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The vote by the New London City Council to stop the legal battle blocking the return to duty of an officer involved in a shooting is the best outcome for the city. Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio's made the right decision in not challenging the 4-3 vote.
This case has involved difficult choices for all involved.
On the afternoon of Aug. 24, 2011, Officer Thomas Northup confronted a man high on PCP, standing in the damaged cab of a box truck that lay on its side after the suspect had stolen it, led police on a short chase, and crashed.
According to Officer Northup, the suspect, Curtis Cunningham, refused to comply with his orders to show his hands. At some point, the officer said he concluded Mr. Cunningham was going for a gun. Officer Northup fired five times, four bullets striking the suspect, two lodging in his lower back, leaving him permanently disabled.
It turned out the suspect was unarmed.
An internal New London Police Department investigation concluded that Officer Northup's actions were "excessive and unreasonable" and his "tactics … not in accordance with (police) training."
Given those findings, Mayor Finizio's decision a year ago to fire the officer seemed reasonable. In retrospect, however, it appears the administration should have looked deeper into the legal precedents in such situations.
Last November the Connecticut Board of Mediation and Arbitration, acting on the police union's appeal, ruled the firing unlawful and ordered Officer Northup reinstated. Citing legal precedent involving such life-and-death situations, the panel found that "officers are given the benefit of the doubt even when they make mistakes."
Essentially, to deserve a penalty as severe as termination, it must be demonstrated that an officer had no "reasonable belief" that his life was threatened and yet still discharged his weapon.
The board criticized the mayor for being "unfamiliar with the legal precedents in this area" and acting out of "ignorance of the applicable law."
Mayor Finizio appealed, and continues to call the board's decision "fundamentally and legally flawed." That may be his opinion, but the city's chance of success on appeal appeared doubtful. Talks to settle the case were ongoing. Mayor Finizio sought the council's input and got it in the 4-3 resolution to end the appeal.
Mayor Finizio could make the case that he is not bound by the council vote. He is taking the better course of action in agreeing to reinstate Officer Northup.