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    Monday, July 15, 2024

    Questions raised about police handling of domestic incident involving East Lyme chief

    East Lyme ― A move by state police to “re-investigate” a year-old domestic violence allegation against Chief of Police Michael Finkelstein, which was initially investigated by local police without charges, has raised questions about how claims against the town’s top cop were handled.

    Finkelstein on Monday stood in handcuffs at Middletown Superior Court to answer for the new charges by state police. He was there for a scheduled appearance for a previous arrest related to an alleged domestic violence incident this month that left his wife with a bloody nose and bruised chest.

    The new charges lodged against Finkelstein included disorderly conduct after state police took another look at body camera footage recorded when an unnamed East Lyme police officer and unnamed sergeant responded to a 911 call made June 18, 2023, by Finkelstein’s wife from their home.

    State police in the affidavit for the arrest warrant said the local officer spoke separately to Finkelstein before advising the chief’s wife that her husband was going to leave for the night.

    “The East Lyme police officer then starts to tell the victim that if she wanted to make a complaint, she should do it another way,” the affidavit said.

    The officer advised her to contact Connecticut State Police because “it would be a severe conflict of interest” for a subordinate to investigate the chief, according to the affidavit. The officer provided her with the number of the Troop E barracks in Montville.

    There is no reference in the affidavit to what occurred after that. It was one year and another set of allegations later that state police were asked by the court to re-investigate the 2023 incident.

    Affidavits for the year-old allegations and this month's allegations both show Finkelstein’s wife changed her statement in follow-up interviews to say the situations were misconstrued.

    In the final paragraph of the affidavit before state police announced probable cause for an arrest in connection with the 2023 incident, they said they pressed the chief’s wife on whether she normally tells the truth when she calls 911.

    “The victim admitted that she does tell the truth when she calls 911 and she did tell the responding officers the truth,” the affidavit said.

    Finkelstein was also charged Monday with making a false statement and violation of a protective order for not turning over all of his guns following his June 5 arrest.

    Town never told about 2023 incident

    First Selectman Dan Cunningham on Monday said he wasn’t informed of the June 5 arrest by Finkelstein, who came to work as usual despite having been served with the arrest warrant hours earlier. The two men spent most of the morning in the same room as part of an annual emergency management drill.

    Cunningham said he first heard about the arrest when he received a phone call from the Office of the State’s Attorney in New London late in the morning.

    Board of Police Commissioners Chairman Dan Price on Monday said Cunningham was the one to inform him.

    Former First Selectman Kevin Seery on Monday said he was never made aware of the 2023 allegations made against Finkelstein. Seery’s term ended in December.

    Cunningham and Price both said they were unaware of the 2023 incidents until recently.

    The three men said they had never seen Finkelstein acting angry or out of control.

    In a 2022 performance review, the commission lauded Finkelstein’s integrity as well as his communication, planning and execution skills. They said the chief brought the local force up to a level of professionalism that was lacking prior to his arrival.

    The police department, which was formerly under the direction of state police, went independent in 2017 with Finkelstein as its first chief.

    “He was instrumental in the creation of two lieutenant positions, which have blended seamlessly in the department, and now give him the administrative back up that he needed,” the commission wrote.

    Lt. Mike Macek and Lt. Dana Jezierski were both promoted to lieutenant in late 2020. Macek is currently serving as acting chief.

    Full salary, free gas and a rental car

    According to numbers provided by the town’s finance department, Finkelstein during his paid leave is receiving paychecks based on a $142,530 chief’s salary and a $22,600 stipend as emergency management director.

    The town is on the hook for $2,754 per month for an Enterprise Rental vehicle to replace the police SUV the town made him turn in, according to Finance Director Kevin Gervais. Finkelstein also remains eligible to fill the car with gas at the town’s fuel depot based on the employment contract he negotiated with the town in 2021

    Macek, once he is in his position for 30 days, is eligible to start receiving the same amount as the chief. Acting Emergency Management Director Julie Wilson receives an additional stipend of $250 per week.

    Both the first selectman and police commission chairman praised Macek’s interim leadership.

    “I think having a functioning chain of command that the other police officers recognize and respect is the most important thing we can do to restore confidence in our police department,” Cunningham said.

    Price said the town’s request for state police to conduct an internal affairs investigation into how the multiple allegations were handled is pending.

    Finkelstein has not yet been asked to turn in his work-issued cell phone, which has played a central role in the domestic violence allegations against him.

    Price said the phone does not give Finkelstein any access to privileged police communications or systems.

    “At this point, it’s just a simple cell phone,” he said.

    In light of the second round of charges, Cunningham doubled down on the importance of an internal investigation to determine if proper procedures were followed.

    “It shows all the more importance of an internal affairs investigation for both incidents, so we can find out just what did and what did not happen,” he said. “We need to know. The police commission needs to know and I want to know.”

    e.regan@theday.com

    Editor’s note: This version corrects one of the new charges lodged against Police Chief Michael Finkelstein.

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