$400,000 fines possible in contempt
Judge finds Bridgeport in contempt says city failed to provide police assignment reports
by Michael P. Mayko
January 15, 2004
NEW HAVEN — A federal judge found the city of Bridgeport in contempt of court Wednesday for failing to provide reports on police assignments linked to a 1978 discrimination case.
The city could face more than $400,000 in fines for being more than 800 days late in filing the reports, which detail the sex, race and color of police officers as they are rotated through the three police precinct and the department’s Tactical and Narcotics Task Force.
U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton ordered William Clendenen, a New Haven lawyer, to conduct hearings to determine how much the city must pay in fines.
Previously, Arterton set $500 a day as the penalty for late filings. Using that guideline, the city could be required to pay as much as $407,500 for being a combined total of 815 days late in filing the three reports.
However, the Bridgeport Guardians, a group of black police officers who filed the discrimination case in 1978, recommended to Arterton through their lawyer, Vincent Musto, that the eventual penalty not be paid to the court. Instead, they suggested it be rebudgeted into the police department to pay for training and recruiting minority officers.
“We would like to see some positive benefit come out of this,” said Musto, a Bridgeport resident and member of the law firm of Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder. “Rather than have money flow out of the city at a time when it is financially strapped, the Guardians would rather see it reinvested within the police department.”
In addition to the fines, Arterton directed Clendenen to work with the department and city to establish a procedure and process that will assure deadlines are met and that the “Bridgeport Police Department’s administration and city are paying attention to court orders.”
“That’s what I mean by contempt — no one cares enough to even see what its obligations are,” Arterton said. “I find it to be a shocking proposition that the city thinks a court order carries an inherent reminder system. The court previously made an effort to coerce compliance by means of daily fines.”
She also ordered Clendenen to review rotation reports submitted Wednesday and, if necessary, conduct hearings. These hearings could begin next month.
Both Arterton and Clendenen seemed unconvinced Wednesday by Associate City Attorney Melanie Howlett’s explanation that a retirement [of Deputy Chief David Boston] was the cause of the delay since this required his replacement in monitoring rotation to “retrace all their steps” and “triple check” the data.
Police Lt. James Baraja and Sgt. Kevin Gilleran are now responsible for compiling and filing the discipline and rotation reports with Clendenen.
On Wednesday, Baraja told the court he was unaware until last month that the rotation reports were required. He also said he approached several members of Police Chief Wilbur Chapman’s staff and they were unaware of the requirement. Clendenen, frustrated by decades of fighting with the department to turn over documents, said listening to “what I view as lame excuses is troubling.”
Arterton agreed, pointing out that the city “drafted, negotiated, signed and agreed” to the May 31, 2001, rotation report requirements.
Under that requirement, the city must file a report detailing the color, race and sex of officers every two years as they are rotated through assignments.
The judge blasted the city, saying there appeared to be “no learning curve” within the department. Instead, she said it appears more like “what happens when you ice skate up a hill you backslide.”
The case dates back to 1978, when the Guardians accused then-Police Supt. Joseph A. Walsh and the Board of Police Commissioners of inequality in disciplining, assigning and promoting minority officers as compared to their white counterparts.
Following a trial, Chief U.S. District Judge T.F. Gilroy Daly found widespread discrimination in the department and in 1983 filed a comprehensive order that changed how discipline, assignments, promotions and pairings are made. One of the things Daly did is appoint Clendenen to serve as a special master in overseeing how discipline and assignments were carried out.
But problems persisted. A few years ago, the court took the duty of discipline away from the Police Board and placed it in the hands of privately hired hearing officers.
Wednesday’s contempt finding caused Musto to suggest that the court should reinvestigate placing the department in receivership.
“If the mayor and the police chief can’t run the department, maybe the court can find someone that can,” Musto said. “Then maybe the mayor will pay attention to how the department is being run.”
But Mark Anastasi, the city attorney, disagreed.
“Suggestion of receivership is wholly inappropriate,” he said. “These failings [the late filings] are of a limited nature. We look forward to demonstrating to the special master as to our improved capacity to satisfy all court reporting obligations. We are confident under all the facts and circumstances that monetary sanctions will be deemed inappropriate or, at worst, would be dedicated toward productive purposes such as funding appropriate departmental actions as suggested by the Guardians.”