Black officers sue Groton City, accuse police of discrimination

Groton - Three black Groton City police officers have filed a federal lawsuit against the city and Police Chief Bruno Giulini, charging that they are working in a climate of discrimination.

The lawsuit contends that throughout Giulini's tenure, the department has become one of double standards, where "African American officers are held to more exacting standards than Caucasian officers."

The suit was filed July 25 by New Haven attorney John R. Williams on behalf of patrol officers Peter Miller and Bobby Joe Harris and Sgt. Bruce Lowe.

The suit says that black officers are presumed to be less honest, less honorable and less competent than white officers and are treated with less respect. The suit points out several specific instances in which each black officer was treated differently than white officers.

In June 2010, according to the suit, Lowe was speaking during a staff meeting when he was interrupted by a white detective sergeant. Lowe told the sergeant to shut his mouth.

In response, the lawsuit says, Giulini issued Lowe a letter of reprimand, even though, on many other occasions, officers have made similar statements with no repercussions.

According to the lawsuit, there were many times when a white sergeant told other officers to "get the (expletive) out of my office," with no employment consequences.

In another case, the suit refers to an incident in which two white officers, a sergeant and a lieutenant, physically fought each other "in a public place and received no criticism or discipline whatsoever."

The suit also recounts a 2005 situation in which Miller was accused "by Caucasian officers, including Giulini," of damaging a police cruiser. It was later proved that the car had a malfunction.

The suit says that Giulini and other officers concealed their awareness of Miller's innocence, and the fact that another officer's cruiser had the same malfunction.

The suit contends that Giulini knew the charge against Miller was false, yet he ordered Miller to appear before the City Council for a disciplinary hearing.

"Giulini publicly, deliberately, falsely and maliciously accused Miller of being a liar while himself concealing evidence that Miller was entirely truthful," the suit charges.

Harris's case involved an investigation of a civilian complaint against him. While investigating the complaint, a white lieutenant "repeatedly and without basis, accused Harris of being a liar and described Harris as a 'Rock Star' and the 'Poquonnock Bridge Playboy.'" The lieutenant used photographs of all three black officers in a photo spread to show to one or more potential witnesses.

The suit alleges that the lieutenant also concealed the fact that a witness against Harris was someone whom Harris had previously arrested.

"The ... department is permeated with discriminatory intimidation sufficiently severe and pervasive to alter the conditions of the plaintiffs' work environment," the lawsuit says.

"These conditions are known to Giulini and to former Mayor Dennis Popp ... both of whom ... failed to take any actions to improve working conditions for African American officers," the suit says.

Neither Mayor Marian Galbraith, Lowe, Miller nor Giulini would comment on the litigation. Harris, Popp and Williams could not be reached.

Scott Sanford, head of the union since May, which was about the same time Galbraith was elected, expressed confidence in her leadership in hoping to resolve the issues affecting the police department and morale.

"The union has been working with the mayor," Sanford said. "We felt for a long time that a lot of issues weren't being addressed and people were not being treated fairly and dealt with consistently.

"Now we are working with the city, first with the chief and now with the mayor, to resolve them and make a better working environment for all the employees."

Sanford said he had not read the specific allegations in the lawsuit but has been aware of the various situations and incidents that have occurred over the past few years.

"I think this speaks to how people feel they are treated," he said. "This department has a lot of good young officers, and the City of Groton deserves a good department where people can feel free to do their best work."

c.potter@theday.com

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