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    Tuesday, February 27, 2024

    Troopers aren’t so racist; and integrity arrives late

    Connecticut's state police department turns out not to have been a big racist conspiracy after all, according to an investigation of the "fake ticket" scandal that was ordered by Governor Ned Lamont and conducted by former U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly and her law firm.

    According to the investigation, whose report was published last week, most of the traffic-ticket data inaccuracies disclosed by an audit last June resulted from carelessness, equipment malfunctions or inadequate training, and there is no evidence that any troopers intended to do what the audit suspected: underreport the number of minority motorists they were stopping.

    So the audit's implication that hundreds of troopers may have been targeting minority motorists has been repudiated.

    But in 2018, five years before the "fake ticket" audit, three troopers, now retired, were found to have been creating fake tickets — not to underreport minority stops but to make themselves seem more productive — and the recent investigation found that the conduct of as many as 15 current troopers remains questionable and requires more review.

    Additionally, 14 troopers escaped full review because they retired prior to the investigation and couldn't be compelled to cooperate.

    Perhaps most important, the investigation also found that the two top managers of the state police at the time of the ticket audit, whom the governor nudged into retiring last year, were indifferent to possible misconduct in their ranks. Indeed, discipline in the state police long has been weak, as it long has been in most other state agencies.

    The state police have been required to record racial data in traffic stops because of widespread suspicion that many motorists are pulled over because of racism — stopped for “driving while Black.” Of course few motorists ever feel that they have been stopped fairly, even when they know they were speeding, since many other drivers around them were speeding too without getting stopped. But suspicion of racism in traffic stops is probably more justified with municipal police in suburbs and rural towns with few minority residents.

    While racism endures, accusations of racism in police work are too easy to make, because, like poverty, crime and traffic violations are racially disproportionate. The growing use of police dashboard and body cameras probably will reduce racism in police work even as crime and traffic violations will remain racially disproportionate. Indeed, the greater danger with traffic stops now is not racism but the increasing reluctance of police officers to risk making them at all.

    * * *

    The new Conviction Integrity Unit in Connecticut's chief state's attorney's office achieved its first victory last week: the reversal of the conviction of George Gould for the gunshot murder of a grocer in his store in New Haven in 1993.

    Gould's case has been bouncing around in the courts ever since because his conviction was based entirely on the eyewitness testimony of a drug-addicted prostitute who claimed to have seen Gould and another man go into the store moments before the murder.

    The supposed eyewitness didn't know the men but identified them from photos shown to her during police interrogation. The only other evidence against the men was that they were in the neighborhood at the time of the murder — no fingerprints, no murder weapon, no DNA, nothing nothing.

    But a jury convicted the men anyway. Whereupon the supposed eyewitness recanted her accusation, reinstated it, and recanted it again, while accusing both the police and the defense of bribing her.

    A judge overturned Gould's conviction. The state Supreme Court reinstated it and ordered more proceedings. The second convicted man died. The Conviction Integrity Unit's review of the case finally persuaded even the prosecution to support reversing the conviction. After nearly three decades in prison, Gould is free and may have millions of dollars coming to him as compensation from state government.

    At a distance of 30 years, exacting accountability from the prosecution, defense and jury responsible for this atrocity is impossible. They all failed, inviting wonder if juries today have proper appreciation for reasonable doubt.

    Chris Powell has written about Connecticut government and politics for many years. He can be reached at CPowell@cox.net.

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