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Probe mitigates Bunnell computer case

By Jeffrey A. Johnson

Publication: The Day

Published October 06. 2012 4:00AM

Montville - A state police investigation has concluded that the town's highest-ranking police officer improperly used a computer database to run criminal background checks on the town's Parks and Recreation Department employees and others but did not misuse it for his own personal use.

Lt. Leonard Bunnell, a 35-year veteran of the force, was suspended by the town on Thursday for two weeks without pay. Mayor Ronald K. McDaniel Jr. said the action was taken against Bunnell for violating protocol 38 times while using the Connecticut On-Line Law Enforcement Communications Teleprocessing system, a tool police use to gather criminal justice data.

A state police report provided to The Day on Friday by the town attorney shows that Bunnell violated the COLLECT system protocol in 32 instances when investigating summer camp counselors and a volunteer coach for the recreation department. He called Parks and Recreation Director Peter Bushway to provide him with the information.

The report also says Bunnell used the database to gather past arrest information on a person who requested it in order to make a loan application to purchase commercial property on Gallivan Lane.

The person's name and all other names in the copy of the state police report provided to The Day were redacted for privacy reasons, according to the town attorney, Eileen Duggan, of the law firm Suisman Shapiro.

Other instances of misuse occurred when Bunnell ran background checks on a convicted sex offender and a person who was applying to adopt a child through the state Department of Children and Families. One other instance of misuse took place when Bunnell did a background check on a "strange acting male" asking for residency in a town elderly housing development, the report said.

The COLLECT system's regulations clearly state the database should not be used at the direction of town employees. The state police report also shows that Bunnell took a recertification test in August 2011 in which he correctly answered two questions about protocol regarding the COLLECT system.

The investigation began after a biannual audit of the COLLECT system found 38 instances of misuse involving Bunnell. A COLLECT system auditor also was later alerted by Robin Salvatore, the police union president, that Bunnell had made a request on behalf of Bushway for a documented criminal history on a volunteer coach.

The state police report says that former state police Lt. John Rich and assistant state's attorney Kevin Shea discussed the Bunnell investigation. They decided to leave any discipline to the town unless it was found that Bunnell personally benefited from revealing any information.

Lt. John S. Eckersley, a member of the state police Eastern District Major Crime Unit, who prepared the report, said Bunnell was cooperative and admitted during the state police investigation that he had misused the COLLECT system. Eckersley determined that Bunnell never distributed COLLECT documents to anyone.

McDaniel confirmed Bunnell's suspension Thursday but declined to comment further. Attempts to reach Bunnell this week and on Friday were unsuccessful.

jeff.johnson@theday.com

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