Published March 17. 2014 10:00PM Updated March 17. 2014 10:21PM
New London — The City Council voted 4-3 Monday night to end the city’s appeal of a state mediation board decision and rehire a police officer who had been fired for shooting the unarmed driver of a stolen ice truck.
The narrow decision to rehire Officer Thomas Northup comes after months of executive sessions by the City Council and against the wishes of Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio.
Finizio fired Northup on March 22, 2012, for “use of excessive and unreasonable force,” following an internal investigation into the Aug. 24, 2011, shooting of Curtis Cunningham. It was determined through an internal investigation by the police department that Northup made a premature and unauthorized decision to use deadly force.
But the state Board of Mediation and Arbitration said the city did not present credible evidence to establish that Northup’s use of force was “not objectively reasonable or that it was excessive,” or prove that Northup knew that the suspect did not have a gun. Not only did the board order Northup’s reinstatement but said he should be compensated for lost pay.
Finizio maintains the board’s decision was “terrible … and fundamentally and legally flawed.”
“I maintain that it is not only appropriate but imperative an officer found to have violated department policies on the use of deadly force be separated from their employment with the city,” Finizio said Monday. “I still wholeheartedly agree with the appeal … however, this decision is ultimately not mine or the police administration’s alone to make. The council has rendered its decision, and I respect the decision they reached.”
Finizio said he would order Northup’s immediate return to the department. It was unclear Monday night if Northup will receive back pay.
Court filings in the case show the two sides were in the middle of some type of settlement talks. Finizio declined to comment.
Council President Wade Hyslop, who voted to continue the appeal, has said it was within the city’s legal right.
Hyslop and councilors Erica Richardson and Efrain Dominguez voted against ending the appeal. Councilors Anthony Nolan, Michael Passero, Martin Olsen and Michael Tranchida voted to end the appeal.
Passero has maintained the city was violating its contractual agreement by challenging the arbitrator’s decision. He said Monday he understood the appeal was initiated in part to preserve the city’s options but he was never in favor of it.
Nolan called it a challenging decision, but “in the best interests of the city.”
Olsen said he felt strongly that the state board clearly outlined the issue and that the city was in the wrong for firing Northup. He said it was financially and morally the right thing to do to let Northup back to work.
Northup shot Curtis Cunningham four times on Aug. 24, 2011, following a chase through the city that led to a crash. Cunningham was standing in the overturned truck when Northup yelled for him to “drop the weapon,” before Northup fired five shots. Northup told investigators he believed Cunningham had a gun and Cunningham had refused to remove his hands from his under his shirt.
Cunningham later tested positive for PCP, according to police reports. Cunningham, who was 27 at the time of the shooting, has filed a federal lawsuit against the city and Northup. He pleaded guilty in January to his involvement in stealing the ice truck. He was sentenced to one year in prison, suspended after three months served and two years’ probation.