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    Stratford Police Chief, Ex-Con and Union Prez cost City 2.5 million?

    Ex-cop wins $2.5 million in Stratford police retaliation trial
    Connecticut Post 2016-09-22 21:57

    STRATFORD — A former Stratford cop who groused about a superior officer to another cop in the parking lot of Police Headquarters in 2011 has won a $2.5 million court settlement.
    The settlement this week in U.S. District Court in New Haven was the result of retaliatory moves that followed those remarks.
    William Jennings, a former narcotics detective, testified that he was drummed out of the Stratford police in late 2011.
    The settlement was for $1.5 million in punitive damages and $1 million for compensatory damages resulting from lost wages and pension compensation. Sources said that the punitive amount, or $1.5 million, can't be covered by municipal insurance.
    The town will appeal the decision, however.
    “The Town vehemently disagrees with the jury's verdict and will pursue all available means to overturn the verdict, including an appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals if necessary,” said Town Attorney Christopher M. Hodgson. “The Town's insurance carrier was placed on notice of the claim and we are discussing the verdict with them.”
    Jennings claimed in federal court that the disciplinary actions he faced were in retaliation for speaking disparagingly about then-Stratford Police Union Local 407 President Joseph McNeil, a captain at the time — and now the chief of police.
    “One day in March of 2011, my client is asked by another officer, 'What do you think of the new contract?' ” said Jennings' attorney, John R. Williams of New Haven. “To which he replied, 'I think Chief McNeil sold out the union to get his job back.' ”
    This was in reference to disciplinary action that McNeil faced after a 2008 incident in which McNeil was arrested, charged and later suspended for the unlawful release of confidential information and making false statements about Christian Miron, the brother of then-Mayor James Miron.
    Christian Miron had wanted to become a police officer at the time.
    Relations between the police rank-and-file and Mayor Miron were never good, and this dustup made things even worse. McNeil denied the charges at the time.
    McNeil was placed on accelerated rehabilitation because of his clean record. He also got his job back as a police captain and he was later awarded back pay.
    But after that chat in the parking lot of Police Headquarters in March 2011, things began to slide downhill for Jennings, his lawyer said. McNeil was told about the parking-lot conversation and Jennings immediately received a written warning for speaking ill of a superior officer.
    Jennings was told told by the department not to file a grievance about the warning; he did anyway.
    A month later, Jennings was removed from his job as the SPD member of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration task force, an assignment that he held for nine years.
    Williams claimed in court that this was part of a pattern of retaliation. “Basically, the SPD brass was making life miserable for him,” Williams said.
    Jennings, now 51, quit the department on Dec. 30, 2011, after 24 years with the force. He was able to collect a pension, but it's about 20 percent less than he would have gotten if he retired after 30 years. He also went a year without a paycheck.
    He moved with his family to Mesa, Arizona; he found work as a security guard for a hospital, a job that he still has.
    In 2014, Jennings received some good news from the state Board of Mediation and Arbitration which ruled that he was unfairly disciplined for his parking-lot chat. The board said that those comments were protected by the First Amendment.
    Town attorneys claimed in court that there was no retaliation but the jury saw things otherwise. The trial took three days and the jury deliberated for two hours. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer presided over the trial.
    Town officials wouldn't comment on whether an appeal would be filed, but sources told the Post that town attorneys will soon be heading back to federal court in New Haven where the trial took place to fight the decision.
    “If they want to appeal, they'll be walking down a long, difficult road,” Williams said. “There were no errors with the trial — most of the evidence was presented by mutual agreement. They just disagree with the verdict.”
    Williams said that his team made an offer to settle the case out-of-court for a lower amount.
    “They refused to discuss it,” he said. “They took the hard line.”
    jburgeson@ctpost.com
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