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New London officer's lawsuit against police Chief Ackley moves forward

A federal judge has issued a mixed ruling in a pending civil lawsuit filed by New London Police Officer Todd Lynch against suspended Police Chief Margaret Ackley.

Judge Michael P. Shea granted two and denied two of the requests for pretrial judgments from an attorney representing the city and Ackley. Lynch's attorney, Christine Synodi, called the 55-page ruling an overall win for Lynch because his central claim of retaliation by Ackley for his criticism of her remains part of the suit. Shea denied summary judgment on the claim of "First Amendment retaliation based on speech and association."

Lynch claims in his suit that Ackley retaliated and disciplined him for such things as suggesting the union take a no-confidence vote in 2010 and later publishing an open letter in The Day that the department was in a "managerial crisis" with Ackley at the helm.

Lynch claims Ackley changed his schedule, suspended his patrol dog and for a time required him to download his in-car camera after every shift, among other actions.

In his ruling, the judge denied Ackley's claim of "qualified immunity," which would have shielded her from personal liability because of her position. "Qualified immunity insulates government officials from personal liability when they perform discretionary duties," according to the ruling.

The attorney representing the city and Ackley, Michael Rose of the Hartford firm Rose Kallor, said he plans an immediate appeal to the Second District Court of Appeals. Rose said the court committed an error in the ruling on qualified immunity.

Judge Shea granted two summary judgment requests in favor of Ackley and the city, excluding the city from liability and rejecting the defamation claims against Ackley.

The defamation claims centered on emails Ackley shared with resident Kathleen Mitchell, urging her to look into Lynch's personnel file to find complaints about him or costs of the lawsuits involving people bitten by his patrol dog. The judge ruled that in some cases, Ackley was stating her "constitutionally protected opinions," and in others was citing fact - such as the statement that Lynch had 12 citizen complaints against him, more than any other officer at the time.

Lynch's lawsuit, filed in 2012, asks for more than $15,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. Synodi said the suit was never about the money, but rather, "part of his name clearing."

"All a jury can do is award money," Synodi said. "It seems it's always about money, but I think this is a great example of when it's not about the money."

Rose contends the case has no merit.

"The bottom line is (Lynch) never suffered a day of lost pay. He was not demoted, fired or suspended - had no adverse employment action. There is absolutely nothing to this case," Rose said. "It's ironic he brought a First Amendment lawsuit claiming his boss said unkind things about him."

Whether or not the case will make it to trial remains unknown.

Ackley has since been suspended with pay while the city investigates a host of allegations that include claims she tried to undermine contract negotiations with the police union, deliberately increased overtime spending and selectively targeted union leaders for discipline, among others.

g.smith@theday.com

Twitter: @SmittyDay

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