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New London mayor suspends police chief, calls for an investigation

By Greg Smith and Colin A. Young

Publication: theday.com

Published July 31. 2014 2:52PM   Updated August 01. 2014 1:50PM

New London — Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio on Thursday suspended Police Chief Margaret Ackley with pay “pending the outcome of an investigation into her conduct as Chief.”

Ackley’s suspension came one day after she filed a request for an injunction against the mayor, asking a judge to halt his alleged interference in her duties.

Among a list of 10 allegations against Ackley cited in his suspension letter are that Ackley tried to undermine contract negotiations with the police union by misrepresenting financial information, deliberately increased overtime spending in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year and misrepresented financial information about the department.

Finizio also said there are allegations Ackley selectively targeted union leaders for discipline, withheld information about the public safety requirements for Sailfest and deliberately failed to assign officers to Ocean Beach Park on the weekend of July 4 “in order to make a political budgetary point.”

Deputy Chief Peter Reichard was named acting chief until the completion of an independent investigation. Finizio declined to answer questions but issued a press statement outlining his position and allegations.

Ackley’s request for an injunction was part of a pending lawsuit against the mayor and the city that she filed last year in which she claims the Finizio reneged on terms of a new contract he signed.

“I’d like someone to tell me with a straight face this had nothing do with the request for an injunction filed yesterday,” said Leon Rosenblatt, Ackley’s attorney.

Rosenblatt said Ackley declined any comment and he said he was not yet prepared to address any specific allegations made by Finizio.

“I’m sure the chief is not in the slightest afraid of an investigation,” he added.

Aside from being ignored and marginalized, Rosenblatt claims in the injunction request, Ackley was barred from communications with City Council members, the press and other city commission members.

On May 22, Finizio emailed Ackley and ordered that she cease all direct communication with the City Council, any city boards or agencies, and with the media.

“You do not report to the council,” Finizio wrote. “You report to me.”

Finizio’s order not to talk to the media or councilors came during budget season and a day after Ackley sent Finance Director Jeff Smith, all seven City Council members and Finizio a report of monthly police department expenditures.

In his statement, Finizio said his order to Ackley stemmed directly from alleged “false statements to city officials in an attempt to further undermine the collective bargaining process.”

Finizio earlier this year had taken over stalled contract negotiations with the local police union, a move that union officials said led to continuation of talks over both the contract and pending grievances.

In the request for an injunction, Ackley alleges that Finizio prevented her from participating in contract talks to curry favor with officers and she refused to sign the contract.

In an email to the mayor dated June 12, Ackley argues the contract will cost the city more than $ 1 million and reduce the number of officers on the streets at any given time.

“As chief of police I should be involved in contract issues, but you as Mayor have taken that right away from me and I believe it is going to hurt the city residents and taxpayers,” Ackley wrote.

Ackley goes on to write that she had ordered Deputy Chief Reichard not to sign or agree to the contract or any grievance resolutions.

“Should you order the deputy to disobey my order, and if he complies, I will address that should it happen,” Ackley writes.

A frosty relationship

The email and others between the mayor and the chief were released on Thursday, as well as other documents The Day requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

The documents show that Finizio was considering suspending Ackley at least as early as the beginning of July when Law Director Jeffrey Londregan responded to Finizio’s inquiry about whether or not he had the authority to suspend the chief and launch an investigation “into alleged misconduct by her with her comments to City Council and department heads.”

The emails, which cover topics ranging from the erroneous placement of a stop sign to police department overtime, further illustrate the frosty relationship between the city’s mayor and the head of its police force.

On July 7, Ackley forwarded Finizio an email from Capt. Todd R. Bergeson in which Bergeson expressed “serious concerns in regard to public safety and safety of our police officers during the Sailfest event,” which was planned for later that week, and asked the mayor to advise her.

“I had recommended, due to our current staffing levels, that we cancel the Sailfest event for this year. I stated this strictly on the basis of public safety,” Bergeson wrote in an email to Ackley on July 2. “... as a result of the lack of support for increasing our patrol numbers, the exclusion of our public safety plan, and being overridden in deployment of personnel, I cannot guarantee the safety of the public, our officers, and other employees of the city during this event.”

In response to Ackley’s email, Finizio authorized the use of overtime funds to “bring in our own maximum manpower,” and called Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to request state assistance in the form of additional state troopers.

“Cancelling Sailfest is an absolute last resort, we must exhaust all means to secure the manpower we need to conduct this event at least at minimally acceptable standards for public safety,” Finizio responded. “Absent a clear showing that public safety would be fully imperiled by hosting this event, I would want the event to go forward, and we will simply have to do our best with the resources we can muster.”

Finizio also authorized the immediate hiring of any private security officers the police department thought would be necessary to keep the city safe during Sailfest, as Bergeson suggested in his initial email.

“Private security hiring is not what we do,” Ackley wrote on July 8. “I believe that would need to go through your public safety rep ... and labor attorney.”

Less than half an hour later, Finizio responded, “I am not concerned with who normally would hire private security. It was recommended by the patrol captain and forwarded to me by the chief that we do it. I authorize it. Who can get it done? I do not want to waste time passing a hot potato around. I just want to get it done to get PD the resources they need.”

Later Finizio said that he would cancel Sailfest if his public safety team, which includes Ackley and Fire Chief Henry Kydd, thought hosting the event would put the city and its guests in danger.

Ackley, in the request for an injunction, cites Sailfest as a “near-disaster,” because she was barred from participation in the planning and “without input from the chief of police, dangerous conditions were allowed to exist.”

Finizio denied that Ackley was barred from participation in the planning and “as a rule, I do not micromanage any city departments,” Finizio said in his statement.

“Suggestions to the contrary are unfounded, and are merely part of a defensive move by the chief to prevent her own discipline,” he said.

“While I have approached the issue of allegations into the Chief’s conduct with great caution, as no Police Chief in the State of CT has been fired pursuant to the just cause statutes, I will not allow fear of the unknown, or any frivolous filings by the Chief, to deter me from doing my job and holding all department heads, including the Chief, accountable for their actions,” Finizio said in his statement.

g.smith@theday.com

c.young@theday.com

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