After Winning Civil Suit, Ex-Hartford Cop Robert Murtha Wants Job Back
By STEVEN GOODE
February 26, 2010
Former Hartford police Officer Robert Murtha wants his job back.
He expressed those sentiments and a feeling of happiness Friday over a judge's decision to award him nearly $580,000 in damages in his civil lawsuit against the city.
The next step, he says, is to remove the word former from his occupation.
He expects that to happen when he wins his case currently before the state Board of Mediation and Arbitration.
"A major step toward vindication has been taken. The criminal trial was the first. This was the second," Murtha said. "Being reinstated will be next. I expect before the end of 2010 to be back in the police academy and to get back to patrolling the streets and serving the people of Hartford."
Murtha, 40, had been a police officer in Hartford for about 4½ years when he shot a fleeing suspect twice in the arm in 2003. At the time of the incident he told investigators he fired because he had been struck by the suspect's car, but a videotape taken from another cruiser at the scene showed that the car never struck him and that he fired into the driver's side window as the suspect drove past him.
Murtha was suspended without pay in February 2003 and arrested a month later on charges of first-degree assault, fabricating evidence and filing a false report. He was fired in November 2004 and found not guilty by a jury on all three charges in October 2006.
In 2007 Murtha filed suit against the city seeking reimbursement for hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and back pay. He was seeking about $1 million.
In July 2009 the city sought to have the suit dismissed, arguing that Murtha had failed to exhaust other administrative remedies. Superior Court Judge Thomas Corradino denied the city's motion.
Corradino awarded Murtha $457,000 in attorneys' fees for Michael Georgetti and Hugh Keefe; $84,000 in base back pay; $16,000 in overtime; and $22,000 for 88 days of accrued time. In his decision Corradino also left room for Murtha to provide more evidence to seek damages for interest and deferred compensation.
Georgetti said Friday that he found the 38-page memorandum of decision well reasoned and very detailed.
"Judge Corradino applied common sense to the complex issues presented to him," he said. "Sadly for the taxpayers, a settlement offer which was for less than one-half of the court's award was rejected by the Hartford city council. The council rejected the proposed settlement even though it was strongly recommended by the corporation council's office."
Last June in a memo to the city council, John Rose, the city's lead attorney, urged the council to settle with Murtha and pay him about $490,000.
"There is no question that Murtha will recover against the city," Rose wrote. "The only question is how much will a jury/court award him."
The settlement would have covered just more than Murtha's legal fees. But it would also have been paid out over a three-year period and would have included ceasing the pending litigation with the state Board of Mediation and Arbitration, which could amount to several hundred thousand dollars more awarded to Murtha in back wages, Georgetti said.
Asked for comment Friday, Rose declined. When asked if he planned to appeal the decision, Rose said: "If I file an appeal then you'll know I filed an appeal. I'm done."
Mayor Eddie A. Perez's office also declined to comment.
Council President Pedro Segarra declined to comment until he had an opportunity to read the judge's decision.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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