The New London Police-Community Relations Committee refused to address a complaint against a police officer on Wednesday, saying concerns over the complaints procedure need to be addressed first.
The committee voted 4-0 to table a complaint following a discussion of the procedure. The two New London Police Department representatives to the committee, Deputy Chief Peter Reichard and Officer Todd Lynch, abstained from the decision.
Committee members have questioned a March 2010 opinion by the city’s law director to review complaints against police officers in public at the meetings. Committee member Jay Wheeler motioned to table the single complaint to be reviewed on Wednesday until this issue can be resolved. Wheeler said the committee also has concerns over whether Chief Margaret Ackley should be able to sign complaints before the committee reviews them.
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Chairman Wayne Vendetto said the committee formerly reviewed complaints in executive session. He said the committee determines whether a complaint is adequate or inadequate and that it can be returned to the chief at that point. He said he considered complaints against officers to be personnel issues that should be heard in executive session. Vendetto said the committee can also run its meetings as it sees fit with the approval of the City Council, but that the council never took a stance on the legal opinion.
“A lot of these things need to be ironed out,” he said.
Lynch, who is president of the New London Police Union, said the union questioned why the procedure was changed. He accused Ackley of making the change in the name of transparency but having an ulterior motive.
“It has been our belief all along that the change was made to humiliate or disgrace union members,” said Lynch.
In a September 2011 e-mail to resident Kathleen Mitchell, Ackley said some documents in the complaints cannot be released under the Freedom of Information Act. She said Wheeler, then the committee chairman, complained that the committee was unable to make an adequate investigation without seeing all of the documents. Ackley also alleged in the e-mail that Wheeler and Lynch were attempting to use this as a basis to disband the committee and form a separate police commission, saying that without the committee “the public would never know which cops have complaints lodged against them and what the complaints say.”
Wheeler first motioned to review the complaint in executive session, saying they could be challenged on this method if need be. Zak Leavy, executive assistant to Mayor Daryl Finizio, responded that Finzio’s stance is that no administrative staff should go into executive session on a complaint since it would violate the legal opinion.
Reichard also said he has been directed by the mayor not to release the complaint to the committee if members intend to review it in executive session. Vendetto said the committee could try to go into executive session on a personnel matter, but that it would not have the officer’s name, complaint number, or information to review.
“The tail doesn’t wag the dog,” Wheeler replied. “Send it back.”
Vendetto said he will meet with City Council President Michael Passero and contact Ackley on the matter. The complaint will be tabled until the committee’s next meeting.