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Investigator Report Released In Ackley's Claims Against Buscetto

Beverly Hodgson concludes that police chief would have had difficult time winning a lawsuit against the city but that claims have a "settlement value" under $30K

An investigator concluded that it is unlikely that Police Chief Margaret Ackley would prevail in a lawsuit against the city if she had sued regarding her complaints against former city councilor and mayoral candidate Michael Buscetto III, according to a report made public Saturday.

City Council President Michael Passero disclosed the findings of Beverly Hodgson, a former Superior Court judge who was to investigate the matter after Ackley publicly accused Buscetto of unethical behavior. Passero said that because Mayor Daryl Finizio , he felt Hodgson’s report should be released as well. Passero e-mailed the document to other members of the City Council, Buscetto, Ackley, and members of the media.

Finizio, who announced a $25,000 settlement with Ackley on Friday, previously said that Hodgson’s report was protected under attorney-client privilege. The City Council is scheduled to meet with Finizio on Wednesday to discuss the report.

Accusations and findings

Ackley detailed several grievances against Buscetto in an Aug. 24, 2011 letter from Shelley Graves, her attorney, to former Law Director Thomas Londregan. Ackley accused Buscetto of gender discrimination, harassment, creating a hostile work environment, and impeding functions of the . She also claimed that the city did not take action to investigate or address Buscetto’s behavior.

Hodgson said she interviewed Ackley on two occasions as well as Buscetto, former City Managers Martin Berliner and Denise Rose, and Personnel Coordinator Bernadette Welch. Hodgson also spoke with several members of the police department including former Deputy Chief Marshall Segar, captains William Dittman and Michael Lacey, and New London Police Union president Todd Lynch.

The reports says Buscetto’s remarks to police department personnel could be interpreted as arising from “political rivalries and allegiances” rather than gender discrimination. Hodgson says Ackley’s claim that the City Council’s vote in favor of making Dittman chief showed a gender bias is not supported by the city manager’s decision to appoint Ackley per the recommendation of the Association of Connecticut Police Chiefs. The report says that Buscetto remained vocal in his opposition to Ackley, but that her claims “are complicated by the fact that much of the conduct alleged is the expression of his opinion in speech, and is therefore protected by the First Amendment unless it is defamatory.”

Hodgson says a defamation claim would also likely be unsuccessful since it would have to be a result of extreme circumstances. She says Ackley’s claim—including comments from Buscetto implying that she is a lesbian—is “ambiguous,” with different recollections on the wording of statements and Ackley knowing of the alleged comments “only from the reports of others.”

Hodgson found that Ackley’s claim that police union members committed gender discrimination by filing numerous grievances against her could also be interpreted in a different way. Hodgson says she believes grievances “increased in response to the Chief's tightening of rules and management expectations after the departure of a chief who had been somewhat easy-going in his final years on the job.”

Hodgson said Segar confirmed one of two accusations made by Ackley that Buscetto “grabbed [Ackley] in a public setting and staged himself kissing her in order to suggest to bystanders that they were getting along well.” Hodgson said these could be considered “isolated incidents” under the federal Civil Rights Act and that it would be unlikely that a judge would find them grounds for a sexual harassment claim. Hodgson said the city’s harassment policy is meant to prohibit conduct with sexual overtones rather than a broad range of intimidating or offensive conduct, and that there is no evidence that Welch treated Ackley differently from any other municipal employee in the interpretation of the policy.

The report says Berliner and Rose encouraged Ackley to put her complaints in writing so they could be investigated. Hodgson said Ackley “declined to provide specific, definite allegations in writing, and [Berliner and Rose] make the credible point that they could not refer to the Board of Ethics or anti-discrimination authorities charges that were vague and lacking in dates, specifics and the names of those alleged to have engaged in the conduct complained of.”

The report also states that there is no evidence to suggest intentional infliction of emotional distress on the part of the city, and that a claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress would be unlikely to succeed because its scope is limited to “claims arising from humiliating methods of terminating an employee’s employment.”

