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    Tuesday, July 16, 2024

    Arrested three times, East Lyme police chief to get $8,675 raise

    East Lyme ― Police Chief Michael Finkelstein, who is on paid leave after being arrested three times, is set to receive a $8,675 raise beginning Monday.

    The 5.25% salary increase is based on the terms of his contract, which does not expire for two years. He is due for another unspecified raise in July of 2025.

    The contract, approved in 2021, came at a time when performance evaluations show that Finkelstein was regarded as an exemplary leader for the young, independent police department formed in 2017. Now he is facing multiple domestic violence charges following a state police investigation.

    Finkelstein, with the criminal charges pending and an internal affairs investigation looming, will be making a total of $173,792 beginning Monday. That number includes his $150,013 salary as chief and the $23,792 stipend he receives as the town’s emergency management director.

    Acting Chief Mike Macek, a lieutenant who was making $101,067 when he was appointed June 5 to lead the department in Finkelstein’s absence, will also make the full $150,013 chief’s salary once he’s been in the position for 30 days.

    Acting Emergency Management Director Julie Wilson is receiving an additional stipend of $250 per week, according to Finance Director Kevin Gervais.

    First Selectman Dan Cunningham on Thursday confirmed Finkelstein will get his raise next week.

    The town is spending $2,754 per month to rent Finkelstein a Volvo XC-60, a luxury SUV, to replace the police SUV the town made him turn in when he was placed on leave. The town is also paying $44 a month for the work phone it let him take.

    Cunningham said Finkelstein will continue to receive his pay and benefits as required by his contract until the Board of Police Commissioners decides what to do about his employment status.

    Acting police commission Chairman Dan Price said his members won’t be deciding anything until the criminal case has been resolved and an internal affairs investigation has been completed.

    Finkelstein has applied for the family violence diversion program which, if he abides by the court orders that include participation in family violence education classes, will allow all of the charges against him to eventually be dismissed. He is due to appear again in court in Middletown on July 29.

    Contract lays out reasons for firing

    According to Finkelstein’s contract and state law, he can be fired only after the commission outlines specific, justifiable reasons for his dismissal in writing and provides the opportunity for a public hearing within five to 10 days. He would then have 30 days to appeal the decision in civil court.

    One relevant justification for termination outlined in the contract involves “any willful, material violation by Finkelstein of any law or regulation.” The contract also specifies conviction of a felony as a reason for removal.

    A final provision calls out any willful wrongdoing that’s “materially injurious to the financial condition or reputation” of the town.

    Charges pending against Finkelstein include disorderly conduct and second-degree breach of peace for an incident earlier this month that allegedly left his wife with blood on her face and a bruise on her chest. The affidavit for the arrest warrant described a struggle over the work cell phone that his wife believed he had been using to inappropriately text a coworker with whom she alleged he’d had a previous affair.

    That arrest led to additional charges for violating a protective order, which is a felony, and making a false statement after he allegedly failed to turn in all his guns as directed by the court. The initial arrest also led to a renewed probe by state police into a 2023 incident that was initially investigated by local police with no action taken.

    Separate from the criminal charges brought by state police Major Crimes detectives, the police commission has asked the state police Internal Affairs Unit to launch an investigation into whether proper procedures were followed within the department.

    The commission’s request must be approved by state police commanding officer Col. Daniel Loughman and is subject to a formal agreement between the town and the state, according to a state police spokesman.

    The results of the state investigation will be submitted to the commission, which will be responsible for taking any further action.

    Price said it is “way too soon” to talk about whether or not the commission will consider releasing the chief using the “just cause“ provision of the contract.

    “We’re just letting the process unfold,” he said.

    Price’s caution reflected the message conveyed by Cunningham when the first selectman acknowledged concerns from taxpayers about the costs of paying Finkelstein to do nothing for an indefinite period.

    “My duty is to protect the town, not only to keep them safe physically but also safe financially,” he said. “And I always look from a point of view of potential litigation and the exposure that would subject the town to. My inclination is to be very cautious in those areas.”

    Finkelstein’s attorney, John Nazzaro, told a judge at the beginning of the week that Finkelstein would immediately start out-of-state, in-patient treatment for “stress and alcohol management,” expected to last 21 days.

    Nazzaro on Wednesday said Finkelstein is focused on his recovery and it would be premature to attempt to remove him as chief.

    “The town ought to permit him to avail himself to counseling and remedies,” he said. “It would not be a good situation if they took administrative action against him while he’s in the hospital.”

    To do so would expose the town to “serious liability,” according to the defense attorney.

    “We have due process, we have employee assistance and we’re hopeful they will permit the process to move forward,” he said. “Administrative action against him would be met with an appropriate response.”

    Cunningham, a lawyer himself, said protecting the town from litigation means proceeding methodically with all available information.

    “We’re going to let the process complete itself and then we will draw the appropriate conclusions and it will be up to the police commission to make decisions at that point,” Cunningham said. “Decisions relative to the status of Mike Finkelstein.”

    Day Staff Writer Greg Smith contributed to this story


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