New London Police Community Relations Committee postpones discussion without option of closed session

New London - The Police Community Relations Committee tabled its discussion of an investigation of a civilian complaint Wednesday night after the deputy police chief declined to enter a closed session to review the case.

Deputy Chief Peter Reichard said he had been told by Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio to not enter executive session for such discussions because the mayor and city law director Jeffrey Londregan believe the closed sessions violate freedom of information laws. Zak Leavy, mayoral assistant and Finizio's designee at PCRC meetings, said he, too, would not engage in the closed sessions for the same reasons.

A committee vote to handle such reviews in executive session came in October, nearly three years after the panel was told by then-city law director Thomas Londregan that such sessions were in violation of state Freedom of Information Act. Since that March 2010 decision, all discussions had been open to the public.

The committee, which chose Wednesday to only review the complaint in executive session, was forced to table the discussion after Reichard told Chairman Wayne Vendetto he would not give the committee the complaint to review unless it was done openly. The board, members of which are appointed by the City Council, will discuss the complaint at its February meeting.

"We have not been told by the powers to be that we can't go into executive session, and that comes from City Council," Vendetto said. "We can go into executive session to discuss personnel matters."

But Leavy said Jeffrey Londregan, the son of the former city law director, reaffirmed in a Dec. 7 memo the 2010 opinion of his father.

"Assuming the PCRC receives the redacted investigation documents from the Police Department (documents that have already had any exempt information removed), it is my opinion that the discussions of the PCRC would not fall within any 'executive sessions' categories listed under General Statute 1-200(6)," Londregan wrote in the memo. "As such, any hearing conducted by the PCRC should be held in a public forum as required under the FOIA."

From its 1988 creation until the March 2010 change, the panel's discussions of such complaints were held behind closed doors, with committee votes held in public session. The committee is responsible for deciding whether the police department "adequately" or "inadequately" investigated a civilian complaint.

After spending the last year discussing a change back to the old policy, the panel voted in October to do so. Last month, a committee member asked that decision be revisited, and the committee brought up the topic Wednesday during its monthly meeting at the city's senior center.

Todd Lynch, the police department's union president, said the union questions why the sessions were opened after more than 20 years of closed discussion. Lynch implied Chief Margaret Ackley, who took over in June 2009, was behind the change.

"It has been our belief all along that the change was made to humiliate or bring disgrace on union members who were found to have lots of complaints against them," he said. "The current chief, in March 2010 quoting transparency, asked for it to be held in open session. The union is not against whether it's open or not, we've just always questioned why it was changed in March of 2010 from the way it's been since its inception."

Vendetto said he's met with a majority of the city councilors, including Council President Michael Passero and John Maynard, the head of the council's Public Safety Committee, about the issue. He said he hopes to organize a meeting with all involved to "hash out" the correct course for the committee to take.

"Going back to the ordinance, it says the committee can run meetings as it sees fit, with the permission of the City Council," he said. "There are lots of things that need to be ironed out, and the only way is to sit down and talk to them."

s.goldstein@theday.com

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