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New London - Police Chief Margaret Ackley, concerned that she might be "crossing the line," checked with an attorney for the city before making telephone calls about the immigration status of a homicide victim in connection with a wrongful-death lawsuit.
Brian Estep, who works with city Law Director Jeffrey Londregan, assured Ackley that she was not breaking any city laws or executive orders.
"Since I have no reason to ask for the information as it pertains to the criminal case, I have to think that asking for it in a civil case may be crossing the line,'' Ackley wrote in a Jan. 25 email to Estep. "If in fact it's ok to obtain the information for a civil action, then why didn't the attorneys obtain the information from immigration services in the first place??"
Ackley also expressed her discomfort about using the criminal justice system to obtain information for a civil issue.
"As you know, CIVIL RIGHTS are very important to me and I do not want to cross the line in an attempt to reduce financial damages the city or our insurance company may have to pay, at the expense of a person's civil rights," Ackley wrote.
On Jan. 26 the chief called an official at the Department of Homeland Security's Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Division to ask about homicide victim David Romero's immigration status. The city was preparing to defend itself against a lawsuit alleging that police negligence led to Romero's shooting death at the hands of Kurtulus Kalican on Sept. 22, 2003.
Last week, attorney Robert I. Reardon, who represents Romero's survivors, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court claiming Ackley was "inappropriately conspiring with federal agencies to uncover information about a man 8½ years dead."
On Friday the police union asked Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio to investigate whether Ackley's actions violated the victim's civil rights. The union also wanted to know whether Ackley violated a mayoral executive order that prohibits police from inquiring about a person's immigration status unless it pertains to a criminal case. They asked the mayor to place Ackley on administrative leave.
Estep told Ackley in an email that she would not be violating Romero's civil rights because he is deceased. He also said she would not be violating the executive order because "the order was clearly issued to stop the possible harassment of suspected illegal aliens by the city."
Estep added that it was up to the chief to decide whether she wanted to make the telephone call.
"The question of whether a request for information from ICE is a proper police matter falls within your purview,'' he wrote. "If you do not believe it is appropriate because you have no reason to obtain the information, then we would not ask you to make the request."
On Wednesday, Finizio showed The Day's editorial staff the series of emails that revealed the chief's concerns. "She only proceeded after receiving assurances that there would be no violations of civil rights or the executive order," he said. "I applaud the chief for seeking a legal opinion before making her inquiry."
In investigating the police union's complaint, Finizio found that the chief did not initiate the inquiry and was acting at the request of the attorney representing the city in the civil litigation. The mayor said his investigation is closed and no further action will be taken.
But the police union is not satisfied.
"The union asked for the mayor or (an) outside person to look into it,'' said Officer Todd Lynch, the union president. "While we respect the mayor's decision, he hasn't got back to us and we're hearing about this from the newspaper."
Lynch also said he didn't realize that a law director's opinion could supersede a mayor's order.