Bridgeport may face $945,000 bias fine

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by Michael P. Mayko
Connecticut Post

June 3, 2004


— After a series of rulings this week, the city of Bridgeport now faces $945,000 in fines for being in contempt of federal court orders in a 25-year-old lawsuit that claims widespread discrimination in the police department.

The proposals made by William Clendenen a New Haven lawyer overseeing the city's compliance with court orders still require the approval of U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton.

Bridgeport City Attorney Mark Anastasi said his office will file responses to Clendenen's recommendations. It's expected those responses will urge Arterton to reject or at least reduce the fines.

Mayor John M. Fabrizi, through spokeswoman Caryn Kaufman, declined comment on the fines.

But Clendenen's proposals offer the city alternatives to just paying the money to the federal court.

On Thursday, Clendenen recommended a $515,000 fine for the city for being 1,030 days late in establishing and implementing new policies dealing with sexual harassment; threats and intimidation and graffiti and slurs.

However, he recommended the city either pay the entire $515,000 to the federal court. Or he said they could pay $115,000 to the court and use the remaining $400,000 "to develop and implement a plan to recruit, hire, sustain and train minority officers.

Earlier in the week, he recommended a $430,000 fine on the city for being 860 days late in filing three reports detailing the court-ordered rotation of police officer assignment.

Clendenen said the city could pay the fine to the federal court or could match the $430,000 and use the entire $860,000 to purchase a new state-of-the-art communications and police dispatch system.

Clendenen chided the city for its "dismal record of complying with clear court mandates concerning discipline reports, discipline delays, slur and harassment policies, as well as rotation reports."

He noted that "more than seven years have elapsed" since he ordered the city "to revise the 1990 policies" for harassment, threats and slurs.

As a result of the delay, Clendenen wrote that Bridgeport may have violated "state regulations [because] the department failed to train supervisors about the procedures and remedies provided in the sexual harassment policies."

Antonio Ponvert III, the lawyer for the Bridgeport Guardians, a group of black officers who convinced the court of widespread discrimination in the department, said the choice now rests with Bridgeport's leaders.

However, the battle over implementing court-ordered changes has continued for two decades.

"We're very happy that the special master [Clendenen] understands the gravity of non-compliance with court orders and has proposed a method that could turn this bad situation into something positive in the community and the department," said Ponvert.

But he warned that if the city challenges these recommendations, "we will not only ask the judge to sustain them but will consider requesting she impose fines exceeding these recommendations."

Additionally, Ponvert said he would renew his request that the judge impose sanctions "on the responsible city officials."

The city's response does not surprise Ted Meekins, a retired police officer who served as the Guardians' president when the original suit was filed.

"Here the city has the option of doing something positive and what is their response?" he asked. "It's the same old operation."

Still, Anastasi said no monetary sanctions take effect "until Judge Arterton rules."

But it was Arterton who in January found the city in contempt for not filing the rotation reports on time.

It was Arterton who previously warned the city it would face fines of $500 for every day it was late in following a court order.

And it was Arterton who ordered Clendenen to recommend sanctions against the city.

Following a trial of the Guardians' suit in the 1980s, the late Chief U.S. District Judge T.F. Gilroy Daly found widespread discrimination involving hiring, assignments, promotion and discipline within the department.

He appointed Clendenen nearly 20 years ago to serve as special master and resolve complaints involving racial disparity within the department.