Saturday, March 03, 2007

Citizens abused because of the lack of Oversight and Accountability

There has been a lack of an ethical and effective Police Internal Affairs unit in Connecticut for a long time. Cases aren’t investigated, are fixed, and the public lacks law enforcement protection and service. The courts lack the same oversight and accountability to actually serve the people, so goes another “Black Hole” of injustice. Lawyers police themselves. This leads me to the thinking that if priests can’t police themselves on their own regarding pedophiles in their flock, self-policing doesn’t work.

Imagine if corporate raiders and the investment houses had no oversight except their own consciences, would we even have a country?


CONNECTICUT NEWS
Abandoned Police Cases Weren't A First
Files Show Bristol PD Had Same Flap 8 Years Earlier
March 3, 2007
By DON STACOM, Courant Staff Writer

BRISTOL -- It was a troubling discovery for police commanders: A detective's desk filled with files on partly finished investigations, a few dozen pieces of evidence randomly tossed in a drawer, and a pair of confessions signed more than six months earlier by suspects in two felonies.

The scenario is familiar to the Bristol Police Department, where in 2005 authorities found two dozen files on half-finished cases - some apparently abandoned for years - on the desk of Det. James Palmer.

But this discovery had been made eight years earlier, and it involved a different detective: James Zalot.

When the Palmer mess became public last November after a lengthy freedom of information fight by The Courant, Police Chief John DiVenere conceded the botched work was regrettable but called it "an aberration."

Documents recently obtained by The Courant, however, show that Palmer wasn't the first detective to let casework back up. The Zalot situation had developed under the watch of some of the same commanders in charge when Palmer's cases were getting backlogged. The documents also reveal that blame for the Palmer situation was more widespread than DiVenere had suggested.

The new revelations have law enforcement experts pointing to a lack of a strong, independent internal affairs department as contributing to the trouble.

When the city fired Zalot in October 1997 over an off-duty domestic dispute, police cleaned out his desk and found files locked inside a drawer.

There was a confession, signed months earlier, from the suspect in a Federal Hill house burglary, and another from a man admitting to stealing cars in Bristol and New Britain. There were files from 16 other unfinished investigations; photographs and documents needed to prosecute a man for attempted murder; and video games, cameras and watches - apparently recovered from burglaries - loose and unmarked in Zalot's desk. Later, police found a taped statement from a 4-year-old boy, the victim in a possible child molestation case, covered by dust on a VCR.

"The dilemma of finding confessions from suspects in current ongoing investigations inside Zalot's desk is totally unexplainable. The confessions appear to have been just thrown in the desk and never used for prosecution," reads the summary of internal affairs investigation 97-042, issued at the end of 1997.

The writer was Det. Lt. Thomas Killiany, commander of the detective division.

Twice in his report, Killiany acknowledged that he'd seen Zalot violate rules about handling files and evidence in the past. But Killiany, among the four highest-ranking officers in the department, never took disciplinary action. Zalot's career had been riddled with troubles, and his personnel file at city hall fills a 2-foot-long box, yet there's no sign Killiany gave him even a written warning about the sloppy filing.

In the internal affairs report, Killiany did not question whether supervisors should have kept tighter reins on Zalot or better track of felony investigations. And neither DiVenere nor the city's police commission pursued discipline against Killiany, who had been running the detective bureau for 10 years by the time Zalot's troubles surfaced.

Years later, the same pattern emerged in the Palmer case backlogs.

When Palmer was out for medical leave in early 2005, a newly promoted detective sergeant, Kevin Morrell, tried to retrieve case files from Palmer's notoriously messy desk. Morrell reported to Killiany that he was alarmed by what he found: Buried in drawers and under papers were files on years-old rape complaints, child abuse reports, house burglaries and an arson. Some had been ignored so long that the statute of limitations had run out.

`Comprehensive Failure Of Supervision'

When Capt. Daniel McIntyre investigated in the fall of 2005, he concluded that the trouble extended far beyond Palmer.

"No effective system of routinely inspecting case files was in place for at least several years," McIntyre wrote in an internal affairs report. "The primary factor mitigating the case against Det. Palmer is the comprehensive failure of supervision."

The internal affairs investigation expanded to cover Killiany.

McIntyre didn't like what he found: memos that Killiany had written years earlier, chastising Palmer for letting felony cases sit untouched for months at a time. But no reprimands or suspensions.

In a September 2001 note, Killiany criticized Palmer for doing little investigating in many cases that year, writing "Cases assigned several months prior for investigation by you had yet to be started."

And in February 2002, Killiany wrote a follow-up memo demanding that Palmer work on more backlogged cases - nearly 20 reported rapes, burglaries and thefts, some that he'd been assigned as far back as 1998. Killiany ended the message with an underlined order: "Submit these files completed or a report as to their status by 3/15/02."

Yet three years later, several of those cases were still open. One file - the 1998 report from a 9-year-old boy alleging an attempted sexual assault - showed no sign that any supervisor had reviewed it again until 2005, even though Killiany had personally ordered Palmer to update it in 2002.

Palmer insisted to McIntyre that Killiany had overworked him, directing him to fix problems with police computers while he was supposed to handle cases. Killiany refused him overtime to catch up and continued to pile on new assignments, Palmer argued. McIntyre nevertheless recommended a long list of departmental charges against the detective.