Other conclusions

Hodgson says she believes some of Ackley’s claims suggest that Buscetto acted on behalf of the city in making disparaging remarks to police personnel. She says a trial would likely determine that Buscetto was acting as an individual and the “motivation is likely to be found to be political rivalries and allegiances rather than gender discrimination.” Hodgson says the fact that women held the offices of city manager and personnel coordinator at the time of Ackley’s claims would also help the city make an argument against gender discrimination.

The report says attorney’s fees may be awarded if a claimant can show discrimination under state or federal statutes. Hodgson concluded that the city did not violate anti-discrimination laws and that Ackley would not be eligible for such fees.

Hodgson concludes that Ackley would have “an extremely difficult time” winning a lawsuit against the city. However, she says the case could still have a “settlement value” to a defendant to avoid the risk of losing and expense of a trial. Hodgson places this value as under $30,000 in Ackley’s claims.

Buscetto reaction

On Friday, Buscetto said he considered Ackley’s claims unfounded. He previously said the charges were politically motivated and intended to inhibit his mayoral campaign.

Buscetto announced the findings near the conclusion of , an annual fundraiser that took place today. Supporters cheered him as he read portions of the report.

“I would like to say to my kids and my wife, who have read a ton, and we were accused of a lot of things: it looks like someone lied, and it wasn’t me,” said Buscetto.

Finizio reaction

Finizio criticized Passero’s decision to release Hodgson’s report in a press release tonight.

"The settlement reached with Chief Ackley was within the recommended settlement suggested in the judge's report," said Finizio. "While this report was not conclusive, ongoing investigations are further examining some of the same matters previously examined by the judge. I have always believed that only with an outside investigation can such matters be fully and properly investigated."

Finizio added, "Based upon newly received evidence of possible criminal activity in the department, a new investigation is underway. I hope that by releasing this report before the full council had a chance to be briefed on this developing situation, President Passero has not compromised an ongoing criminal investigation."

Passero responded to the statement by saying the release of the Hodgson report was necessary as a matter of fairness. He also accused Finizio of recklessness in releasing documents pertaining to a disciplinary action against a police officer that also accused Buscetto of sexual harassment at a nightclub at Foxwoods Resort Casino in 2009.

"It was misleading to the public to allow only part of the record to be released," said Passero in an e-mail. "Judge Hodgson’s report is the only independent investigation of Chief Ackley’s allegations against a former city councilor. It was completely unacceptable to release a raw investigation file that did not result in criminal charges but refuse to release the results of an unbiased investigation."

Administrative changes and corruption investigation

The release of the report follows a number of administrative changes in the police department this week. Ackley has as police chief, and Finizio announced Friday that the city had reached a $25,000 settlement regarding her claims.

Segar’s contract was allowed to expire, and Finizio said the deputy chief’s position will remain and that a search for a person to fill it is underway. , with Dittman’s becoming effective on Sunday.

Finizio also announced on Friday that Officer Joshua Bergeson was fired following a disciplinary hearing and that Officer Roger Newton has been placed on paid leave after he was accused of planting evidence on a suspect.

Saturday night, Finizio said the Connecticut State Police Central Division has been requested to assist an ongoing corruption investigation at the police department. He said a police vehicle and several other pieces of evidence have been seized as a result of the investigation.

"I ask all New Londoners to reserve judgment on this developing matter until a thorough outside investigation can be concluded" Finizio said. "The people of New London deserve to have full confidence in the honesty and integrity of all who serve them in uniform. The administration, the chief of police, and the State's Attorney's Office are working diligently to ensure that our police department is second to none in effectiveness and ethical standards"

Correction: The article initially said that Officer Roger Baker is on paid leave. The officer's name is Roger Newton.

