Guardians urging fines for police compliance

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by Michael P. Mayko
Connecticut Post

April 14, 2004

BRIDGEPORT — One way to force the Bridgeport Police Department to comply with federal court orders to end past discriminatory practices within its ranks may be to impose fines on Mayor John M. Fabrizi and Police Chief Wilbur Chapman and make them devote time every week to improving race relations.

That's a suggestion the Bridgeport Guardians made Tuesday to William Clendenen, a New Haven lawyer appointed to help remedy discriminatory treatment within the police department.

Clendenen ordered the Guardians, a group of minority officers, and the Bridgeport city attorney's office last week to suggest methods that would "coerce" Bridgeport into following future court orders.

Clendenen demanded the suggestions after the city was found in contempt the second time this year for failing to follow court orders in this 25-year-old discrimination case.

The Guardians also recommend that U.S. District Court Judge Janet Bond Arterton impose the full $945,000 contempt penalty on the city. However, the Guardians and their lawyer, Antonio Ponvert III, of Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder, a Bridgeport law firm, also recommend most of the penalty be funneled back into the department.

They've asked a large portion be used to establish a minority recruitment program.

"We decline to comment on the Guardians' proposal," said Sheila Santiago, a spokeswoman for the police department.

But City Attorney Mark Anastasi said he intends to urge Clendenen not to recommend a substantial penalty in his filing due Friday.

Anastasi said it would "unduly burden [Bridgeport] taxpayers." He also said new procedures have been adopted "to prevent any recurrence of past failures to timely comply with court orders."

But Ponvert believes after 25 years it's time Clendenen and Arterton "start thinking about holding individual policy makers and decision makers responsible for the institutionalized inertia when it comes to following the court's orders." He said fining individuals would "force city officials to take responsibility for non-compliance. So far, no one's reputation, integrity or word has been called into question."

Arterton previously warned the city it would face penalties of $500 each day it is in contempt.

On Jan. 14, she found the city 860 days late in providing reports on a proposed rotation of officers through the department.

Last week, the city admitted it was 1,030 days late in implementing new policies within the police department that deal with sexual harassment, racial and sexual graffiti and threats.

In addition to the fines and community service requirement for city officials, Ponvert suggested that the citizens of Bridgeport be made aware of what has been happening.

He urged the court to compel the city to publish public announcements in the Connecticut Post "addressed to the citizens of the city of Bridgeport" or to "the voters of the city of Bridgeport" advising them of the contempt findings, its failure to comply with court orders and the amount of monetary penalties imposed.

"I suggested this because I believe it helps force the city into compliance," he said. "This [a public announcement] would be something that would be so painful and difficult for them to have to do. It would inform citizens of our city that certain elected officials, decision makers and policy makers are not following the law."

Both Clendenen, who has sat for 20 years on this case, and Arterton expressed frustration this year with the city's excuses for noncompliance.

Arterton at one point referred to this as an "out-of-tune old song."

It was back in 1983 that following trial, the late Chief U.S. District Judge T.F. Gilroy Daly found widespread discrimination in terms of assignments, promotions and discipline within the police department.