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White New London police officer files reverse discrimination complaint

New London — A white New London police lieutenant has filed a discrimination complaint against the city and police department, claiming he has been passed over for promotion, reassigned and had his reputation damaged even as the city protected a Black officer with claims of discrimination at the department.

Police Lt. Robert Pickett, who has worked at the department since 1994, filed the July 30 complaint with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. He claims that during his tenure at the department, more specifically over the past two years, he was subjected to “adverse employment actions as the result of my race and in retaliation for participating in protected activity.”

The complaint appears to be a direct response to allegations made against him by police Sgt. Cornelius Rodgers, a Black officer who has argued he has been the target of discrimination and retaliation at the department and who has a pending federal civil rights lawsuit against the city. Rodgers names Pickett in his lawsuit and in complaints to the city.

Pickett said in the complaint that he has been targeted because of the city's fear over Rodgers' pending claims and "the influence of outside third parties focused on and raising issues concerning racial issues within the police department." He mentions scrutiny of the department by the NAACP, which was involved in Rodgers' case.

Pickett performed a use-of-force investigation that determined Rodgers was in violation of department policy when in 2019 Rodgers punched a handcuffed prisoner. Rodgers ultimately was suspended for 20 days for that incident, but feared he would be fired based on his disciplinary history, according to his lawsuit. Rodgers argues that discipline against him was part of a pattern of discrimination he has faced for years.

“Rodgers has been vocal that he believes all complaints against him and his disciplinary history are related to his race,” Pickett said in his complaint. “He has made numerous unfounded allegations of discrimination against fellow officers and the Respondents. The Respondents’ decisions to not terminate or more severely discipline him have been based on his race and his threats to bring discrimination actions against the Respondents were they to take more significant actions against him.”

Pickett claims he was passed over for promotion to captain. In May, Pickett was assigned by former police Chief Peter Reichard as detective lieutenant to conduct background investigations of new applicants. After Reichard retired under a cloud of controversy, then acting Chief Brian “Wright’s first order of business in his new position was to reassign me back to the midnight shift.”

“I was never given an explanation and the acting chief never discussed with me the reason for his abrupt reassignment,” Pickett said in the complaint.

Pickett is ranked first in the captain’s promotion list but said in the complaint, “I was informed that (Chief Administrative Officer Steve Fields) has communicated to the recently retired police union president (Todd Lynch) that they will not promote me because the NAACP will have an issue with it.”

Pickett said he also has expressed concerns dating back to 2019 that Rodgers' actions were becoming increasingly accusatorial and aggressive as the result of his internal investigation. He said he also has been the subject of name-calling by Rodgers, who he said, “on multiple occasions spit on the ground when he walks past or in my direction.”

Pickett alleges the department turned a blind eye to civilian complaints and accusations against Rodgers and purportedly overlooked a witness with information about vandalism to Rodgers' vehicle. Pickett also claims he reported to police administration an allegation from the victim in the use-of-force case that Rodgers called women “dirty” and would have them perform sexual acts for them to stay out of jail.

Pickett and his attorney, Theodore Heiser, declined to comment Friday.

Jacques Parenteau, who represents Rodgers, said Pickett’s statement, under oath, “confirms that the New London Police Department made decisions concerning Sgt. Rodgers based on his race.”

“Indeed, Lt. Pickett’s complaint constitutes further evidence of his race-based bias against Sgt. Rodgers,” Parenteau said. “Lt. Pickett not only levels false attacks against Sgt. Rodgers, but outrageously, he relies on discredited racist stereotypes regarding Black men in order to do so.”

Parenteau points out that Pickett is among other officers named in a different CHRO complaint filed last year by a female officer who claimed discrimination based on her gender.

“He should stop blaming Sgt. Rodgers in an attempt to avoid accountability for his own actions,” Parenteau said. “At the end of the day, this complaint reflects a desperate attempt to maintain white privilege as the status quo in the New London Police Department. Happily, a change in the culture of that department is beginning as a result of the appointment and leadership of Chief Brian Wright.”

City officials, through city attorney Jeffrey Londregan, declined to comment.

g.smith@theday.com

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