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Complaints Mount At New Britain PD

'A Good 85 percent Of The People Who Work Patrol Hate The Way Things Are Going'

By DON STACOM, dstacom@courant.com

The Hartford Courant

10:51 PM EDT, August 9, 2011

NEW BRITAIN

During the past decade, nearly 20 officers quit the city's police force to take jobs at other departments around the state.

But not one officer from any other Connecticut department signed on with New Britain.

None of that is startling to Officer Armando Elias. A five-year veteran of the city police force, Elias also isn't surprised by the recent barrage of lawsuits and grievances from colleagues alleging harassment and bias. Elias says he's suffered some of it firsthand.

Echoing the complaints that five officers have set out in pending federal lawsuits, Elias contends that senior commanders play favorites when meting out discipline or dispensing lucrative assignments. And it's taking a toll on morale, he said.

"A good 85 percent of the people who work patrol hate the way things are going," he said. "They hate the administration. I always wanted to be a cop here, but I've found there's not a lot of respect in this department."

Within the 140-member police force, Elias isn't alone in his dissatisfaction. Over the past three years, four female officers — more than a third of the women on the department's roster — have sued claiming sexual harassment and discrimination. Their lawsuits brought to light allegations of serious misconduct committed by John Carlone, a patrol sergeant who was demoted and ultimately allowed to retire in 2009 on a $36,000-a-year disability pension.

Defendants and plaintiffs have been taking depositions all summer, and last week Carlone's attorney moved to have the lawsuits against her client dismissed. A new review by The Courant of court documents suggests long-running discord within the ranks, and reveals some troubling incidents:

Two of the plaintiffs claim they were singled out for discipline after getting to work late or taking sick time, and one contends Capt. Anthony Paventi wrongly reported that she'd been seen at a bar while on sick leave. Officer Jennifer Raspardo alleges that Paventi authorized friends on the department to leave work early to meet him for drinks at T.G.I. Friday's in Newington;

Raspardo was assigned to walk a beat for a half year after wrecking a patrol car. But she maintains that at least 10 male officers have been punished less severely after two and even three accidents. Raspardo says commanders were so intent on punishing her that they put every other officer on her shift into cars when Hurricane Hannah struck in 2008 — except her. She was out sick for three days after walking in the rain, she says;

At one point in Carlone's career, commanders had heard enough rumors about him pursuing or stalking subordinates on duty that they prohibited him from driving female officers alone in his cruiser. Yet Carlone's personnel file shows no record that they ever checked on his behavior around female civilians or tried to limit his contact with them;

Officer Sabrina Russell told investigators that Carlone began pursuing her years earlier, when she was a police dispatcher. Carlone — then a patrol officer — drove her in a cruiser to the Fraternal Order of Police building several times, occasionally persuading her to masturbate him, she said. After she became a patrol officer and he was promoted to sergeant, he again drove her to the building and this time pressured her into masturbating him, she said.

Russell and plaintiff Gina Spring have left the department, but Raspardo still works in the patrol division along with two other plaintiffs. Officer Paula Keller filed a suit earlier this year, and now is pursuing a new grievance alleging that some of the high-ranking defendants punished her immediately after she sued. Separately, a veteran supervisor, Sgt. Carlos Burgos, is also suing, claiming that administrators retaliated against him for testifying on behalf of the women.

In court, the city has denied any bias or retaliation. It has filed documents showing that Raspardo, Spring and Russell were sent to driver retraining after accidents involving patrol cars, and that Spring was disciplined for sick time abuse — and then used a sick day to attend her swearing-in ceremony when she quit to join the Torrington police. Torrington later fired her after she was arrested off-duty in a domestic dispute.

Chief William Gagliardi has consistently declined to discuss the cases, and did not return multiple phone messages over the past week. Mayor Timothy Stewart's administration won't talk because the lawsuits are pending.

Leaders of the police union also aren't taking questions about the allegations. But privately, some of their members say morale is being eroded by favoritism and inconsistent standards.

They point to at least 17 officers who have left for other departments, and six others who quit outright — all after the city invested tens of thousands of dollars in training. Most recently, five New Britain officers reportedly took hiring exams at a nearby police agency. Yet despite a drive to attract already-trained candidates from other agencies, New Britain has lured just one New York officer and none from Connecticut.

Elias is the only officer currently on the department's payroll to speak publicly about morale in the agency. He told The Courant that he was reluctant to talk, but felt he had to.

"It's very hard for me to do this. I've been holding this for a long time — I didn't want to hurt the department's name. But I feel I've been betrayed by them," he said. "I'm coming forward to blow the whistle on discrimination in the department. And I fear I'll be the target of retaliation after this comes out."

Elias had been a police officer in Puerto Rico and a decorated sergeant in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division when he entered New Britain's police academy in 2006. He soon clashed with Carlone, and complained to commanders after an incident when Carlone dispatched him to the Hardware City Café to pick up takeout menus.

"I came back with them and he said 'They allow Spanish people in there?,'" Elias recalled. "I couldn't believe he said it. I was humiliated. I fought for my country in Iraq, and he's going to say this just because I'm brown?"

Not long after that, he was given a sought-after assignment as acting detective in a special squad to crack down on illegal guns. He was selected ahead of a more veteran officer with the same credentials, and he's convinced the choice was political.

Elias was put back on patrol after less than a year, and says he's now out of favor with the top bosses. He says he's been targeted twice for discipline by supervisors who appeared disappointed when he proved he wasn't guilty.

"The department was afraid I was going to sue, so they were going to throw me a bone. In an attempt to protect themselves, they put me on the gun squad," he said. "Then when they have enough time and they feel secure you aren't going to sue, they pull you out."

 


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