10/22/08

Police AFSCME big suspended in CT

More AFSCME stories: here

Jumbo government union complains of a "witch hunt"

Police Union President Joseph McNeil was demoted from the rank of captain to sergeant on Tuesday and suspended without pay for three months for his alleged role in the illegal leak earlier this year of personal background on former police applicant Christian Miron, the brother of Mayor James R. Miron.

The mayor said Tuesday he recused himself from "the entire disciplinary process" because the investigation was related to his brother's personnel file. "The discipline imposed is due to the severity of this offense," Chief Administrative Officer Suzanne McCauley, the hearing officer in the McNeil case who made the final decision, said in a statement Tuesday.

McCauley said she strongly considered firing McNeil, a 17-year-veteran of the town's Police Department.

"As the hearing officer in this matter, I made the decision," McCauley said. "The town of Stratford has no further comments, as it is a personnel matter."

But the local police union had plenty to say, issuing an immediate statement blasting the town's action as a violation of its collective-bargaining agreement, and arguing that the decision is based on "political pressures." It vowed an immediate appeal of the ruling.

"The Stratford Police Local 407, Council 15, AFSCME does not agree with the conclusions of the town of Stratford in this matter," according to the statement. "By its own admission the town's conclusions are derived wholly from circumstantial evidence.

"The union will immediately grieve this matter because the town has not sustained the evidentiary burden necessary to sustain the just cause requirement found in the collective bargaining agreement," the statement says.

The union "is confident that when these facts are reviewed by an impartial panel, free of political pressure, Joe McNeil will be vindicated, reinstated to the rank of captain and made whole for salary lost as a result of the suspension."

McNeil, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, said prior to the disciplinary hearing that he "feared the worst." However, he strongly denied he had any involvement with the release of a personnel background check on Christian Miron, 29, who was issued a conditional offer of employment as a police officer earlier this year. A detailed, nine-page background investigation raised questions about whether Miron is fit for police work.

All of the vacant police jobs have subsequently been filled.

The information leaked from Miron's personnel file shows he scored well on the written and oral exams, as well as the recommendation by a psychologist who interviewed him and recommended he be hired, although expressing "strong reservations.''

McNeil's suspension and two-rank demotion, considered "very unusual," according to McCauley, comes a few weeks after more than 70 police officers converged on Town Hall to show support for the president as he went behind closed doors for the disciplinary hearing.

McNeil was accused by town officials and police brass of having a role in leaking Miron's background information to the press and Town Council members, or that he knew who did.

Some union members, including McNeil's brother, police Detective David McNeil, said previously they believe the union president was "railroaded" and "made a scapegoat" in the investigation.

David McNeil claimed that top police officials had threatened to fire his brother.

"They have even tried to get him to implicate the former union president and a council member in the leak, and threatened his job if he didn't cooperate," said David McNeil, a 19-year department veteran. "My brother doesn't know who leaked the file, and they are trying to get him to lie."

Joseph McNeil took over in May as union president from Shawn Farmer after he resigned from the department. A statement released by the union several weeks ago said, in part, that in his capacity as union president, McNeil was the target of a "witch hunt" after he "quickly discovered irregular and highly improper conduct involving senior members of the Police Department. Since McNeil began questioning those improper activities, a deliberate campaign has been orchestrated against him, the union said.

"With respect to the background investigation regarding the mayor's brother, Christian Miron, Capt. McNeil emphatically denies he released said report to any member within the Police Department, to any member of the media, or any member of the general public," the union states.

(connpost.com)

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