The newly created position of Inspector General investigating the use of deadly force by police is essentially stalled after the Criminal Justice Commission deadlocked on two candidates, and legislators are trying to figure out what to do next.
The job is considered to be a key component in generating independent investigations into incidents involving use of deadly force by officers. But advocates and the Connecticut Bar Association contend that the field of candidates – as determined by the police accountability law that created the position – is too narrow.
“It is clear that the search process for the first Inspector General, which only permitted applicants who are current prosecutors in Connecticut, was deeply flawed and did not yield the best qualified applicants for the position, resulting in no nominee for the role,” said Melvin Medina, Policy and Advocacy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut.
The Connecticut Bar Association Policing Task Force agrees. The association drafted a recommendation that was presented to a sub-committee of the state’s Police Transparency and Accountability Task Force asking the legislature to open the application process to candidates outside of the state’s Division of Criminal Justice.
By only choosing candidates from the division, “this precludes the Criminal Justice Commission from making selections from a larger pool of well-qualified candidates” including federal prosecutors and civil rights attorneys, the association said.
“As these other potential candidates are independent from the DCJ, they would avoid the appearance of conflict of interest which members of the DCJ will face as they regularly work with police officers, some of whom will be the subject of IG (Inspector General) investigations,” the association said.
The full Police Transparency and Accountability Task Force tabled voting on sending the recommendation to the legislature until a future meeting. Both houses of the state’s General Assembly will be in special session for two days this week. The agenda is packed tight with other issues and it was determined that no changes to the highly contested police accountability law will be made until the next full legislative session next year.
The 71-page bill includes dozens of police accountability reforms including the creation of the Inspector General to independently investigate the use of deadly force by police and in-custody deaths, more transparency by eliminating the opportunity for police unions to hide internal affairs reports through their contracts, more training in de-escalation, and more use of body cameras.
The co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee who drafted the police accountability law say it’s not the legislation, but the way that it’s being interpreted by the Criminal Justice Commission that’s the problem.
“I’m very disappointed with the Criminal Justice Commission that they were not able to fulfill their mandate of putting forth a nominee,” state Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, said. “It’s not our role to pick the nominee, that’s the Criminal Justice Commission’s job. In my mind they failed in their job.”
Stafstrom and the other co-chair of the Judiciary Committee state Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, contend that the way the law is written, the Criminal Justice Commission could have opened up the application process to those who don’t work at the Division of Criminal Justice.
“The way the Criminal Justice Commission is reading it, that person has to be a prosecutor already working in the Division of Criminal Justice,” Winfield said. “I don’t see that that’s the case.”
One section of the law states that the Criminal Justice Commission “shall nominate a deputy chief state’s attorney from within the division (of Criminal Justice)” who is subject to appointment by the General Assembly.
Another portion of the law states that the nomination made by the Criminal Justice Commission is to be referred to the Judiciary Committee which will send the candidate to the full General Assembly for approval.
A third section of the law says that the Criminal Justice Commission must appoint two deputy chief state’s attorneys to head operations and personnel in the Division of Criminal Justice and a third deputy chief state’s attorney who shall be nominated by the commission to serve as the Inspector General, in accordance with the other sections of the law.
The interpretation of the pool of candidates who can apply for the job hinges on the third reference to the Inspector General in the law. That portion of the law sets up the possibility of the Criminal Justice Commission appointing a third deputy chief state’s attorney who may or may not receive confirmation of the General Assembly.
The Criminal Justice Commission instead opted to limit the pool of candidates to only those who are already working in the Division of Criminal Justice.
New Britain State’s Attorney Brian Prelseki and Bridgeport Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney C. Robert Satti, Jr. were the only two candidates who were interviewed for the newly created position.
But the six members of the commission with voting privileges came to a 3-3 deadlock on both candidates. Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald, who chairs the commission, agreed to send both names as joint nominees to the legislature “so they can interview both candidates.”
McDonald declined to comment on the process.
Winfield’s plan is to have a talk with the Criminal Justice Commission “to come to a common understanding of how this works,” he said.
Although it may mean the position isn’t filled until early next year, the goal is to make sure it’s done right, Winfield said.
“The most important thing is that the person who gets the job can do the best job possible,” he said.