Montville suspends its top-ranking police officer

Montville — The town suspended its highest-ranking police officer Thursday for two weeks without pay for improperly running background checks through a computer database.

Lt. Leonard Bunnell, who has worked for the town for more than 30 years, was suspended after a state police investigation found that he improperly accessed the Connecticut On-Line Law Enforcement Communications Teleprocessing system.

There were 38 instances under review in which state police investigated whether proper protocol was used when accessing the system. It is used by police to find criminal justice data.

Mayor Ronald K. McDaniel Jr. confirmed the suspension Thursday and said it has yet to be determined when the suspension will begin. He declined further comment.

Bunnell did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.

The Day has filed a Freedom of Information request with the town seeking the state police report, which was completed more than three months ago. McDaniel said Thursday it has been turned over to the town attorney, who is working on redacting names and other personal information of a sensitive nature.

The Day has filed a separate request with the state police seeking the report and the 38 names that were improperly accessed. An attorney with the state police legal affairs department said Thursday her department is still working on the request.

Bunnell has also been accused of harassment by Karen Moorehead, the police department’s school resource officer. Moorehead alleged a year ago that Bunnell made inappropriate comments about her appearance and intimidated her. The town tasked a workplace harassment committee with investigating the allegations.

The Day filed an FOI request in April, seeking documents pertaining to the Moorehead complaint and the committee’s investigation. The newspaper filed an appeal with the state Freedom of Information Commission after the town failed to produce the documents. A hearing date with the FOIC is scheduled for Oct. 26.

The town charter dictates that McDaniel is the town’s police chief. Bunnell is in charge of providing day-to-day oversight of police administrative matters and scheduling of personnel. The police department has a resident state trooper system in place, and the town pays for Sgt. Martin Martinez to supervise the operations of the department.

A recent public safety report prepared by an independent consultant at the town’s request said the police department is “trapped in a time warp” and should eliminate the resident state trooper program while forming its own independent police force.

The report argues the town should have its own professional police chief and the lieutenant position should be eliminated and replaced with a captain.

The report specifically addresses Bunnell’s micro-management of police officers. It argues that Bunnell’s management approach of directly contacting officers about their style and standard of work is a problem. This usurps the authority of sergeants and leads to dissension and morale problems in the department, the report said.

Other issues arise because Bunnell is a member of the police union and is often called on to manage, discipline and recommend termination of fellow union members, according to the report.

jeff.johnson@theday.com

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