilian complaint cases dropped from 120 last June to seven today.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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