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Eric Cotton

Cotton: Double standard persists

It would be a mistake for the city of Meriden to fire the two police officers who complained that one of their colleagues, the police chief’s son, wasn’t being held accountable for using excessive force.

Rather than conducting hearings last week to determine the fate of the two officers and potentially further exposing the city to liability, local officials should be seeking answers as to why the chief’s son was cleared by internal affairs on three separate brutality charges and yet convicted by a federal jury in one of those incidents after less than three hours of deliberations. Rather than scrutinizing every last word of the officers’ complaint letter, the city should be taking another look at how department administrators handled the incidents in question to avoid a repeat now that the verdict has been rendered.

Officers Donald Huston and Brian Sullivan are already suing the city and police department claiming they were retaliated against since first making their allegations.

“We think this (retaliation) reaches the highest levels of the police department,” their attorney Eric Brown told a Record-Journal reporter last week.

Terminating them now, just a few weeks before the chief’s son is scheduled to be sentenced on brutality and obstruction charges, only supports that claim. It makes little sense, unless your intent actually is to retaliate.

Their attorney, appointed by the police union, said the city was going after the officers for making a complaint that essentially exposed police brutality, which it did. The letter also made a range of other allegations that were not substantiated, however, which prompted IA complaints from the other officers mentioned. The internal investigation into those complaints found that the other allegations violated department policies for officer conduct.

“The findings coming out of the IA investigation found that some of the things officers Huston and Sullivan said may have been untrue or said with reckless disregard for the truth,” City Manager Lawrence Kendzior told the Record-Journal. “Obviously honesty and truthfulness in a police officer is a very important principle.” Huston and Sullivan had a chance to defend themselves last week during the closed-door hearings, which are required before the city can administer severe discipline including termination.

Their attorney said the IA probe focused on extremely minor details in the complaint letter. “If there were minute details that might have been wrong, they can’t be held accountable for that,” he told a reporter outside the hearing. “They didn’t know all the details but the general theme they knew. They exposed it and the federal government believed it to be true and prosecuted one of the officers for that and ultimately gained a conviction for it.”

Brown called the probe into his clients’ conduct “shockingly extensive.” What a stark contrast to the disproportionately lenient treatment during the IA process for the chief’s son, who was told by an officer conducting one hearing that he was just “going through the motions.”

The entire police controversy in Meriden began with department employees complaining that discipline for misconduct was not being handled equitably from one officer to the next. It’s hard to believe, in light of all that has happened in the last two years, that the problem could still exist. And yet the handling of the Huston and Sullivan situation suggests that it does.

Then again, why should anything have changed when department leadership hasn’t?

Reach Managing Editor/News Eric Cotton at (203) 317-2344 or ecotton@record-journal.com. Follow him on Twitter @ecotton3



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