New London police committee still can't agree on hearing complaints

New London - A fractured Police Community Relations Committee remained deeply divided Tuesday over whether to hear in public or closed session the investigations into civilian complaints against police officers.

The committee for the second straight month did not hear a complaint and instead spent more than one hour discussing the reasons for and against closing the hearings to the public. A consensus was not reached.

After a motion passed Tuesday to hear two civilian complaints without using the names of the officers or citizens involved, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio defied the committee's decision and read aloud the names of the eight officers involved in the latest complaints.

"The administration will always disclose information that is public record, as this committee should," he said before thanking the committee and walking out of the meeting. Police Deputy Chief Peter Reichard also said he would not omit names when reading the complaints to the committee. The complaints were ultimately not read.

A committee vote to handle reviews of investigations into civilian complaints 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 the state Freedom of Information Act. Since that March 2010 decision, all discussions had been open to the public.

Current law director Jeffrey Londregan reconfirmed the 2010 opinion, and Mayor Finizio has since instructed city employees, including Reichard, not to enter into closed session for discussion of the civilian complaints.

A motion to hear the complaint with names included and a subsequent motion to table the complaints until next month both failed Tuesday before the group eventually voted to adjourn.

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.

"I was one of the original members 30 years ago," said member Marie Gravell, who voted to close the complaint reviews to the public. "I've never had these problems, and I'm not about to waste valuable time and sit here every month. I don't agree with what's going on."

PCRC Chairman Wayne Vendetto, who also has served since the committee's inception, has been an outspoken supporter of closing the reviews to the public.

Four of the nine members of the committee who voted against closing the meetings Tuesday were newly appointed by the City Council last month.

"I still don't get it," said Erica Richardson, a new member. "For something that's clearly FOI, I'm not sure it is our duty to say we're protecting (police officer's) names when it's supposed to be open information at this point."

City Councilor John Maynard, the council's PCRC liaison and public safety committee chairman, said after the meeting he'd try to arrange a public safety committee meeting Monday to work out the issue.

"You can't operate on a deadlock in a committee," Maynard said. "The sooner council addresses this, the better."

s.goldstein@theday.com

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