Published February 11. 2012 4:00AM Updated February 11. 2012 1:10PM
New London - An inquiry into the true identity and immigration status of a man who was gunned down by his girlfriend's jealous ex-husband in 2003 has led to the city police union calling for Chief Margaret Ackley to be placed on administrative leave.
Ackley allegedly called an official at the Department of Homeland Security's Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Division Jan. 26 to ask about the immigration status of homicide victim David Romero. The city was preparing to defend itself in a lawsuit alleging that police negligence led to Romero's shooting death at the hands of Kurtulus Kalican on Sept. 22, 2003.
Attorney Robert I. Reardon, who represents Romero's survivors, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court Monday claiming Ackley was "inappropriately conspiring with federal agencies to uncover information about a man 8½ years dead."
"… serious allegations of conspiracy to violate civil rights have been lodged against the Chief of Police,'' New London police union President Todd Lynch wrote Friday in a letter to Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio. The union asked that the mayor place Ackley on administrative leave while the claim is being investigated.
"A peripheral matter that is disturbing to the members of the police department is that it appears that Chief Ackley may have violated an Executive Order," Lynch wrote.
The union alleges that Ackley may have violated the mayor's executive order, which states: "The New London Police Department shall not inquire into the immigration status of individuals … except when the status pertains directly to a criminal investigation.''
"We hear the administration talk about transparency,'' Lynch told The Day Friday. "We don't want things to be 'do as I say, not as I do.' Let's hold everyone accountable.''
Finizio responded with a statement Friday that said "the matter is under review."
Ackley has had a contentious relationship with the union since becoming the city's first female chief in 2009. Last year, during the mayoral election, the union lashed out at her for what its leadership described as "a managerial crisis." The union had supported one of Finizio's opponents for mayor.
The chief did not respond to an email request for comment.
Ackley's alleged phone call two weeks ago to James Brown, assistant field director of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in Burlington, Mass., led to a Superior Court judge temporarily halting jury selection in the Romero civil lawsuit. Judge Emmet L. Cosgrove on Friday ordered attorneys to resume jury selection after listening to oral arguments.
Cosgrove ordered that jury selection resume Tuesday and said the court would rule later on whether to allow testimony about Romero's immigration status.
The judge also denied Reardon's motion for a mistrial after listening to arguments from Reardon and the city's attorney, James Carroll, from the Boston law firm of Cetrulo & Capone.
Romero was a Honduran native who was living in New London and working for a local insulation company when he was gunned down by Kalican, the ex-husband of Romero's girlfriend, Ayfer Kaya. Kalican also shot Kaya, who survived.
In the civil suit, Kaya and Romero's sister, Marta Paguada, claim police failed to respond properly to escalating domestic violence incidents involving Kaya and Kalican, and failed to confiscate a .357 magnum from Kalican.
The city claims that Romero's real name was David Domingo Matute Paguada and that he was using a fraudulent resident alien card and a Social Security number belonging to a Kentucky woman who died in 1981. Reardon is seeking to prevent the jury from hearing that evidence, which he claims is irrelevant and inflammatory.
Carroll, the city's attorney, said the city is seeking only to use the immigration information to demonstrate that it could diminish by $1 million the plaintiffs' claim of economic damages.
Juries in wrongful-death lawsuits are allowed to compensate survivors for economic losses, including the future earnings of the decedent. Reardon plans to elicit testimony from an economics expert who has calculated Romero's lost earning capacity, as an American worker, at more than $1.1 million.
The judge told the attorneys he is considering instructing the jury to limit its consideration of immigration status to how it relates to Romero's potential earning capacity. He said he and his law clerks have been reviewing the relevant case law.
"Based on the preliminary work, I do think Mr. Romero's status is relevant on the issue of his lost earning capacity," Cosgrove said. He said he would consider allowing Reardon to conduct a hearing on the immigration issue but is first requiring him to produce for the court what he intends to present.
Cosgrove said the trial would continue in spite of the federal lawsuit, unless a federal judge orders that the state lawsuit be put on hold.
The attorneys will be picking six regular jurors and three or four alternates. The trial was to begin some time this month but is more likely to commence in March.