Eddie Perez, slouched in a witness stand and responding in almost
inaudible tones, came alive when lawyer Joseph Moniz asked if Perez
ever told Police Chief Patrick Harnett to ignore a federal judge's
"No!" Hartford's mayor
said loudly and unequivocally Thursday in federal court in Hartford.
Moniz, representing a citizens
group pushing for police department reforms, then asked Perez, "Did you ever tell him that he had
to comply with the letter of that order" to revamp the Hartford
Perez babbled, never directly answering the question. He said it
was understood that the chief was expected to comply with U.S. District
Judge Ellen Bree Burns' June 2004 edict to streamline how citizen
complaints are handled, increase the number of inspectors in internal
affairs and make the department more responsive to the community.
At issue is whether Perez and the city
are in contempt for not fully complying with Burns' ruling. Her edict
stems from a 1973 consent decree to restore order and discipline
to the HPD.
Contempt may be too strong a word
for what's been happening within the Perez administration over
the past year. Arrogance is more like it. Now in his 17th month
as "strong mayor," Perez has
been defiant and cavalier in not moving swiftly to comply with Burns'
His approach is unnecessary because
if there are aspects of Burns' order that Perez finds unworkable,
all he has to do is file a "motion
to amend" with the judge and make his case. Better yet, he could
sit down with the citizens group and explain why there may be better
But the mayor and his administration have great disdain for the
citizens group. Perez doesn't want to be told how to run his city
by gadflies and self-styled activists such as former deputy Mayor
Nick Carbone, Carmen Rodriguez and Alyssa Peterson.
Meanwhile, the clock ticks on Burns' order. And there's that reminder
that the city of Bridgeport last year was fined $945,000 for being
in contempt of a federal court order similar to Hartford's.
While Perez lets this silliness go on, his police department continues
to deal with questionable shootings by its officers, a slew of youth
violence and dwindling public trust.
Now, because of his lack of urgency, Perez found himself on a witness
stand. His testimony left doubts about his honesty, management style
- even his competence.
Moniz paraphrased testimony given by Harnett. In meetings with Perez
and chief of staff Matthew Hennessy, before Harnett was hired last
July, Moniz said Harnett expressed concern about Burns' order. The
chief wanted to provide suggestions, according to Moniz, before the
city signed off.
Perez said he could not recall such a conversation with Harnett.
"I'm positive that the chief and I never discussed a judge's
order," Perez said. Moniz tried to bait Perez by asking if he
was calling his chief a liar. Perez didn't bite.
Then, Perez had to sheepishly reveal that he wasn't even aware of
the judge's order until after it was signed by John Rose Jr., the
city's corporation counsel. The few in attendance were stunned that
the capital city's mayor was so oblivious to a federal judge's order
that would affect policy and the public safety department he oversees.
Perez acknowledged he was "a little bit surprised" that
Rose signed off without consulting him. Some in the gallery were
skeptical, saying that Rose, fairly new to the position, would not
unilaterally approve the judge's document without giving his boss
The hearing was continued to later this month, when Hennessy may
return to the stand.
Unless Perez is loco, he should put a stop to these proceedings
right now. All he has to do is agree to reopen meaningful negotiations
to address the unresolved matters in Burns' edict.
If these hearings in front of
special master Richard Bieder continue, we're going to start hearing
the words "perjury" and "coverup."
Getting back to the negotiating table means the city can outline
how it has responded. A new computer system tracking citizen complaints
is supposedly up, and a backlog of civilian complaints has reportedly
dropped from 120 to 7.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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