Government Police/Fire

State Police Union Sues to Block Accountability Law

Connecticut State. Police Union. Photo courtesy of CTNewsJunkie.com (file photo)

Connecticut State Police Union Executive Director Andrew Matthews said the union filed the lawsuit to ‘protect’ members from people who were intentionally filing anonymous allegations against troopers ‘to ruin their good reputation.’

By Lisa Backus, CTNewsJunkie.com

The Connecticut State Police Union is going to court to prevent the agency from releasing certain internal affairs reports as part of the new police accountability law passed last month.

The law reverses a key portion of the state police contract approved by the legislature in May 2019 that keeps internal affairs documents confidential if investigation finds allegations of wrongdoing are unfounded or unsubstantiated.

The union wants a temporary injunction to keep the State Police from releasing the reports until the group’s lawsuit moves forward, said Andrew Matthews, executive director of the CSPU.

Matthews contends in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court that the part of the police accountability law that changes the state police contract is unconstitutional.

“The state of Connecticut cannot negotiate a contract and then go to the legislature to get it changed,” Matthews said. “They need to renegotiate the contract when it comes up in 2022 if they want to make changes.”

He encouraged legislators to sit down with the union to “find a solution so everyone is happy.”

The attorney general’s office, which will represent the state in court, said they are reviewing the lawsuit and will respond in court. Attorney General William Tong previously said that he was confident all aspects of the new law were constitutional and he would defend it in court if necessary.

The contract approved by the legislature in May of 2019 included language that the state police, under the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, can withhold internal affairs reports if an investigation deems the allegations are “unfounded,” or “unsubstantiated.”

Several other state employee contracts include similar language, but the new police accountability law only affects the state police contract, Matthews said.

Legislators did not discuss that provision of the contract when they held a public session to review the pay raises and other collective bargaining matters before approving the contract unanimously.

Critics, including members of the state’s Freedom of Information Commission, pointed out that the contract allows state police to thwart freedom of information laws and hurts the public’s trust since no one could scrutinize how the internal affairs investigations were conducted.

The union already had filed a grievance directed at the same issue prior to the law being drafted or passed. This followed the release of documents by state police officials under DESPP Commissioner James Rovella.

On June 10, the union won the grievance, and the agency was required to ask troopers if the release of a validated allegation would be an invasion of privacy. The agency also was required to stop releasing reports related to unfounded allegations.

The union contends in the lawsuit that a month later, “the state sought to effectuate an unconstitutional and impermissible end-run around the decision by adding to the Police Accountability Act” two sections that nullified the state police contract.

State police officials put out an agency-wide communication on July 31 explaining that with the passage of the new law, the contract provisions were rescinded and all internal affairs reports would be released in accordance with state FOI laws, the lawsuit said.

Matthews said the union filed the lawsuit to “protect” members from people who were intentionally filing anonymous allegations against troopers “to ruin their good reputation.”

Republished with permission from CTNewsJunkie.com, all rights reserved.

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