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A federal public defender, a retired judge who is the chair of the state’s Sentencing Commission, a veterans’ legal rights attorney and a former state prosecutor who is now a criminal and civil defense attorney are the finalists vying to become Connecticut’s first Inspector General investigating fatal police use of force incidents and in-custody deaths.

Austin Ryan McGuigan, a former state prosecutor in New Britain and Stamford who now represents criminal and civil clients, Trial Referee Judge Robert Devlin, who is the chair of the Sentencing Commission, federal public defense attorney Moira Buckley and Connecticut Veterans Legal Center Executive Director Liam Brennan will be publically interviewed by the state’s Criminal Justice Commission on Sept. 27.

The four were chosen by the Criminal Justice Commission Sept. 9 after an extensive application period.

“We were pleased with the depth and breadth of the applications we received,” said Criminal Justice Commission Chair Associate state Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald. “We were happy that it was sufficiently robust that it yielded four incredibly well qualified candidates.”

The Division of Criminal Justice declined to provide the number of people who applied for the job.

McGuigan now runs his own firm, Rome McGuigan, P.C. He has extensive criminal and civil trial experience, according to the firm’s website. Devlin, a former federal prosecutor, served as the judicial branch’s Chief Administrative Judge for Criminal Matters during his tenure as a Superior Court Judge and also served on the state’s Appellate Court until he retired in 2020 and became a judge trial referee.

Buckley was in private practice as a partner at Shipman & Goodwin, LLP, prior to becoming an assistant federal defender. Brennan worked for the U.S. Department of Justice as an assistant U.S. Attorney investigating fraud, including helping send former Gov. John G. Rowland to jail a second time. He is a visiting lecturer at Yale University, according to the Connecticut Veterans Legal Rights Center.  

The public will be allowed to provide input after the candidates have been interviewed during a special meeting of the Criminal Justice Commission on Sept.27. The commission will then go into executive session to make the choice, McDonald said.

It’s been a year-long process to fill a position that advocates say is critical to providing independent investigations into police use of force deaths.

“For more than a year we’ve been asking that the pool of candidates be expanded to include more than those currently employed at the state’s Division of Criminal Justice, and it’s encourage that it seems to be the case,” said Claudine Fox, public policy and advocate director for the American Civil Liberties Union Connecticut Chapter. “However it remains to be seen if the person picked for this role will be committed to valuing Black lives by holding police accountable for violence.”

Members of the CT ACLU have called for several years for independent investigations of deadly use of police force. The investigations are currently done by a state’s attorney from a different district than where the deadly event occurred, and the results have overwhelmingly exonerated police. In some cases, the investigations have taken years and the family of the person who died has gone without any formally released information.

The inspector general job was created by the 2020 Police Accountability law but has been in limbo since September of 2020, when the Criminal Justice Commission deadlocked on the two prosecutors from the Division of Criminal Justice vying for the position.

Under the original legislation, only prosecutors from the division were allowed to apply. Advocates called for a broader range of candidates since state prosecutors often work side-by-side with the police they now would have to investigate.

Gov. Ned Lamont signed a separate law in May that opened up the qualifications to include attorneys with investigatory experience who work outside of the division. The person who is hired will be considered the third deputy chief state’s attorney, so they will have prosecutorial powers. However, the position is considered independent from the division. The law that passed in May also requires the chair of the commission to select a candidate if another deadlock occurs.

Qualified civil rights attorneys, federal prosecutors and even judges were able to apply when the process reopened in June. The commission is required under the law to make the appointment for a four-year term by Oct. 1. The salary is $167,183 a year.

The person who is hired will then have to choose a team of investigators and set up office space to begin work.

The inspector general is expected to conduct extensive investigations into deadly use of force incidents and then determine if police were justified in applying deadly force under state statutes. If it is determined that an officer was not justified, the inspector general can bring criminal charges and would prosecute the case.

The Office of the Inspector General is expected to conduct about 25 investigations a year including examinations of in-custody deaths that occur at municipal police departments and within the state Department of Correction.