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 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
"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
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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