Whether a municipality and its taxpayers should be financially on the hook when a police officer is falsely charged with sexual assault was the subject of a Connecticut Supreme Court oral argument Wednesday.
It has been eight years since a New Haven police officer was arrested for allegedly assaulting two women in a bathroom at BAR, a Crown Street nightclub in New Haven.
On Wednesday at Quinnipiac University, the state Supreme Court heard an argument on the city’s appeal of a 3-year-old jury judgment that awarded Officer Anthony Maio about $235,000 from the city.
Maio, who was acquitted in the criminal case against him in 2010, is now a sergeant on the New Haven police force.
After his acquittal, Maio sought money from the city to cover the legal expenses he had incurred while defending himself at trial.
Maio invoked Connecticut General Statute 53-39a, which requires the city to cover an economic loss suffered by a cop who has been tried and found not guilty of a crime allegedly committed while he was on duty.
The city refused to pay, claiming extra-duty work, at least in this case, didn’t carry the same liability as regular patrol work. Maio sued the city in June 2010.
In 2013, Maio won the civil suit he brought against the city. He sued New Haven to claim reimbursement for legal fees he incurred while successfully defending himself in the criminal case.
A six-member jury awarded Maio $187,256.46. He was also awarded interest, applicable because the city refused a settlement offer. With interest, the total award is $235,153.
The city of New Haven’s attorney, Proloy Das, told the justices, the previous court ruling should be overturned because Maio was “not acting for the public benefit, not for taxpayers.”
Das said there is ample case law in other states that shows when a police officer is acting in the “interest of a private bar, not in the public interest,” that the city should not be liable for legal costs.
He continued: “If the officer was responding to a robbery in the bar, that would be different. He was on the second floor, serving the interest of the bar, not the taxpayers of the city of New Haven.”
On April 19, 2008, Maio, then a 12-year veteran of the New Haven police force and recent recipient of an officer-of-the-month award, was working as an extra-duty officer in full uniform at BAR.
Two Quinnipiac University female students, ages 20 and 21, were hiding in the bathroom at closing time as Maio made the rounds to clear out the bar. According to testimony from the criminal trial Maio said he remembered the two women as “trying to flirt with him” earlier in the evening.
Maio, again according to testimony in the criminal trial, “brushed them off” and told them to get out of the bathroom and followed them downstairs to ensure that they left. Once outside, the two women saw another uniformed police officer and told him that Maio had molested them in the bathroom.
Following an internal investigation, Maio was charged with unlawful sexual contact and unlawful restraint. Maio was placed on administrative leave with full pay for the next 16 months until his case went to trial.
A year-and-a-half later, Maio was acquitted after the jury deliberated only 15 minutes.
Das told the justices that “reading from the officer’s own testimony during his trial, he went into the bathroom because he heard laughing and giggling. There were no public purpose for him to do so.”
But Maio’s attorney, Daniel Scholfield, told the justices that the criminal and civil trial decisions in favor of his client were the correct ones.
“I see the location of the extra duty work as a red herring,” said Scholfield. “Extra duty officers are clearly working for the city.
“The city negotiates the contracts for extra duty work,” continued Scholfield. “The city negotiates the rates. Officer Maio didn’t negotiate this duty, the city did.”