Fired cop ordered reinstated, but demoted
Daniel Tepfer, Staff Writer
Updated 12:31 a.m., Saturday, December 31, 2011
BRIDGEPORT -- A police lieutenant, fired for covering up a hit and run crash involving a fellow officer who she was involved in a relationship with, has been reinstated following an arbitration decision that chastised the city's Police Commission.
But Christine Burns was demoted to patrol officer and assigned to the Police Department's records division. She was granted about six months back pay.
Mayor Bill Finch, who at the time applauded Burns' firing, declined comment Friday.
Charles Paris, the president of the police union, said they support the arbitration ruling returning Burns to work, but wouldn't comment further. Burns couldn't be reached for comment.
In his 26-page decision, arbitrator Peter Blum ruled there was sufficient evidence that Burns covered up a crime committed by her then-boyfriend, Officer Peter Billings. However, the arbitrator continued that the Police Commission improperly placed the weight of the wrongdoing on Burns' shoulders rather than Billings, who only received a one-year suspension without pay despite being the catalyst of the incident.
"The rules, orders and penalties were not applied evenhandedly and without discrimination to the grievant," the arbitrator ruled.
"It is hoped by the arbitrator that the grievant, after reading this arbitration decision, will realize that she must share and take pertinent blame for the incidents at issue by not carrying out her duties as a police officer and especially as a shift supervisor," Blum wrote. "She also must realize that she did not act responsibly concerning the off-duty officer later falsely reporting his truck being stolen."
Last year, the city's Board of Police Commissioners fired Burns, a 13-year member of the force, and suspended officers Billings along with officers Thomas Kristy, for four months; Ferdinand Ferrao, for three months and Scott Waehler, for two months, all without pay, following a three-year investigation.
The commission found Burns, Kristy, Ferrao and Waehler had violated police department rules and its code of ethics when they covered up a crash involving Billings on Feb. 29, 2009.
Billings was never charged with a crime.
Burns and her four fellow officers, who made up the Amber sector of the midnight shift, developed a certain reputation in the department for their close working relationship and were often referred to by other officers as the "midnight gang." Ferrao, Kristy and Billings, an officer for 10 years, had all worked the midnight shift since 2001 and were good friends. Waehler joined the shift in 2008.
Burns started working midnight as a sergeant. She was promoted to lieutenant in April 2009.
Billings testified during a hearing before the police commission that he had been engaged in a sexual relationship with Burns.
According to the police commission report, in the early morning of Feb. 29, 2008, Billings was off duty and was driving his red Ford pickup truck while intoxicated when he crashed into a parked car near the intersection of Savoy Street and Madison Avenue.
"Officer Billings was unable to say precisely how much alcohol he had consumed but recalled that he started drinking alcoholic beverages at about 7 p.m. on Feb. 28 and continued drinking until the time of the accident at approximately 3:55 a.m.," the report states.
The impact of the crash pushed the other vehicle onto the sidewalk and caused Billings' airbag to deploy and blow out a front tire.
But the report continued that Billings then drove from the scene ending up in a parking lot on Main Street where his truck conked out.
The report states Billings called officers Kristy and Ferrao. A short time later they, Burns, Waehler and a civilian friend of Billings, John Rodriguez, arrived at the parking lot. Rodriguez drove Billings home and arranged for a tow truck to pick up his vehicle. The pickup was later dumped on Waterview Avenue with its ignition ripped out. Billings subsequently reported that the truck had been stolen from his parents' home. He also reported the theft to his insurance company but later withdrew the claim.
The report states a witness to the crash caused by Billings reported it to police and the investigation was assigned to Burns and the other four officers who did not report Billings was involved.
The commission stated that Billings blamed his actions on the fact that he was going through a hotly contested divorce at the time, although he admitted he was also having sexual relations at the time with Burns.
Burns is no stranger to controversy.
On Jan. 19, 2004, her then-boyfriend, Bridgeport Police Officer Michael Dominguez, barricaded himself inside the couple's home in Trumbull for nearly 17 hours before fatally shooting himself in the head. For part of the siege, Dominguez held Burns, then 29, hostage along with their infant daughter and her 9-year-old son.
Burns later sued the city and former Police Chief Wilbur Chapman for remarks he made to the newspaper about her and was awarded $5,000.
Contact Daniel Tepfer at 203-330-6308 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter.com/dantepfer.
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