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Lawsuit targets Montville's police Lt. Bunnell

By Jeffrey A. Johnson

Publication: The Day

Published May 23. 2012 4:00AM   Updated May 24. 2012 12:16AM

Montville - A former town police sergeant continues to assert that unfavorable and derogatory performance reviews that he says were written by Lt. Leonard Bunnell cost him a job as a state marshal.

Richard Lenda, a retired police officer, filed a defamation lawsuit in late 2009 against the town, former Mayor Joseph Jaskiewicz and Bunnell, the town's highest-ranking officer.

He argues that Bunnell's reviews, which detail several instances of insubordination and poor work behavior, were kept secret and separate from his personnel file in violation of union rules. Upon applying for a marshal job with the state, Lenda said, the unfavorable reviews surfaced and he was not hired as a result. He maintains Bunnell's criticism of his job performance is untrue.

Lenda's case is ongoing in New London Superior Court. He is seeking more than $15,000 in the suit.

Court documents show that Bunnell criticized Lenda at one point for being the department's least productive officer.

Bunnell, in a 2001 letter to then-Mayor Howard "Russ" Beetham Jr., argued for demoting Lenda. He said Lenda had used excessive sick time, lacked civility, had several issues with his time card and cited one incident in which Bunnell said he was "hostile" and verbally berated Bunnell.

The court documents also show that former Resident State Trooper Jim Barnes sent Bunnell and Lenda, both corporals at the time, a letter ordering them to end their ongoing disagreement. Barnes wrote, "Let's get on with our jobs and put our differences aside."

Bunnell did not respond to phone calls seeking comment. In recent weeks he has deferred comment to Mayor Ronald K. McDaniel Jr., who declined comment. McDaniel said he has not seen the defamation suit, which predates his administration.

Edward Bona, Lenda's attorney, said Lenda signed a waiver that allowed the town to release his personnel file. But Bona argued that union procedures were violated by not allowing Lenda to see all of the file's contents beforehand.

Lenda, 53, said he retired in 2002 from the town police department after about 25 years. He said he stayed on to work part time for two years and now works in the security department for The William W. Backus Hospital.

State police recently launched an investigation into whether Bunnell improperly used a state police computer database designed for criminal background checks. A biannual audit of the Connecticut On-Line Law Enforcement Communications Teleprocessing system showed there were 38 instances involving Bunnell under review.

Police officer Karen Moorehead, the department's school resource officer, has also filed a harassment complaint against Bunnell. The Day requested a copy of the complaint, but the town denied the request and argued it was exempt under state statutes designed to protect from an invasion of privacy. The Day has filed an appeal with the Freedom of Information Commission.

McDaniel said Friday Moorehead's complaint was taken up by a workplace harassment committee, which retained the services of the law office of Suisman Shapiro to investigate it. He said he has requested a final report on the committee's findings.

The town charter states that McDaniel is technically the town's police chief. The department runs under the auspices of the resident state trooper program, with the resident state trooper supervising operational aspects of the department and Bunnell handling administrative matters.

jeff.johnson@theday.com

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