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Confronted with secretly recorded audio, Reichard resigned as police chief

New London — At a May 26 meeting, Mayor Michael Passero confronted former Police Chief Peter Reichard with the transcript of secretly recorded audio in which Reichard can be heard making disparaging comments about the city and remarking on how, during his career, he has been passed over for promotions in favor of minority candidates.

Reichard chose to retire that day, Passero said Wednesday.

The meeting included Chief Administrative Officer Steve Fields and came on the same day Passero said he heard the recording and verified the accuracy of the transcript. The recording purportedly was made by a New London police officer.

Passero and others who have heard the recording, four of whom have talked to The Day, say Reichard makes disparaging remarks about the city and comments about being passed over for promotions during his career because he is white.

“Let me tell you something. I’m sick of New London, too, and I’ve only been here nine years,” Reichard says, according to a partial transcript of the recording provided to The Day. “The politics in this (expletive) little city are worse than anywhere I’ve ever seen.”

In another conversation, Reichard talks about promotions.

“I’ve been passed over and was better qualified than people and the only reason I got passed over was because I was white,” Reichard says in the recording. “Twice I got passed over for sergeant because I was white, until they got to a point that they had no choice. They promoted all the minority officers until they got to the three white guys at the top.”

Passero said Reichard read through the transcript and offered his retirement.

“What I heard is inappropriate comments that I think were embarrassing to the chief and … it was disappointing,” Passero said. “Once he retired, there was no further action necessary by the city.”

Passero said he does not have a copy of the audio recording. The city did not release any audio in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Day. The Day’s request had included any materials related to Reichard’s contract. The city’s response was to provide a copy of a 2017 contract.

“This is the only document that the City has in response to your request and/or not a privileged communication,” city attorney Jeffrey Londregan wrote.

Contacted Wednesday, Reichard declined to comment.

New London NAACP President Jean Jordan and Vice President Tamara Lanier both heard the audio from the person who recorded it and brought it to city administration and to the attention of several city councilors.

Reichard is a former assistant chief at the New Haven Police Department who was hired as deputy chief in New London in 2012 and named chief in 2017. He retired from the New Haven department in 2010 and, according to press reports, was asked "to turn in his gun, badge, and keys" when he left after questions arose about his managerial style and standards.

Reichard's retirement in New London came prior to the expiration of his contract on Wednesday.

Lanier said she was disappointed by the "racial overtones" of Reichard’s comments regarding promotions particularly since they seemed to be unprovoked.

“But most damning were the attacks against the city of New London,” she said.

During his nine years in the city, Lanier said residents have for the most part embraced Reichard.

“Where the vitriol comes from, I don’t know,” Lanier said.

Even if everything Reichard said was played for the public, Lanier said she thinks it would be his comments disparaging the city that would elicit the most dismay.

“It’s pretty harsh. It was hurtful," she said. "How do you unring that bell? It was unprovoked. It was unnecessary and it was uncalled for.”

Lanier said she has tried and failed to obtain a copy of the audio. Lanier and Jordan said the partial transcript of the conversation, provided to The Day, comes from the person who made the recording and matches the audio though they could not tell whether it is a verbatim transcription.

The Day has made repeated attempts to obtain a copy of the audio.

New London Police Sgt. Cornelius Rodgers also heard the audio and said it was recorded by a fellow police officer who is now being shunned by his peers at the department.

Rodgers has a pending federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and has claimed he was the target of unfair punishment and retaliation because of his race. Rodgers, who is Black, names Reichard in the suit.

Rodgers spoke publicly about the audio recording this week in an interview on a web-based program called “Moses' People Speak.” The topic of the discussion was “Getting Dirtied Up,” which is the practice of bringing disciplinary action against an officer prior to a promotion to justify the officer's being passed over.

Rodgers, after hearing the audio, said he thought the comments about being passed over for promotions showed Reichard’s bias against minorities. He also accused Passero of providing Reichard what he called a “soft landing,” allowing him to retire with accolades but without providing transparency.

“The narrative is (Reichard) left on his own terms is a false narrative,” Rodgers said.

Councilor Curtis Goodwin said he was made aware of the existence of the audio recording but has yet to hear the recording. He said has made requests for a copy from the city administration and has read the transcript.

Goodwin called Reichard’s comments “extremely unsettling.”

“For your chief of police to have any disparaging comments about the city brings into question how long have they been in place,” Goodwin said. “It makes you wonder what’s happening behind the scenes. I also wonder if there are other tapes out there.”

Rumors have circulated about audio or video recordings involving other officers.

Goodwin said in an effort to provide transparency to the public, he has requested copies of the audio from the city. He expects ongoing dialogue.

“How does this not warrant a greater conversation?” Goodwin said. “This is the exact thing we’re battling nationwide. It’s hard for me as a Black city councilor and citizen not to have questions. We can’t heal if we’re not transparent and not held accountable.”

Goodwin said one of his concerns is that the former chief harbored an unconscious or conscious bias and, if so, whether it impacted hiring or promotional practices.

He said Reichard’s comments seem to imply minority officers were promoted over white officers because they were minorities and not because of merit. Such remarks set off red flags and could generate distrust in the department, he said.

Word of the audio has been circulating on social media for the last several weeks.

Several people came to last week’s City Council meeting to demand answers. Kris Wraight and Habibah Abdul Hakeem, former members of the Police Community Relations Committee, spoke to the council.

Abdul Hakeem demanded the city release the recordings and/or videos. Wraight said “you owe us answers. This is not the way to build trust.” Frida Berrigan said the audio “should serve as a catalyst for an investigation of the police department … and an opportunity for introspection.”

“Should the evidence be substantiated, it requires action by the City Council,” Berrigan said.

Resident Michael Sousa said, “It’s not rocket science. Who retires on a Wednesday? What department head does not give notice?”

Goodwin and council President Efrain Dominguez said they know of no councilors who have heard the recording or have access to the recording.

Jordan, president of the NAACP, said as disappointing as the recording of Reichard is, she did not want the issue to cast a cloud over the upcoming promotion ceremony for incoming Police Chief Brian Wright.

“On July 1, we have a new chief. We need to move forward and embrace this historic moment,” Jordan said.

Wright is the first Black chief in the city’s history.

“To be able to celebrate a historic achievement, I don’t want to have a stain on that,” Jordan said.

Goodwin agreed and said he has gathered from his conversation with Wright that “he has ideas on how to move the department forward, bridge the divides, become more community oriented."

"It is exciting,” Goodwin said.

g.smith@theday.com

Portion of transcript from recording of former police Chief Peter Reichard

“I don’t know what to tell people but city hall and union politics run the department.”

“There were meetings at city prior to the test results coming out. Attorneys were involved.”

“I’ve been passed over and was better qualified than people and the only reason I got passed over was because I was white. Twice I got passed over for sergeant because I was white, until they got to a point that they had no choice. They promoted all the minority officers until they got to the three white guys at the top.”

“Mayor doesn’t give a flying (expletive) about the police department, cause we aren’t the fire department.”

“People have been promoted over the years in multiple agencies that they promoted them to get rid of them and they weren’t in the mainstream. New London doesn’t have that ability because it is small. If it did there would be a bunch of people promoted to paper clip positions to get rid of them, but the work force is too small.”

“I hate politics and I'm not a politician and I take direction from other places. I’m for you are collateral damage of this.”

“Let me tell you something. I’m sick of New London too, and I’ve only been here 9 years. The politics in this (expletive) little city are worse than anywhere I’ve ever seen.”

“I’m in a position I don’t know how to motivate people anymore. I don’t know how. There are days I’m not motivated to come to work.”

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