HARTFORD, CT — After nearly eight hours of interviews, the Criminal Justice Commission chose Richard Colangelo Jr. to be Connecticut’s next Chief State’s Attorney.
Colangelo, the state’s attorney for the Stamford and Norwalk Judicial District, stressed his ability to lead and encourage staff to be “problem solvers” during his interview before Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald and a body of five others including Superior Court Judge Melanie Cradle, former New Britain State’s Attorney Scott Murphy and three other lawyers. The commission is responsible for the appointment of all state prosecutors.
Colangelo, who has served as state’s attorney for the Stamford and Norwalk Judicial District since July 2015, will begin serving as Chief State’s Attorney immediately to complete the five-year term of former Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane who retired in November. Colangelo will then have to be re-appointed to another term.
He recently gained statewide and national notoriety during the months-long investigation into the disappearance of New Canaan resident Jennifer Dulos, a mother of five embroiled in a bitter two year-divorce.
He told the commission that he would reach out to communities throughout the state and to the 13 offices of the State’s Attorneys to get an understanding of their workloads and the problems faced by the communities they serve.
“I think we do a bad job of letting people know what we do,” Colangelo said. He also said he often uses laughter to break up tension among his staff and had no problem changing policies to address community issues.
“When I was appointed I went to every police department, every school, every community group to ask what we were doing right and what we were doing wrong,” Colangelo said.
He also understood the “ripple effect” of his decisions on the families of those charged with a crime and on crime victims.
Colangelo was one of four candidates for the job. Kevin Lawlor, who was appointed deputy chief state’s attorney of operations in July 2018, Erik Lohr, an associate attorney in the Office of the Attorney General and Maureen Platt, the state’s attorney for the Judicial District of Waterbury, were also interviewed during a public session at the Legislative Office Building. Members of the Connecticut American Civil Liberties Union’s Smart Justice Campaign were in the audience.
The commission made their decision against the backdrop of increased calls for transparency and accountability for police and prosecutors after three fatal police shootings in less than three weeks this month and calls for reducing mass incarceration.
A repeated theme throughout the interviews focused on how the prosecutor’s job has changed, with more of an emphasis on keeping people out of the system by offering services rather than jail time.
“We cannot do the job the way we did it 10 years ago,” Platt said. “I think we have a public relations problem. I think the years of incarceration has cost us the support of large segments of society.”
Platt went on to explain that in the 1980s and 1990s prosecutors routinely sentenced those charged with prostitution to 30 days in jail. “Frankly that was something that was horrible,” she said. “Not only wasn’t it compassionate, it was stupid as well.”
The sentences guaranteed that the person was out on the streets in 15 days with no support, Platt said. “It was ridiculous, we created a revolving door of incarceration,” she said.
Lawlor said he met with the CT ACLU group at their request after he was appointed to his current position. He told the commission that he would seek community input and ask prosecutors to spend more time talking with those they prosecute.
“For the most part, we never really talk to someone we prosecute,” Lawlor said. He then went on to say that his time as a young man driving a transport vehicle to the prison in Somers was “very humbling” as he could hear the other young men roughly his age talking as he was driving.
He said he’d like prosecutors to speak with defendants which would “change their perceptions of folks” and have prosecutors throughout the state take a more “holistic” approach when dealing with defendants. “I think we need more warrior poets in this job,” Lawlor said.
Police shootings, which fall to the state’s attorneys to investigate, was a topic the public wanted the commission to address in making their decision. .
Platt has been the State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Waterbury since 2011. She led the controversial deadly use of force investigation into a Bridgeport officer who shot and killed 15-year-old Jayson Negron in a stolen car in May 2017.
Platt exonerated the officer. But she was the only candidate who told the CT ACLU that she would support legislation to change the justification for police shootings to make it clear that it would not be justified if the officer did not create a situation in which the use of deadly force was necessary.
Negron’s sister however asked the commission not to appoint Platt as Chief State’s Attorney and said that her advocacy for those who have died in police-involved incidents will continue. She called the most recent police shootings when three men were killed “a state of emergency” in Connecticut.
“We will continue to fight for all who have been taken at the hands of police,” she said.