Attorney seeks disclosure of personal phone records and 'secret app' used by New London police

Bennie Gray stands at Manchester Community College in this Sept. 9, 2016, file photo taken while he was still living in a halfway house prior to his parole. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Bennie Gray stands at Manchester Community College in this Sept. 9, 2016, file photo taken while he was still living in a halfway house prior to his parole. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

New London — Bennie Gray Jr., who is facing his second drug-dealing charge since he was paroled last year following an 18-year manslaughter sentence, wants to see the personal cell phone records of four city cops who arrested him in May.

Gray, 39, was set to go on trial in Superior Court earlier this month for allegedly selling 0.8 grams of crack cocaine to 28-year-old Brian Drobnak.

But Judge Hunchu Kwak dismissed the jury and continued the case after Gray's attorney, William T. Koch Jr., subpoenaed records of the personal smart phones of four members of the New London Police Department's Vice & Narcotics Section.  

The officers say they use their own cellphones for sensitive operations because the flip phones issued by the police department, and the department's unencrypted digital radio communication system, aren't suitable for the confidential, real-time group communications.

The police objected to turning over their personal cellphone records to the defense, and Judge Kwak said he would be scheduling a hearing at which the officers, Todd Lynch, Jeremy Zelinski, Joseph Pelchat and Ryan Griffin, and their union representatives could challenge the surrendering of their cellphone records.

Koch has also requested that the officers disclose the name of the "secret" application they say they used to communicate that day, so he can investigate their claim that their phones would contain no record of the calls they say they made as they conducted surveillance on cars driven by Gray and Drobnak.

Koch said the police can't use their personal cellphones to affect people's constitutional rights, and then say there's no date stamp or time stamp to show that the calls were made. He said he filed a motion to dismiss the case on Friday, since the state had not produced the records he subpoenaed.

Assistant State's Attorney Sarah W. Bowman, who is prosecuting Gray, declined to comment, as did New London Police Capt. Brian Wright. The city's attorney, Jeffrey T. Londregan, did not return a phone call seeking comment. Several people familiar with the case said the issue has prompted area police departments to review their policies regarding department-issued and personal electronic devices.

Meanwhile, Gray is back in prison, where he has spent the majority of his adult life.

A native of New London, he had returned to the area after serving 18 years of a 23-year prison sentence for the November 1997 shooting death of DeJohn Strong. He was granted supervised parole on June 7, 2017.

He was living with a relative in Groton when he was arrested by Groton Town Police and members of the Regional Community Enhancement Task Force in September 2017 and charged with selling heroin and crack cocaine after police received information from an informant who told them he also had seen Gray carrying a gun in his waistband.

He launched a vigorous defense in that case, too. His then defense attorney, Gordon Videll, said the state decided to drop the charges during jury selection because they didn't want to disclose the name of the informant.

k.florin@theday.com

Editor's Note: The photo caption has been updated to explain the timing of the photo in relation to Gray's parole date.

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