RED DOG January 09, 2012 at 02:30 PM
To Matt Covey, I see in many of your responses what is lacking is common sense and good understanding of how the City has always operated. It is certainly difficult to explain what I know and remain anonymous for personal protection against governmental actions and harassment. So unless you have been there don't criticize something as being speculation and sensationalization or jumping to an uninformed or investigated conclusion. I would rather see a rationalizing and opposite opinion than slamming others because you assume it as you suggest.
Mary Maynard January 09, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Kathleen I am talking about Procedure and Protocol- You have NO IDEA what went down Sat. EVE so your comments are baseless. As usual you are misinformed. But keep blogging, I insist!
Kathleen Mitchell January 09, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Mary, You are wrong. I know EXACTLY what went on both Saturday and throughout this entire issue/situation which has caused a number of individuals and families unnecessary embarrasment and may very well have presented them with grounds for bringing a legal action against the city. That is why I made my comments which I stand by.
Luis Smart January 09, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Mary please tell us was the council consulted prior to the release? You have that inside contact with you. Or will you not say because then the protocol question is mute. I hope Passero did consult the rest of the council. Everyone knows your John boy is a huge and very close Finizio follower. So share the facts with us, yes the council was consulted or not.
Mary Maynard January 09, 2012 at 04:07 PM
That wasmy point: "for bringing a legal action against the city". I have no agendas kathleen but YOU sure do and I know EXACTLY what they are. Ego, kathleen, its not becoming and will ruin the good works of so many others who are sincere in saving the park vs. cameras, reporters and the like. Egos and self serving interest are currently at play in the city and bringing people down for it. A fine line has been crossed by many and it would appear that illegal activity has occurred. I believe this admin. will clean house- finally I support resolution vs. those who live on crisis and making trouble- egos....
Mary Maynard January 09, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Whether councilors were phoned or not and whether they agreed or NOT- is not my issue- I believe that proceure and protocol based on Robert's Rules was not followed. I believe this incident could put the city i a legal quagmire. In all my years I cannot ever remember a lone councilor conducting council buisness this way. I believe Mr. Passero should have waited for council to meet in exec. session with thier law dir.; that is the curx of my concern.
David Israel January 09, 2012 at 04:30 PM
Mr. Desmond, you asked me if I know the circumstances (reason) of the report's release by Mr. Passero. If Mr. Passero is quoted truthfully in the above report, then yes, I do know. Here it is: "It was misleading to the public to allow only part of the record to be released," said Passero. Mr. Passero acknowledged that he made the decision to release the report because he alone made the judgment that it was unfair not to do so. He has taken it upon himself for his own stated reason. Now let Mr. Passero live with the consequences of his action and, if those involve money, then I pray that he alone pays the price and not the City of New London and its taxpayers and voters who chose last November a person other than Mr. Passero to be its chief executive. Loose canons sink ships.
Kathleen Mitchell January 09, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Mary, While you feel free to make statements like "I have no agendas kathleen but YOU sure do and I know EXACTLY what they are. Ego, kathleen, its not becoming and will ruin the good works of so many others who are sincere in saving the park vs. cameras, reporters and the like." are, needless to say, insulting and, more importantly, show your complete lack of understanding and knowledge regarding what is required when running a campaign such as the one that saved Riverside Park. My very long experience in running campaigns such as the one that saved Riverside has taught me some very important things. One of the most important is "Publicity is what fuels the machine. Without publicity, the homeowners of Fort Trumbull would have simply lost their homes to the actions of NLDC backed by a number of city councils. Without publicity, the city would simply have sold Riverside Park before the citizens even knew what was going on. And, more recently, without publicity, no one would even know what is/has been going on in the NLPD, with the new mayor or with the city council. In your ongoing attempts to diminish and demean me and others, you comment on things you have no knowledge of and, in fact, have not been involved in at all.
Kathleen Mitchell January 09, 2012 at 05:27 PM
