NEW HAVEN -- The Board of Police Commissioners suspended a police officer Monday for a year, but didn't fire him as the chief recommended over questions about whether he lied in court while facing a DUI charge and later tried to hide his 10-day stint in jail.
After handing down the punishment for Officer James Evarts, commission Chairman Richard Epstein acknowledged some deficiencies in the Internal Affairs investigation, which Evarts' attorney Norman Pattis of Bethany relentlessly pounded during the two-day disciplinary hearing.
But the board still found him guilty of three of the five department violations and levied a 12-month, unpaid suspension and mandatory alcohol treatment.
"An officer who is found to have lied ... is of little value to a police department," said Floyd Dugas, an attorney representing Police Chief Frank Limon, who in effect worked as the prosecutor in the administrative hearing.
Pattis attacked the IA investigation and cast it as a rush to judgment toa hard-working officer's career. He highlighted the fact that one of the offenses Evarts faced was lying on his job application about a previous DUI arrest when, in fact, he admitted to it when asked at an oral interview. Investigators didn't bother listening to the audio tape, Pattis said.
Evarts' problems started in July 2010 when he was arrested for DUI in Old Saybrook. In October, the police commission suspended him for six months, but the union negotiated the penalty down to three. He had already returned to work when he pleaded guilty in Superior Court and agreed to a 10-day prison sentence under threat of a perjury warrant for lying in court.
At a court hearing, he stated that he had never enrolled in any alcohol awareness program reserved for first-time offenders. He had, though, from a 1993 DUI arrest from before he was a police officer.
In the end, Dugas pushed that point to the commission: That Evarts has lied in court, that he was deceitful when he took vacation time to conceal his incarceration, and then, instead of turning in his gun for safe keeping, contacted a colleague to take it. He conceded that the issues were "muddied" with some of the newly revealed, exculpatory information.
Pattis viewed it differently. He said Evarts received a diversionary program for the first DUI arrest that left him without a record and that he believed -- perhaps mistakenly -- that he didn't have to reveal it.
"Was there an intention to keep this (his incarceration) below the radar? Probably there was," Pattis replied.In any case, was Evarts under any obligation to reveal why he wanted to take vacation? Pattis asked.
"So going to Cape Cod is in the same vein as going to jail?" Epstein asked.
In the end, the board found him not guilty of two of the five offenses. Epstein said there was information missing from the IA probe.
Even so, he added, commissioners were most bothered by Evarts' actions prior to his incarceration and how he handled his gun during it.
Call William Kaempffer at 203-789-5727.