10/5/07

AFSCME fights for discredited police officer

Despite receiving numerous commendations and medals, including the Courage of Connecticut and Medal of Valor, throughout his seven-year career with the city's police department, members of the Board of Police Commissioners unanimously voted Thursday night to terminate Officer Greg Blackinton.

Though board members were also tasked with making a similar decision about Officer Brian Andrews' future with the department, they decided not to terminate the four-year veteran officer, but to instead suspend him without pay for a period of 45 days, effective today.

The decisions to terminate Blackinton and suspend Andrews were the culmination of two Loudermill hearings presented to the board Thursday night as the result of recommendations from police Chief John DiVenere to terminate both officers. The chief's recommendations were made on the heels of three separate internal investigations into citizen complaints filed against Blackinton, and two internal investigations into Andrews.

Both Blackinton and Andrews had been placed on paid administrative leave about two weeks ago, the day after Blackinton apprehended a convicted sex offender suspected of raping a 13-year-old city girl hours earlier.

Thursday's hearing was attended by at least 50 members of the city's police department and by more than two dozen members of other departments throughout the state, as a show of solidarity for their fellow officers.

After the decisions were rendered, Richard Gudis, an attorney for the Connecticut Council of Police AFSCME Council 15, of which the city's police officers union Local 754 is a member, who represented the two officers, said the fight was not over. Gudis said the union would appeal Blackinton's termination before the American Arbitration Association, known as the Triple-A, and it would also appeal Andrews' suspension before the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration (SBMA).

The Local 754 Union president, Officer Peter Kot, said, "Obviously the union is disappointed at the outcome ... We will continue to fight for Officer Blackinton's job back and for Officer Andrews' to have his suspension reversed."
The initial complaint against Blackinton was made by Philip Pelletier, a security officer at the Bristol Commons shopping plaza on Farmington Avenue, who claimed that on July 7, the officer refused to call a supervisor when Pelletier asked that he do so.

In his complaint, Pelletier said he approached Blackinton, who had been seated in his cruiser in the plaza's parking lot, and asked the officer to instruct some teens to leave the plaza. After ascertaining that to Pelletier's knowledge the teens had not caused any trouble that night but the security guard wanted them removed based on prior bad behavior, Blackinton told Pelletier he could not tell the teens to leave, but could advise them not to cause trouble.

Angry that Blackinton would not force the teens to leave, Pelletier told Blackinton to call a supervisor to the scene, to which Blackinton responded that Pelletier could call the supervisor himself.

According to Ursula Haerter, an attorney from Robinson & Cole, who represented the chief and city in the Laudermill hearing, in reviewing the complaint against Blackinton, Detective Sgt. Thomas Calvello later determined the officer's actions violated two sections of the department's code of conduct, including conduct unbecoming an officer.

Haerter stated that as a result of the complaint against him, for which the officer had not yet been disciplined, Blackinton sought the assistance of a fellow officer to retaliate against Pelletier by issuing the security guard a ticket for failure to comply with state law governing registration of his vehicle, which had New York plates, despite Pelletier's living in Bristol.

To exemplify her point that Blackinton sought revenge against Pelletier for filing a complaint, Haerter read copies of transmissions between Blackinton and a fellow officer over the Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) in their cruisers, sent two nights after the complaint was filed, in which Blackinton told the other officer to "pinch" Pelletier for the registration violation.

Simultaneously, according to Haerter, Andrews was using department databases to research Pelletier's registration and license information, which she said he did on four other occasions over the next two weeks, before finally pulling the security guard over and issuing him a ticket, which was the basis for another internal investigation.

Haerter said that as a result of the ticket, Pelletier filed a second complaint in which he alleged that the enforcement action was strictly a case of an officer retaliating against him for filing a complaint against another officer, a claim Andrews has denied but which led to a second internal investigation into Blackinton and the first into Andrews.

Based on those two internal investigations, Haerter said it was obvious that Blackinton was upset about the initial complaint filed against him and attempted to collude with his fellow officers to exact revenge on Pelletier, but he was unsuccessful in his efforts with one officer but successful with Andrews. The third internal investigation into Blackinton, and second into Andrews, Haerter said, was the result of "another citizen complaint from a different citizen this time." She said that on July 21 Blackinton had stopped a vehicle which he noticed had expired registration stickers, and obtained permission from the motorist to search the vehicle.

Haerter said Andrews was sent by dispatchers to back Blackinton on the call, but when the motorist changed her mind about the vehicle search and requested that a supervisor be called to the scene, neither officer called for the supervisor. She filed a complaint against the officers. In response to Haerter's presentation of the "factual basis" for DiVenere's recommendation to terminate the officers, Gudis said there was no retaliation on the part of either Blackinton or Andrews in the matter concerning Pelletier, nor was there any misconduct on the part of either officer in the matter concerning the motorist. Gudis said what Haerter called retaliation and dereliction of duty on the part of both Blackinton and Andrews, he and other law enforcement professionals would call good police work.

(bristolpress.com)

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