Former New London police secretary under scrutiny amid city payouts
New London — Newly released documents show a former police secretary was under internal investigation when she filed two claims in 2015 that have cost the city more than $270,000 to date.
It’s a complex situation that dates to March 2015, when then-Deputy Chief Peter Reichard moved secretary Cynthia Olivero from the third to the second floor as part of a staff reorganization.
According to an internal affairs investigation ruled public this August, police found several files in Olivero’s desk that should not have been there. The ensuing investigation accused Olivero of general inefficiency, neglect of duty, untruthfulness, failing to follow Freedom of Information Act procedures and using department files for a purpose other than official business.
The department, then headed by Chief Margaret Ackley, did not discipline Olivero.
On May 18, 2015, five days after she was interviewed for the investigation, Olivero said she fell on the then-dilapidated stairs at the rear of the police department and filed a corresponding worker’s compensation claim. Olivero said she sustained a large bump on her head and severe lower back pain in the fall. According to city Risk Manager Paul Gills, the city has spent about $203,150 on related medical, disability, legal and general expenses so far. Because Olivero’s medical treatment is ongoing, Gills said, the $203,150 “is not by any means” the end of the cost to taxpayers.
Olivero additionally filed a complaint with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, or CHRO, on June 11, 2015. The lengthy complaint alleges that police maliciously failed to accommodate her multiple sclerosis when they moved her to the second floor.
Olivero said she spoke to Capt. Todd Bergeson, Capt. Brian Wright and city personnel about how the new location wouldn't work for her because of her need to be close to an unobstructed bathroom and away from a chaotic environment. On the third floor, she had access to a private women's restroom. On the second floor, she had only the public lobby restroom, which is locked at all times.
The city officials named in the case “strongly” denied Olivero’s claims but opted to settle to avoid “the uncertainty, expense and burden of proceedings.” Olivero received $54,000 in the settlement. The city additionally spent about $15,500 in legal costs.
Olivero, who is married to retired police Officer Jose Olivero, was transferred out of the city police department in October at her request. She now works for the city-operated Senior Citizens Center.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Olivero said she would rather not dredge up the past by commenting on the investigation or her CHRO complaint. She said what she went through during her time with the police department was “nothing short of traumatizing.”
“I want to move forward,” Olivero said. “I’m happy where I am.”
The internal investigation
In August 2016, five months after the settlement was finalized, the city police union filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents in the investigation into Olivero. Police administrators denied the request, saying Olivero had objected to the disclosure of the record.
The union took the case to the state Freedom of Information Commission, which on Aug. 9 this year ordered police to comply with the union’s request.
Conducted by Bergeson, the 135-page investigation details the 15 files found in Olivero’s desk. It also includes information about an audit of her computer, interview transcripts and relevant department policies.
Per Bergeson’s review, 11 of the files likely ended up in Olivero’s desk after the cleanup of former Deputy Chief Marshall Segar’s office or with permission from Ackley. He found Olivero generally had been inefficient in each of those cases because she failed to re-file the documents in a timely manner.
Bergeson took more of an issue with the other four files in Olivero’s desk, as well as the results of the audit. Below is a brief synopsis of his investigation into each.
The first file Bergeson flagged contained details about the discipline Jose Olivero faced while employed with the city. Jose Olivero had requested the document in January 2014.
Cynthia Olivero told Bergeson she had the file because she had filled a portion of her husband’s request. Bergeson noted in his investigation that 15 months had elapsed since the request. Bergeson additionally noted that Olivero, unlike with past requests, didn’t create an electronic file of or document what she had released to her husband. She also didn’t charge her husband for the documents he received, according to the investigation.
“Because of Olivero's neglect of duty, the agency is unable to verify what documents were released,” Bergeson’s report states.
In that case, Olivero’s violations included untruthfulness, failure to follow Freedom of Information Act procedures and use of department files for a purpose other than official business.
The second questionable file, according to Bergeson, detailed disciplinary actions taken against former K-9 officer and union President Todd Lynch. The Day’s columnist David Collins had requested the information in 2013, but Olivero wasn’t authorized to retain it.
In his report, Bergeson noted that Olivero had named Lynch in an April 2014 complaint. He also said Olivero had “made disparaging remarks against Lynch and family members on her personal Facebook account” and had been internally investigated for that.
Olivero “retained said file for personal reasons not related to her official duties,” Bergeson concluded.
Thomas homicide case
According to the investigation, Olivero also had in her desk an original grand jury affidavit related to the 2006 murder of Todd Thomas. In her interview with Bergeson, Olivero repeatedly said she hadn’t seen the file.
In a separate conversation, Detective Richard Curcuro told Bergeson that Olivero was interested in the case because Thomas, prior to his death, was a suspect in the murder of Anthony Hamlin. Olivero at the time was dating one of Hamlin’s family members.
Olivero was not among the eight people authorized to view the criminal file and it wasn’t clear how she got it. Bergeson again found her to be using department files for a purpose other than official business.
Another document located in Olivero’s desk was an original supervisor’s complaint aimed at Officer Lorenzo Delacruz. Bergeson determined Olivero’s retention of the paperwork likely was an oversight. However, because the document sat dormant in her desk for eight months and wasn’t accessible to others during that time, she was found to be neglecting her duties. That’s a step above being “generally inefficient.”
Upon receipt of the internal investigation into Olivero, a police union executive board member scoured the document to determine which employees were affected by Olivero’s actions and in what fashion. The union has since filed a grievance against the city “for allowing officers to be harmed and taking no action,” Lynch said.
“They’re still responsible for the past chief’s actions,” Lynch said. “We’re willing to sit down with the city at any time to make this right.”
According to Chief Administrative Officer Steve Fields, the grievance was filed within the past couple of months. He described the grievance process as being in the “early stages” and said the city is seeking further information.
“We’re working to learn what violation or violations of union contract they’re talking about and then we’ll sit down with them,” he said. “But that’s all part of the usual process.”
Bergeson, meanwhile, is working with his personal attorney, Jason Burdick, to craft a lawsuit against the city as his employer. According to Burdick, Bergeson was investigated after he completed the investigation into Olivero. Burdick said the former police administration also retaliated against Bergeson financially.
“The general nature of (the pending litigation) is that he was retaliated against for doing his job — and we feel like doing his job well,” Burdick said. “I think that for too long in the city of New London there have been instances where people that do their jobs are not rewarded and people that don’t do their jobs are rewarded."
“We’re going to proceed and prosecute the case vigorously and see what we can do to help Capt. Bergeson out,” Burdick continued. “He’s had an outstanding career and has a stellar reputation and we’re going to protect that.”
Cynthia Olivero Internal Affairs Investigation (PDF)
Cynthia Olivero CHRO Complaint (PDF)
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