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    Wednesday, May 22, 2024

    4 Conn. state troopers who faked traffic tickets won't face state charges, officials say

    Four troopers who falsified traffic tickets in 2018 won't face state criminal charges because the Connecticut State Police did not notify prosecutors in time, officials say.

    "There was no referral to the local state's attorney for review of the conduct in question in 2018, and as a result, the statute of limitations for state charges to be filed has passed," Alaine Griffin, a spokesperson for Chief State's Attorney Patrick J. Griffin, said in a recent email to CT Insider.

    Alaine Griffin did not answer questions about what criminal statute prosecutors thought may have applied to the cases or when the statute of limitations on those charges ran out.

    In Connecticut, most felony charges — including statutes relevant to ticket fraud, such as forgery and computer crimes — must be brought within five years after the alleged offense occurred. Misdemeanor charges have even shorter statute of limitations, usually about one year.

    Stanley A. Twardy Jr., the former U.S. attorney for Connecticut, said he's not surprised the state wasn't able to bring charges before the statute of limitations ran out.

    "You can't just bring charges and then hope to prove it afterwards," he said. "That would be unethical of a prosecutor to do that."

    Cameron Atkinson, a criminal defense attorney and civil litigator who practices in federal and state court, also said he wasn't surprised Griffin ran out of time to prosecute the case.

    "Time has not been his friend, both in the statute of limitations and in the merits of any case he would have tried to bring," Atkinson said.

    An investigation by the state police's Internal Affairs Unit sustained allegations that the four troopers had collectively logged hundreds of "ghost" traffic tickets in 2018. The public did not know about the cases until CT Insider published an investigation about them in August 2022.

    Patrick Griffin opened a criminal investigation days after the news broke, saying he had only learned about the four troopers recently.

    At the time, Griffin's office said in a statement the investigation would "include a thorough, vigorous and timely review of all evidence associated with the allegations to determine whether criminal activity occurred."

    But state prosecutors went silent about their investigation for months, even after an audit in June found a "high likelihood" that hundreds of troopers may have entered thousands of potentially false or inaccurate traffic tickets into a state database from 2014 through 2021.

    Griffin's office declined to comment when CT Insider asked about the statute of limitations for the four original troopers in July, nearly a year after it opened its investigation into the four troopers. By that time, federal authorities had taken charge of the investigation into possible trooper ticket fraud, Griffin later announced. The Department of Justice has since opened an ongoing criminal grand jury probe into the scandal.

    Last month, Griffin said, for the first time publicly, that his office ran out of time to bring state charges against the four troopers who faked citations in 2018. He made the disclosure during testimony before the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee on a bill that would require police departments to notify state prosecutors when they suspect an officer may have broken the law.

    "What we learned during the course of the state police investigation, for example, is in 2018 there was no referral to the local state's attorneys for review. And as a result of that, without going into great detail, statutes of limitations were lost," Griffin told state Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, in response to a question.

    The bill, proposed by Gov. Ned Lamont, came after investigations by former U.S. Attorney Deirdre M. Daly found "serious failures" by the state police — including a failure to refer the four troopers to state prosecutors "despite the fact that the troopers' more immediate supervisors recognized that the conduct implicated certain state criminal statutes."

    Supervisors wrote in internal documents the four troopers' conduct may have amounted to felony crimes.

    Daly found most of the troopers flagged for discrepancies by the June audit likely did not intentionally falsify traffic tickets. But six troopers and one constable were referred for investigation by internal affairs, her report said, while five to eight troopers came under lower-level internal reviews.

    Alaine Griffin, the spokesperson for the chief state's attorney, said state prosecutors are "aware" of those ongoing investigations. A spokesperson for the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection confirmed that.

    "Representatives from the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection have met with the Office of the Chief State's Attorney regarding active internal affairs investigations stemming from the independent investigation led by former U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly," spokesperson Rick Green said in an email last month.

    In a statement this week, Green said: "We support Gov. Lamont's bill that would require police departments to refer investigations of alleged criminal law violations by officers to the Office of the Chief State's Attorney. At DESPP, Commissioner Ronnell Higgins has also already acted to require that the Chief State's Attorney be informed of any potential criminal violations by the Connecticut State Police."

    The police reform bill, which would also make it a crime for an officer to intentionally falsify an official record, passed the Judiciary Committee unanimously late last month, though it has faced some opposition. It awaits a vote by the full state House, after which it would need approval by the Senate and the governor's signature before it became law.

    It's not clear whether the ongoing federal investigation is focused on the four original troopers or a larger set of troopers flagged by the June audit, which looked at more recent ticket data, some of which experts said may still fall within the five-year statute of limitations for many federal felonies.

    It's also possible that federal authorities could bring conspiracy charges, according to Twardy — especially if they have evidence of a cover up. That would allow them to prosecute older crimes as long as the last act of the alleged conspiracy was within the five-year statute of limitations.

    "I don't know what's behind the scenes," Twardy said. "But I would not be shocked to see conspiracy charges brought."

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