Mayor Finizio and Chief Ackley are good at laying blame

I came to the conclusion that New London had the wrong police chief back in the fall of 2010, when Matthew Chew was brutally murdered on his way home from the pizza restaurant where he worked downtown.

It wasn't that a young man was attacked and stabbed to death by a gang of youths at 11 p.m. on a main downtown street that made me lose confidence in Chief Margaret Ackley.

It was the way police handled the report of the crime, publicly blaming the victim from the outset, that gave the chief away.

"At this point, we believe this incident to be drug related and despite the suspects still being at large, there is no threat to the public," came the only official police statement on the killing, a carefully crafted announcement made a full half-day after the murder occurred.

Then police went silent.

Many in the newsroom here at The Day pestered the chief for days and days after that, looking for more information. But our phone calls and emails went unanswered.

The chief allowed city residents to have the continuing illusion they were safe, when in fact the Chew murder was a random killing, not drug-related at all, and the suspects were still very much at large.

I have heard advocates of Mayor Finizio and Chief Ackley, even recently, blame that misstatement about the Chew murder on former Deputy Chief Marshall Segar, who issued it.

But, really, it's hard to believe the chief didn't take part in crafting it. Even if she didn't, she certainly had plenty of opportunity to set the record straight. All she had to do was answer some of the emails and phone calls from the newsroom in the days and many news cycles that followed the murder.

If the mayor and the chief want us to believe that misstatement about the Chew murder was the fault of the deputy chief, are we to believe the deputy tied up the chief, gagged her and kept her away from the phone and email all that time, through all those misleading news stories?

Of course, that is only one sad example from the long and difficult reign of this blame-everyone-else police chief.

Since Mayor Finizio took office, the blaming has taken the form of firings and expensive forced retirements.

All of the terrible things that have occurred in the 2 years since she has been chief - the Chew murder and other gang violence; the shooting of an unarmed man; the alleged planting of drugs on a black man, caught by video camera; the alleged beating by police of a patient at a drug abuse center - all have been blamed on others.

One indication of how badly managed the police department has been is the report into the alleged beating at the drug and alcohol treatment center. It turned out police were driving the wrong cars that night, and they weren't using their two-way radios properly. They were even listening to pop music on the radio in the cruiser as they drove the injured man back to the police station. It was a litany of sloppy procedures.

The chief has slipped out of any responsibility for all the things that have gone wrong in the department that she has managed for all this time.

Never mind that the mayor says the state is investigating corruption in the police department.

In fact despite it all, Mayor Finizio, once he took office, offered Ackley a raise, an unlikely payoff of some $60,000 for extra hours she had worked as chief, and a $25,000 payoff to not sue the city for complaints that turned out to be baseless.

Doesn't the person in charge of an organization ultimately get held responsible when things go badly wrong?

After all, they got rid of the head of the power company when the power stayed off all that time after the freak fall snowstorm in Connecticut.

Before Chief Ackley had Mayor Finizio in office, blaming and firing people on her behalf, she filed complaints on her own. The first was back before she was chief, when she filed a formal complaint against her fellow police officers, saying she was being harassed and was a victim of gender discrimination.

An expensive Hartford labor lawyer hired by the city found no justification for the Ackley complaints, after a lengthy investigation in which he interviewed 13 members in the department, including all the women.

The last big complaint Ackley filed was the bombshell she threw at former City Councilor Michael Buscetto, Finizio's principal opponent in the election for mayor, claiming he had harassed her and interfered with her running of the department. More blame.

A former Superior Court judge who investigated found no basis for the lawsuit Chief Ackley was threatening. That complaint by Ackley against Buscetto only began to leak out publicly after a closed-door City Council meeting Aug. 10, one in which we now know the council learned for the first time what the chief was alleging.

The law director said publicly that night that there was a secret agreement between Ackley and the former city manager with a confidentiality agreement between the two.

It turns out, though, I learned recently, then-candidate Finizio already may have been aware of the chief's plans to accuse Buscetto and threaten to retire.

"I spoke to the chief today and urged her to wait four more weeks," Finizio wrote in an email Aug. 10 to city gadfly Kathleen Mitchell, the very same day Ackley was preparing to meet with the City Council in secret session that night and drop her bomb.

"I am on the primary ballot and my door to door has convinced me Mike may be in for a big big BIG surprise.

"I hope the chief will stay on and I think she will after the conversation I had with her. It's time to turn up the heat on Mike. Let's toss this stinking bully."

Mayor Finizio, at least, appears to have had a heads-up before most people in the city that Chief Ackley was planning to lay some big-time blame on Finizio's opponent for mayor that night.

So much for confidentiality agreements.

I wonder what else they talked about.

This is the opinion of David Collins


Special report: New London Police Department in Turmoil


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