robert devlin
Robert Devlin Jr. Credit: CT-N

After a marathon interview session Monday the Criminal Justice Commission chose a retired appellate judge as Connecticut’s first Inspector General to investigate fatalities or beatings by a police officer. 

Judge Robert Devlin Jr. is currently chairman of the state’s Sentencing Commission and a trial judge who retired from the Appellate Court in April 2020 after serving as a Superior Court Judge for 26 years. He previously was an Assistant United States Attorney, Assistant State’s Attorney and Deputy Assistant Public Defender.

“You have to follow the evidence, you have to be brave, you have to look at the evidence in an objective way,” Devlin said. He went on to say that, “there are people who think police can do nothing wrong and people who think police can do nothing right” but the Office of the Inspector General would have to strike a middle ground to produce the fairest investigations.

The Commission voted 5-0 in favor of Devlin Monday over three other candidates. 

“We are confident that Judge Devlin’s long and distinguished career in the judicial system will help him take on this very challenging and important job,” Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald said. “The Commission was very fortunate to have four extraordinary applicants come before us today. We want to thank those outstanding applicants who stepped forward and sought this important position.”

The vote comes just about a year after the commission deadlocked on two candidates from within the Division of Criminal Justice resulting in the position not being filled until now. A law change this year that required the chair of the commission to pick a candidate if there was a tie guaranteed that there would not be another stalemate. But that was unnecessary since only five voting members of the commission participated and they unanimously approved Devlin’s appointment in a public vote after an executive session.

The commission spent more than four hours interviewing all four candidates for more than an hour each and then listening to the public before making the decision.

Devlin, Austin Ryan McGuigan, a former state prosecutor in New Britain and Stamford who now represents criminal and civil clients, federal public defense attorney Moira Buckley and Connecticut Veterans Legal Center Executive Director Liam Brennan were chosen as the finalists to be interviewed.

McGuigan runs 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.

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.  

Each responded to a series of questions from the commission on how they would handle the job. It’s been McGuigan’s experience that police don’t always come forward with information on co-workers, he said. “It’s not a thin blue line, it’s a thick blue wall that gets put up,” McGuigan said before explaining that he would report any officer who refuses to cooperate with a subpoena to the state’s Police Officer Standards and Training Council.

Buckley said she had no allegiance to anyone but the truth and justice. If hired, her staff would have had to be “fair-minded and willing to operate with a different paradigm than what came before.” She also wouldn’t presume that a police officer was a more credible witness than civilians, but she wouldn’t discredit the police either. “I would have no bias one way or the other,” she said.  

Brennan had extensive experience with federal fraud cases but had never conducted an investigation into a violent crime, he conceded. He was committed to holding police accountable and “someone who can withstand public pressure and not be swayed,” Brennan said.

Devlin, as chair of the Sentencing Commission, is known as a no-nonsense contributor to any discussion on reforms, often pointing out that legislators need to understand the benefits of reform before they’ll back proposed legislation.

While not fully endorsing the commission’s choice, the Connecticut chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union called for Devlin to chart a new course.

“For the Inspector General to make meaningful progress toward valuing Black lives by holding police accountable for violence, they must be independent from other prosecutors, their office must be fully funded, they must use their legal power to seek redress for people harmed by police, and they must advocate to eliminate the systems that have shielded police from accountability for decades,” Claudette Fox, the organization’s public policy and advocacy director, said. “We hope the first Inspector General will set the tone for all who follow by staunchly advocating for and defending each of these requirements for success.”

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 information.

“This is a job for someone who is willing to fight and advocate for the people, who believes fiercely that Black lives matter and who is passionately committed to holding police accountable,” said Anderson Curtis, a senior policy organizer with the CT ACLU. “This is not a position for someone who views the position as dirty work that they or someone else must simply deign to do, but for someone who has fortitude and conviction that it is good, necessary and morally and legally mandatory to pursue justice for Black lives.”

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

Under the original legislation, only prosecutors were allowed to apply. Advocates called for a broader range of candidates because state prosecutors often work side-by-side with the police who 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. Devlin will be considered the division’s third deputy chief state’s attorney, so he will have prosecutorial powers. However, the position is considered independent from the division.

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. Devlin will have to choose a team of investigators and set up a work space before the office can begin investigating.

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.