As you well know, Council President Passero called for a Special Meeting of the council to be held on Wednesday the first time that all councilors were available to discuss the Hodgson Report. However, Mayor Finizio's unilateral decision to release documents relating to the chief's complaints, but not the Hodgson Report itself, left the council president with little choice but to release the report but only after all but one of the council had agreed to the necessity of the release.
NewLondonSource January 09, 2012 at 05:55 PM
Mary - Please enlighten us as to which section of RR's was not adhered to. As president of the council, Passero serves as the de-facto chair. He has the ability to recognize himself and bring a motion before the council. He did this, albeit individually, and garnered (ostensibly) discussion and voice vote from each. Robert's Rules allow for some gray area in presenting a motion and do not specify/define what constitutes assemblage of members. Keep in mind, also, that Robert's Rules only prevail in the absence of more specific protocal that may or may not be in an organization's policies and procedures or other governing document. Regardless, I personally think Robert's Rules (even Newly Revised) need to take into account the speed at which information transactions take place today. Passero acted quickly in order to ensure the public had a balanced picture of what transpired. I consider his action in favor of the populace; Much more so than that of our mayor, who only felt the need to provide the public with one side of the story - and a sensitive release at that. Consequently, Daryl is the one who opened up the city to potential litigation, having released a document that is raw and lacks all protection for individuals implicated. Irresponsible and abhorrent behavior such as Daryl's should not be condoned by any citizen who cares about New London.
Mary Maynard January 09, 2012 at 06:45 PM
Council mtngs are conducted in council chambers with formal voting and with the law directer's needed opinion quite often. Phoning for votes is a " he said she said", with no formal and public record of what transpired. I don't believe that this is the avenue or procedure for conducting council buisness esp. with so many legal matters, in this case, attached. My concern remains to be whether this was proper protocol and the consequence of city and citizens being held liable for the breach.
Hedda Hopper January 09, 2012 at 07:18 PM
Mary, you are so negative. Are you saying the Council President Passero is lying? That the Council members (all but 1) did not agree to releasing the report? You seem to act like you were somehow injured in this ordeal. The ones who were injured were the people in the NLPD departmental "Shrine" report that was released by the Mayor. The report of Judge Hodgson was an investigative conclusion report and was not harmful to anyone (except maybe the Chief, and the Mayor for not releasing it). Not all council meetings need the opinion of the law director, nor was there a need for public record of what transpired. There was an immediate need to conteract the actions of a slanderous report that was unecessarily released by the Mayor. The Council has a responsibiity to act on behalf of the citizenry of New London. I praise Council President Passero and the other councilors who voted in favor of releasing this. For anyone who thought that keeping this a secret was a good idea, either they just don't get it or they want to help cover up for the Chief. I hope their next action is to NOT vote in favor of this settlement of the $25,000 as is needed before the check is cut!
James Dixon January 09, 2012 at 07:40 PM
It was over a decade ago that New London made national headlines for rejecting police officers for being too smart. Finally, we get to see some serious changes for the better. It's about time we cleaned out our police department, especially after the disturbing revelations in the "Shrine" file. I would've expected Passero to take the opportunity to be on the right side of history here, but I can see how he'd think that releasing the Hodgson Report would make him appear as a champion of transparency, while Finizio appears obstructionist just for respecting a legally binding confidentiality agreement. A surprising strategy to release the document at the accused's own fund raising event. Allowing Buscetto to attempt to spin it as an exoneration was a mistake. The only thing the document comes close to exonerating is the city, while the Shrine file only reveals more abhorrent behavior by Buscetto. Perhaps Passero hopes he can rally what is left of Buscetto's supporters for a new political campaign? Strange political strategy to rally behind someone who is alleged to abuse women. I suppose we have yet to see if Buscetto will have legal action brought against him as an individual, but at least his claws are being pried from our government. Finizio was right to protect the city from a potential lawsuit with a settlement. Finizio deserves much respect for cleaning up Buscetto's mess. I'm so happy to live in this city during the demise of a culture of bigotry and romanticized idiocy.
Marco Frucht January 09, 2012 at 07:43 PM
