Details behind firing of Stonington's animal control officer released

Stonington - Former Animal Control Officer Rae Jean Davis was fired in late November in part because she set up her own cat rescue organization and then allegedly lied about her involvement with it when questioned by police officials.

Details of what led to Davis' firing after eight years on the job are contained in investigative documents released by police this week after The Day filed a request for them through the state's Freedom of Information Act.

After Davis' firing by the Board of Police Commissioners on Nov. 23, Police Chief J. Darren Stewart and town labor attorney Michael Satti said they could not comment on the firing because it was a personnel matter.

On Thursday, Davis said she has evidence that refutes all of the charges. She said she will be releasing it in the near future.

"But I can't discuss it at this point; my attorney will be doing that later," she said.

In an October letter to Davis, Stewart informed her that she was formally being charged with six violations of the department's rules and procedures, including providing false information to a superior, falsifying official documents or records, violating animal control rules and procedures, conduct unbecoming an officer and concealing information.

"Because of the seriousness of these charges, I believe it is beyond my authority to discipline in this matter and as such, must refer this to the Board of Police Commissioners to review these charges and if found true, impose discipline, that could mean termination of service with this Department," Stewart wrote.

Stewart based his decision on an extensive investigation of Davis' alleged actions by Capt. Jerry Desmond and state Animal Control Officer Todd Curry, who interviewed Davis, people involved in adoptions, and animal control officers in Montville and Groton.

"This investigation revealed multiple occasions where ACO Davis was either deceitful or untruthful" in oral interviews, emails and reports, wrote Desmond in his report, which recommended discipline up to and including termination.

Curry also found that Davis' job as ACO and her role with the animal rescue group was a clear conflict of interest.

The investigation

The department's investigation began with a complaint from Michelle and Vincent Gugliuzza of Montville, who charged that Davis, who was in uniform, confronted them at the Westerly Animal Control facility on Nov. 29, 2012. They charged that she began yelling at them because they had reported to state authorities that Davis was not caring properly for horses on her property. Desmond said Davis' actions were unprofessional and could open the department to criticism.

In 2010, police had charged Michelle Gugliuzza, then Michelle Courter, with selling cats she had allegedly stolen. Davis played a prominent role in the investigation in which several cat owners alleged that Gugliuzza had stolen their pets and then listed them for sale. Gugliuzza denied the charges, and the state's attorney's office decided not to prosecute the case.

A New London Superior Court judge later ordered the Gugliuzzas to remove a website they had created called acoraejeandavisoutofcontrol.com and pay Davis $856 in damages, after she sued them.

While investigating the incident in Westerly, Desmond discovered Davis was there because she had been dropping off animals as part of a business she had been running out of her home called Stonington Animal Rescue Project. She created the group shortly after the police department decided animal control officers would no longer trap feral cats because it was taking away too much time from their duties.

Desmond wrote that Davis had spoken to Curry about creating SARP in early 2012. He told her she would have to register it with the state but suggested she first ask the police department about her plans because it could create a conflict of interest.

When questioned later by Curry, "Davis admitted she purposely tried to keep her involvement a secret from everyone stating 'it's no one's business what I do outside the police department,'" according to the documents that were part of the investigation.

Desmond wrote that after he questioned Davis about the group, Davis submitted a slip saying she was too sick to come to work and then went to Hartford that day to register the group as a charitable organization.

He said that in some cases, residents called the police department about animals which then ended up in the possession of the Stonington Animal Rescue Project. Davis wrote in her reports that the animals were turned over to the group but never disclosed that she was running the group. Desmond wrote this practice avoided the typical impound procedure and adoption and other fees the town would have collected.

Among the charges Desmond details in his report are:

Davis told him there were other members of her group when she was in fact the sole member. At one point, she told Desmond there was a new rescue group in town but did not say it was hers. She referred to SARP as "they" in her reports.

She also identified a Pawcatuck woman in one police report as being the group's "director of felines," but the woman later told Desmond she was not involved with the group.

Desmond also found that in one instance, when Davis went to pick up a cat, she initially told investigators she was not on duty but then said it was after work or the date was wrong. But the woman who called to surrender her kitten said Davis was in uniform and was driving the animal control truck.

In another incident, Desmond wrote that Davis had taken four kittens from the Montville animal control facility to an adoption event and said they had been adopted. Montville Animal Control Officer Christian Martel then saw the kittens for adoption on the SARP website.

Martel told Desmond that she no longer would send any animals to adoption events with Davis "as I could no longer trust her" because "she had lied about the disposition of the kittens."

Desmond wrote that longtime Groton Animal Control Officer Donna Duso decided not to be involved with Davis' group because she had suspicions about an adoption.

The town is seeking applicants for the ACO job. Until a new ACO is hired, Stewart said the animal control operation will be overseen by former assistant ACO Tonya Wescovich on a per diem basis, and by police Sgt. Louis Diamanti.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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