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Team Perez Courts Disaster

Commentary by Stan Simpson
June 11, 2005

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 order.

"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 Police Department?

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' order.

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 alternatives.

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 a heads-up.

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. 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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