EAST HAVEN, Conn. -- An internal investigation into the conduct of several police officers working a case in New Haven, which included an accident between their cruiser and another vehicle, is expected to be completed this week, amid questions about what brought so many cops to the city and what they did there.
Officials say as many as seven officers are in the internal affairs investigation, including now retired Sgt. Gary DePalma, who is also running for mayor as a Democrat. DePalma denies involvement in the matter, claiming his inclusion in the probe is merely political.
Specifics of any alleged wrongdoing remain unknown, though officials say this is the first "test" of the consent decree, an agreement between the town and the U.S. Department of Justice reached after a probe of racial profiling by the department.
The town signed the consent decree in November 2012, and it is essentially the ruling contract of the Police Department. The goal of the consent decree is to ensure biased-free policing.
A resolution regarding the internal investigation of the New Haven incident will be reached as early as this week, Town Attorney Joseph Zullo and Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. said.
The Department of Justice was informed of the internal affairs investigation, which is standard procedure, said Attorney Lawrence C. Sgrignari, who has handled these affairs for the town. Sgrignari said he was not aware of any other DOJ involvement in the investigation. A DOJ spokesperson declined comment.
The internal investigation began after the Jan. 17 accident near the New Haven Register's 40 Sargent Drive building. It remains unknown if the inquiry revolves around the accident or the other actions of officers.
Officers were involved in the accident in New Haven while pursuing leads on a purse-snatching in East Haven.
The entire incident began when a woman, who is also the mother of an East Haven officer, reported her purse stolen. This led police to New Haven where they tried to locate the vehicle based on the woman's description.
Police went to the home of Jennifer Deming, of New Haven, who was the registered owner of the vehicle and others. Then Officer Carlos Roman went to one location in New Haven, while Officers Craig Michalowski and Kershen Bissette went with Detective Robert Ranfone following, the police report states.
Ranfone spotted another, unoccupied, car registered to Deming, though not the one seen at the purse-snatching, on Long Wharf Drive.
A woman, later identified as Dominique Cash, of New Haven, began driving the vehicle, and officers tried to pull her over. Once on the road, Cash pulled into the right lane and appeared to be making a right turn onto the entrance ramp of Interstate 95 South but instead brought her vehicle to a complete stop against Michalowski's and Bissette's cruiser as it was also turning right onto the ramp, the report says.
Cash claimed she had no knowledge of the purse-snatching incident. She was allegedly driving the car without license and insurance, so police issued a misdemeanor summons.
There are some disparities in the police report based on what a Register reporter witnessed. The report says Bissette, who was a recruit at the time, was the driver of the police cruiser. Bissette is a black male, but the reporter witnessed a white male exiting the driver's side of the police cruiser.
After the incident, Cash was charged with violation of a protective order and placed in jail. She received a one-year suspended sentence and two years of probation on April 18, court documents show.
New Haven Police were not notified of the incident, police spokesman David Hartman said, nor were they informed of East Haven's activity in the area. Hartman said at the time it was not surprising they were not told of the accident because it was so minor. There is no rule to let another department know you are in their area, he said, though "it is generally done as a common courtesy."
Amid rumors, DePalma confirmed Friday he had been a part of the internal affairs investigation.
A Freedom of Information Request for all of DePalma's records, including information about internal investigations, showed no notice of the probe.
The only record of reprimand in DePalma's file was his lack of wearing his hat while on duty when he first started as an officer.
DePalma retired before the conclusion of the investigation, but says it was because he wanted to dedicate time to his campaign, and make room for another officer who was being promoted. DePalma said his involvement in the investigation is "comical."
Though he was working up until 4 p.m. the day of the incident, DePalma said he only learned of the accident from a call hours after his shift ended. He had responded earlier in the day when an officer reported seeing a car matching the description given by the purse-snatching victim, but said he was not involved when another department official gave the OK for the additional officers to pursue leads in New Haven.
He was not aware the officers were permitted to go into New Haven, he said. A police report shows the accident occurred around 6 p.m., two hours after DePalma said his shift ended.
"I was at best tangentially involved in this incident and numerous officers provided statements regarding my lack of involvement. I would also add that numerous members of the department suggested that I retire because the current administration was going to attack my work ethic and commitment to our town for political gain," he said.
"This is garbage and should be treated as such," he said.
Maturo declined to respond to DePalma's comments.
Officials have repeatedly declined to comment on any specifics of the case or the probe.
Police Chief Brent Larrabee declined to comment again Friday.
Maturo said the Police Department is handling the investigation properly.
"The department is running the way it's supposed to. We have a lot of things in place and we're going right by the book," he said, alluding to the consent decree.
Copyright 2013 - New Haven Register, Conn.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service