You're talking complete nonsense. Ms. Ackley accomplished something the first months she was in office that no police chief before her was able to. She fired Genero Velez. Every chief back to Mr. Sloan had put in to fire him and all of his cronies including some of the people you discuss libellously in realtime reinstated him every time using everything from corruption, bribery, politics and even the FOP to keep it from happening. Chief Sloan made it stick. NL has gone from an unsafe climate to a slightly more safe community. Now a new mayor has her back and you people are going ballistic. Coming out of the woodwork. She's the chief for 3 more years people. I expect her to cooperate fully with State Police and others while they scrutinize where the rest of corruption festers.
Marco Frucht January 09, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Correction: I typed "sloan" once where it should say "ackley." Chief Ackley made it stick.
Marco Frucht January 09, 2012 at 07:58 PM
William Desmond, The people voting for Mr. Finizio asked him to promise more openness in city government. He gave them that. I wouldn't call it reckless as much as I would call it getting down to business. Expect more openness and so swiftly that your attempts to "crucify" him will fall flat on their um, petards?
Kathleen Mitchell January 09, 2012 at 08:14 PM
David, "Loose canons (sic)sink ships" regarding your comment about Council President Passero's decision? What exactly, then, do you call the release of only a portion of the report by Mayor Finizio?
Kathleen Mitchell January 09, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Mary, With your vast repository of knowledge, perhaps you should have run for city council. Bet, then,maybe you did and the citizens just have not realized it yet.
Hedda Hopper January 09, 2012 at 08:45 PM
If you read the settlement agreement, Finizio was the one who violated it by releasing it. It states right in there Section 6 "the City does not intend to disclose in any manner the terms of this agreement to any third person" however, on Friday, January 6, the Mayor did violate the terms of the settlement agreement by releasing a copy of the agreement to the press! Come on people, open your eyes. The Hodgson report was not violating any confidentiality agreement, and was, by all rights allowed by law since it is attorney/client work product and the council is the client!!!! This is really elementary grade stuff. You people need to educate yourselves before you spread all your lies and untruths!
Hedda Hopper January 09, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Kathleen, you don't know how right you are!!!!!
Sue P. January 09, 2012 at 10:15 PM
Mary there was a vote and it was 6 to 1 to release the report. It's obvious that you, I mean your husbands vote was the one. And what breach are you talking about, the one where Finizio released the Shrine report. If so I agree it was very low class and a scandalous thing for Chief Ackley and Finizio to do.
Kathy Tinoco January 09, 2012 at 10:24 PM
Right on the mark Sara, I totally agree with you and have made that somewhat same statement, but it appears he has nothing else to do but to butt in with deafened ears.
Richie Marshall January 10, 2012 at 12:58 AM
I know you are the new authority with City business Allyn, but if I remember correctly, this episode occurred under Bruce Rinehart's watch and was investigated by Capt. Lacey. As far as I know, the present Chief was in the file room. Is this an issue to muddy the waters and fire up the police haters such as lion king?
Johnny Wtfd January 10, 2012 at 01:12 AM
I think that it was in poor taste, unprofessional, and disrespectful for the mayor to release the "Shrine File" without omitting the officers names. Especially the victims of inappropriate behavior. I guess it just goes to show that the mayor cares more about making MB look bad than he does taking care of his employees and doing the right thing. Omitting names wouldn't have made it any more or less believable.
Alphonse DeLachance January 10, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Allyn, the mayor breached the confidentiality agreement of the setlement agreement when he released it to the press, The agreement states it cannot be released. Please try to explain that away.
Alphonse DeLachance January 10, 2012 at 01:33 AM
Mary, do you and John really share one brain as others have stated?
Alphonse DeLachance January 10, 2012 at 01:39 AM
Matt, The chief has been down this road of unfounded accusations before, she made accusations in the past against Segar and those accusations were unfounded and Segar was cleared. So WHAT? HUH? QUE PASA? to you!
Alphonse DeLachance January 10, 2012 at 01:46 AM
Exec sessions are not recorded nor are minutes taken. So Mary no one knows how it is conducted.
Luis Smart January 10, 2012 at 12:24 PM
Connecticut allows for the council to do just what Mr. Passero did if Kathleen is correct that Mr. Passero as council president contacted each counclor and took a vote. no different than an executive session and a vote. By your response Mary I expe
Luis Smart January 10, 2012 at 12:26 PM
Connecticut allows for the council to do just what Mr. Passero did if Kathleen is correct that Mr. Passero as council president contacted each counclor and took a vote. no different than an executive session and a vote. By your response Mary I expect you know what really happened.

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