Ackley sues, says city had 'scheme' to hurt her

New London — The police chief has filed a lawsuit against the mayor, the city and a city attorney alleging they had a "plan or scheme" to intentionally violate the terms of her contract to hurt her, both monetarily and emotionally.

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio and attorney Brian Estep misled her when the parties negotiated her 2011 employment contract, Chief Margaret Ackley alleges in a nine-page lawsuit filed in New London Superior Court.

She is seeking damages for financial and emotional injury in excess of $15,000, punitive damages and attorneys fees.

Ackley referred questions to her attorney, Leon M. Rosenblatt of West Hartford, who called New London a dysfunctional town.

"When I was writing up the complaint ... I kept saying to myself, you can't make this ... up,'' he said.

The chief does not want to retire, he said.

"She agreed to stay on and she wants the benefits she was promised,'' he said.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of internal complaints surrounding the police chief and her department.

Tuesday night, dozens of current and retired New London officers lobbied the City Council to save the department's K-9 unit, which the mayor announced on Friday he was reducing from three dogs to one as of Monday.

But they also complained about a dysfunctional department with trained officers leaving for other jobs, a lack of leadership, and mistrust among the chief and the rank-and-file.

At one point, City Councilor John Maynard called for the chief to step down.

Neither the mayor nor the chief attended Tuesday's meeting.

On Wednesday, Finizio would not comment on the lawsuit but said the city is meeting all its contractual obligations with the police union and public safety is not in jeopardy.

He added that he takes all employee complaints seriously.

"Sometimes there's merit and sometimes not. ... I will examine these complaints and act accordingly," he said.

As far as the officers who are leaving to take other jobs, Finizio said he is grateful to them because now he will not have to lay anyone off.

"If we didn't have voluntary departures from (the) department, we would be laying off,'' he said. "So if someone wants to leave for another department, that is preferable ... to avoid layoffs.''

He added that he hopes to rehire officers and get patrol strength back up as the city's finances improve.

"We can't have it both ways,'' he said. "We can't have low tax increases and maintain the same level of officers in the police department."

In the lawsuit, Ackley alleges the city violated a three-year contract agreement that was signed by Finizio in January 2012. She was to be paid an annual salary of $110,725 and remain eligible for raises in subsequent years, and was to receive about $60,000 for 1,196 hours of unpaid compensation time she had accumulated since becoming chief in 2009.

She also was promised $25,000 if she did not pursue a pre-existing legal claim against the city over a councilor's alleged harassment.

But both agreements became moot when the City Council refused to ratify the contracts and provide funding for them.

Ackley says in the lawsuit that she changed "important life-plans" when she delayed her retirement and continued working for the city.

"The defendant (the City of New London) acted with bad motives and/or with a reckless indifference to the interest of the plaintiff ...'' the lawsuit says, "... causing her serious mental and emotional distress.

"The defendants combined and acted to cause unlawful injury to the plaintiff by unlawful means pursuant to a plan or scheme,'' the document states.

Ackley announced in August 2011 that she intended to retire that December because, she said, a former city councilor was undermining her authority in the department and was harassing her. But following the mayoral election that year, she agreed to stay on as chief at Finizio's urging. Negotiating the contract was one of Finizio's first official duties as the city's newly elected mayor.

The chief and the mayor, who were allies when Finizio was elected in 2010, have been at odds in recent months.

In April, the mayor asked for a special City Council meeting to discuss a retirement proposal from Ackley. But the meeting was canceled after one of Ackley's lawyers said there was no retirement proposal and chastised the mayor for calling the meeting.

In May, the chief appeared before the finance board and explained that she would have to cut 15 officers if a proposed $924,000 cut to the police budget was not restored. The next day, the mayor's office announced that the mayor issues layoff notices, not the police chief. Ackley's comments about staffing levels were "premature ... and the statements made by Chief Ackley do not represent the views of the Administration,'' the mayor's statement said.

This past Tuesday, police union President Todd Lynch said 11 officers are leaving the department in June. The city had paid about $1.1 million to train the 11 officers, he estimated. Lynch said that since 2009, when Ackley took over, 40 officers have retired or left the force for other jobs.

The Day has a request pending before the Personnel Office for information on historical turnover rates in the department.

According to the city's website, the department comprises 90 sworn officers, including 63 patrol officers, three captains, three lieutenants, 13 sergeants and six detectives.

In May, Ackley said there were 81 sworn officers in the department.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

Hide Comments

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments

RELATED STORIES

1

As New London police ranks shrink, safety concerns grow

2

Attorney: Ackley not planning to retire

3

Chief Ackley: Prepared to hand in her badge?

4

New London police chief returns to work from medical leave

5

Chief concern

6

Mayor Finizio isn't talking about his ailing police chief

7

New London mayor puts police chief on medical leave

8

Judge rejects NL's effort to throw out lawsuit against police chief

9

Ackley treated for injury due to wind-blown window incident during storm

10

Finizio orders written reprimand of New London police chief over emails

11

New London police chief’s attorney expects matter resolved soon

12

New London concludes investigation of Ackley emails

13

New London City Council panel could investigate Ackley

14

New London police committee seeks probe of Ackley

15

Finizio says there was no collusion with Chief Ackley

16

Mayor Finizio and Chief Ackley are good at laying blame

17

Chief Ackley was paid thousands in comp time

18

New London, police chief are targeted in lawsuit

19

Chief Ackley skewered in police union accusations

20

NL police union wants Ackley placed on administrative leave

21

Council rejects $25,000 Ackley settlement

22

Ackley settlement fight will test city's charter

23

Report: New London didn't allow discrimination against Police Chief Margaret Ackley

24

Chief Ackley has complained about harassment before

25

Chief Ackley gets $25,000 from City of New London

26

City settles with police chief; Buscetto says it's part of 'smear campaign'

27

Ackley to remain New London police chief; Segar is out

28

Finizio gives Ackley new contract, announces deputy chief's last day

29

Answers to Chief Ackley's accusations still critical

30

Finizio reappoints chiefs, clarifies statement on city attorney position

31

New London police chief drops ethics complaint vs. city councilor

32

Ackley backer Waller isn't recusing herself from ethics board for Buscetto hearing

33

Ackley vs. Buscetto to play out over three New London ethics hearings

34

Board will investigate Ackley ethics complaint against Buscetto

35

New London City Council hires former judge to investigate Police Chief Ackley's complaint

36

City police chief criticized in open letter from union

37

New London police department earns state's highest level of accreditation

38

Ethics board holds closed meeting on Ackley claims

39

Ackley gets dose of public support

40

Ackley files complaint with New London's ethics board

41

Ethics board weighs in on Ackley dispute

42

Deal has New London police chief staying on at least until end of year

43

Serious allegations, but a dearth of details

44

Chief's charges hang over candidate

45

New London police chief wants to retire, cites harassment by city councilor

46

New London secrecy troubling

47

Councilors are not happy with secrecy over Ackley matter

48

Details of Ackley-City Council meeting emerge in New London

49

New London police chief's job status remains muddled

50

Police chief's employment status with New London still not clear

51

Chief, council should stop all the secrecy

52

New London councilors mum on meeting, agreement with police chief

53

NL Council, in closed session, to hear report on Police Chief Ackley's employment

54

ACLU looking for abuses of power in police departments - including New London's

55

Ackley, officers trying to get along

56

New London police chief could face vote of no confidence

THE DAY VIDEO SHORTS