April 2, 2005
By MATT BURGARD, Courant Staff Writer
Hartford's police chief
took the witness stand Friday in a longstanding lawsuit accusing
the police department of failing to be more accountable to
Chief Patrick J. Harnett, who took over the department last
June, testified in a hearing at federal court in Hartford in
a case that dates from the early 1970s.
The Cintron vs. Vaughn lawsuit, filed by a group of residents
and community activists, was resolved through a 1973 consent
decree that required the city to take steps to be more accountable
and responsive to the community, particularly in hiring more
minority officers and investigating civilian complaints of police
Hearings are underway to determine
if the department is living up to the requirements of the consent
decree. The hearings are being overseen by Richard Bieder,
a "special master" appointed
by Senior U.S. District Judge Ellen Bree Burns.
The group of residents who are plaintiffs in the suit want the
court to find the city in contempt for failing to meet the requirements
of the consent decree; the city wants the court to nullify the
Harnett was questioned Friday about his compliance with an order,
issued by Burns last June as part of an update to the decree,
to appoint at least eight investigators to the department's internal
affairs division. The judge issued the order as a way to help
relieve a backlog of civilian complaints in the division and
to make sure each complaint is reviewed thoroughly.
Harnett said the judge's order was issued about a week after
he took over the department, and he has since been trying to
make sure the department is complying with the many requirements
of the consent decree.
He said he has appointed four sergeants to the internal affairs
division, along with a supervising lieutenant and an assistant
chief who devotes about 20 percent of his time to internal affairs
Harnett said he has not been able to appoint eight investigators
to the division because of staff shortages, which have forced
him to assign most of his personnel to more pressing assignments
such as patrol and violent crime investigations.
Harnett said he is still learning how to incorporate the decree's
requirements into the department's daily operations.
"I was just too new to the department when the order was
issued, and I'm still too new, quite frankly," he said.
But some of the plaintiffs in the case, including former Deputy
Mayor Nicholas Carbone, said the chief should have notified either
the court or the plaintiffs to try to arrange a compromise.
"He never did anything to let us know he was having problems
carrying out the requirements," Carbone said.
Harnett acknowledged that he didn't keep the plaintiffs informed.
"I didn't view it as my role to reach out to the plaintiffs," he
The chief is expected to continue testifying when hearings resume
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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