By the fall of 2005, the city had quietly negotiated a retirement deal for Palmer, and McIntyre was conducting an internal affairs probe of Killiany.

Documents show McIntyre asked the tough questions: Why didn't Killiany follow up after discovering Palmer wasn't getting the job done in 2001? Why did Killiany allow cases to keep languishing for years without a supervisor's review? And how were Palmer and his supervisor disciplined?

Killiany replied that most of the answers would have to come from Det. Sgt. Peter Barton, the night-shift detective supervisor. But Barton wasn't available: He had resigned a year earlier to take a job in Iraq.

Killiany acknowledged that he didn't institute a better case-tracking system, but he contended that Palmer's situation was unique. Killiany also wrote that his detective supervisors were stretched too thin, and he emphasized that DiVenere knew it.

"During several meetings with the chief of police during this time frame, he was advised of the supervisory problem. He stated that he understood and was working on getting additional supervision for the Criminal Investigations Division," Killiany wrote.

McIntyre wasn't buying those arguments, and he brought departmental charges against Killiany for not supervising subordinates, failing to take necessary actions, and conduct unbecoming an officer.

DiVenere sustained only the failure to supervise charge and gave Killiany a written reprimand.

"`Conduct unbecoming' is a serious charge - I don't think it rose to that," DiVenere said last week. "The reprimand was appropriate. ... This was his first discipline in a flawless 30-some-odd-year career."

DiVenere repeatedly emphasized that he and Killiany instituted computerized case-tracking systems and monthly reports after Palmer left, to ensure that crimes won't go ignored again.

"We had an overworked and under-supervised detective division. But our detectives are expected to work fairly independently - they always have been, always will be," DiVenere said. "The people directly responsible are gone, and I'm confident nothing like this will ever happen again."

The union said last week that it's concerned the entire matter shouldn't tarnish the current police force.

"Many of the things being reported about involve people no longer employed by the Bristol Police Department," said Officer Peter Kot, union president, "and nothing should reflect on the people currently here."

Kot said the union believes DiVenere handled the situation correctly and that Killiany's reprimand was appropriate "in light of his unblemished record."

Palmer declined to be interviewed, and Zalot and Killiany did not return phone calls.

Internal Investigations Procedure Faulted

The case raises questions about the police department's procedures for policing itself, experts say.

Before he retired, Palmer filed an internal complaint accusing Killiany of overworking and harassing him. Capt. Daniel Britt investigated and issued a report that cleared Killiany.

Just 13 days later, the roles were reversed: Killiany was assigned to investigate charges against Britt. A state lawmaker claimed Britt had harassed him while off duty. That investigation, too, ended with a conclusion of "exonerated."

Their detailed reports show Britt and Killiany each invested substantial time and effort in the investigations, backed up by signed statements they secured from numerous witnesses.

But two independent authorities who were contacted by The Courant said assigning "cross-over" investigations is never advisable because it may leave an impression of unfairness.

"The appearance of impropriety cannot be overcome by the ranks of the officers involved. After all, one would never assign two rank-and-file police officers to investigate each other," said Tom Nolan, criminal justice professor at Boston University and former chief investigator for the anti-corruption division of the Boston Police Department's office of internal investigations.

"It certainly wasn't good policy," said John Doherty, a criminal justice professor at Marist College and former head of internal affairs for the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., police. "The chief should have done it himself or called in the state police."

In a memo to the police commission last summer, DiVenere acknowledged that "a number of concerns" had been raised about the need for an internal affairs unit as well as more supervision of the detective division. The 125-member department doesn't have a separate division for investigating complaints of misconduct by its officers; instead, DiVenere usually assigns those cases to Killiany, who is also responsible for supervising the detective division. Some are given to other lieutenants or one of the two captains.

DiVenere proposes creating another detective lieutenant's post to handle all internal investigations and take over the narcotics squad, about half of Killiany's current assignment.

The police commission endorsed DiVenere's proposal, but it has been stalled at a city council committee, where several members are siding with the union's position that internal affairs work should be handled by a non-union commander to avoid conflicts.

The police department's internal affairs system has been questioned in the past. In 2005, veteran Officer Bryce Linskey told city hall that Britt had been stopped repeatedly by city police after driving erratically, but no action was taken.

"Chief DiVenere is aware of some of these incidents, but fails to or refuses to address this problem," Linskey wrote.

The city hired outside investigators who exonerated Britt in three instances and said they couldn't prove or disprove most of the rest. "We have determined that Capt. Britt either admitted or was observed drinking alcohol prior to many of the police interactions," the investigators wrote. They recommended requiring formal reports of any potential misconduct by city police, whether on duty or not.

Britt retired in November 2005 amid an investigation into claims that off-duty police were broadcasting racist slurs on a radio station operating from the basement of an officer's home. The city hired outside investigators who found no evidence of racist broadcasts.

In their Nov. 23, 2005, report, those investigators pointed out problems within the department.

"The current organizational structure of the Bristol Police Department appears to contribute to a perception that certain officers are held to different standards. Internal Affairs investigations are conducted at the discretion of the chief of police and assigned to superior officers for investigation," they wrote.

Contact Don Stacom at dstacom@courant.com.

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The Culture of Corruption Continues?

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