Former New London police officer claims in lawsuit against city that he was forced to quit

New London — A New London police officer who resigned last year amid allegations that he was under investigation by the city and state after a man accused him of planting drugs during an arrest is suing the city, the mayor and the police chief, claiming he was put under extreme duress and forced to resign.

Roger Newton, a K-9 officer, was placed on administrative leave Jan. 6, 2012, when Lance Goode claimed that Newton had planted drugs on him during an Oct. 20, 2010, arrest.

In his lawsuit, filed earlier this month, Newton claims he was never interviewed or questioned by anyone from the police department as part of an internal investigation. He said it wasn't until Feb. 8 that he was told to report to Chief Margaret Ackley's office on Feb. 10. He resigned from the force on Feb. 10.

Among the other six counts in the lawsuit, Newton claims his procedural due process rights were violated, his privacy was invaded when the city intentionally painted him in a false, corrupt light, the city was negligent and intentionally inflicted emotional distress on him, and the city is liable for his economic losses and damages.

Newton's attorney, Christine Synodi, said her client was treated unfairly by the administration and was portrayed unfairly in the public. She declined further comment on the lawsuit.

Police Deputy Chief Peter Reichard referred all comments to Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, who said he would not comment on specific complaints alleged in the lawsuit, as it is the city's policy not to comment on pending litigation.

He did say, however, that he was pleased to learn from the state NAACP that the U.S. Attorney's Office is reconsidering looking into complaints against the police department, including the Newton allegation.

"The only thing I could think about when I learned about this lawsuit is the case when the burglar falls through the skylight and then sues the homeowner," Finizio said.

Newton claims that on Oct. 20, 2010, he pulled a vehicle over for a traffic violation. He recognized the driver as Lance Goode, a person who has more than 30 arrests for various crimes, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says Newton called for backup, as Goode was known to assault officers. During the arrest, Goode gave permission to search the car. The lawsuit claims that when the glove box was opened, a clear knotted plastic bag containing various pills believed to be oxycodone fell to the floor, and Goode was placed under arrest.

A year later, on Oct. 25, 2011, the narcotics unit told Newton to stop a car based on information it had regarding drug activity. The car was pulled over, and the driver was stopped and patted down. The stop was recorded on Newton's in-car camera and audio.

The next month, various officers were called in for a training class by the New London state prosecutor's office on search and seizure procedures.

Newton claims the class was centered on the Oct. 25 stop as an example of a bad stop and search. The lawsuit claims that Supervisory Inspector Philip Fazzino was abusive to Newton and even cursed at him. The class got so tense that the training was "disbanded," the lawsuit claims.

On about Dec. 10, 2011, Goode obtained a video of his stop to use for defense purposes. Goode reviewed the video with Fazzino. The lawsuit claims that Goode and Fazzino believed that the video showed Newton planting drugs on Goode.

Fazzino declined to comment on the allegations.

Shortly thereafter, the narcotics safe used for K-9 training became the subject of an internal investigation. An audit of the safe found that no drugs were missing, the lawsuit claims.

On Jan. 6, 2012, Newton said he became aware that he was the subject of an investigation that accused him of planting drugs. At that point, he was suspended with pay.

Newton said he was required to turn in his badge, gun, car and dog, Kilo. His car, which was a subject of the investigation, was never properly preserved as evidence, the lawsuit says.

The next day, the car was searched and 3 grams of marijuana were found.

Newton was summoned to Ackley office's on Feb. 10. Based on statements made to his then-attorney, he was led to believe that his firing was imminent and felt pressured to resign.

"The meeting on February 10, 2012 was called for the purpose of intimidating Plaintiff with additional charges and further undue attention and publicity in order to force Plaintiff's resignation, the same being done without adequate investigation and without full disclosure of evidence in violation of his substantive and procedural due process rights," the lawsuit says.

As part of a settlement agreement, Newton said Ackley agreed to sell him his dog, Kilo, for $500; to cease all internal investigations; and to hold no further press conferences regarding Newton.

As a result of the allegations, Newton claims he was interviewed by state police, the state's attorney's Office and the FBI. The probe concluded there was no probable cause to arrest Newton, the lawsuit says.

"As a result of the widespread publication of the allegations against him and his resignation, Plaintiff has suffered and continues to suffer from public shame from members of the community, his peers and potential future employers who continue to refuse to hire him," the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit is seeking compensatory, punitive, economic damages, interest and cost, attorney fees and any other relief that the court deems appropriate.

Goode has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit naming Newton, five other officers and the city.

Last month, federal Judge Dominic J. Squatrito said the case "shall be trial ready June, 2014. If the parties feel a settlement conference would be beneficial, they should contact chambers immediately."

The state NAACP is also asking for federal authorities to look into complaints against the police department, many of which came to light after Goode alleged that Newton planted drugs during his arrest.

i.larraneta@theday.com

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