Federal judge rules against state troopers in discipline records suit

Connecticut State Police Troop A headquarters in Southbury

A federal judge has ruled against Connecticut state troopers in their lawsuit challenging part of the state’s police accountability law that allows the public access to complaints made against state police officers.

In a 33-page ruling Tuesday, senior district court Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. said the state police union’s claim for an injunction against parts of the police accountability law “would not serve the public interest” and denied their request.

“We respectfully disagree with the judge’s ruling and we’ll file an appeal,” said Andrew Matthews, executive director for the Connecticut State Police Union.

He said the union plans to ask for a stay on the judge’s ruling to prevent state police from releasing any of the contested records before the appeal is decided.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in August, claims the new police accountability law violated the contract the troopers union negotiated with the state.

Commissioner James Rovella of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection was named as defendant in the suit.

Brian Foley, a spokesman for Rovella’s office, deferred questions about the case to the Attorney General’s office, which is representing Rovella in the suit.

Attorney General William Tong’s office provided a statement that reads: “We think the court reached the right decision, and are awaiting the plaintiff’s decision on an appeal.”

The most recent state police collective bargaining agreement allows troopers to decide whether their personnel records are made public, including complaints made against them.

But the police accountability law requires state police to hand over trooper’s disciplinary records when asked.

Troopers contend that requirement includes investigative records against state police officers that are found to be exonerated, unfounded or not sustained.

The police accountability law was passed over the summer in the wake of nationwide unrest spawned by the alleged murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.

Matthews, the state police union director, argued that if “false malicious allegations” made anonymously against an officer were released to the press, it could harm a trooper’s reputation.

He claimed the number of false anonymous complaints against state troopers is increasing, without giving numbers.

“That’s just not fair to people,” Matthews said.

Tuesday’s ruling indicated such complaints might not become public after all.

“Although the CSPU contends that the Act’s disclosure provisions are unreasonable because they would invade the privacy rights of state troopers and tarnish Troopers’ reputation when false, unsustained allegations are disclosed,” Haight wrote, the state’s decision to allow disciplinary records to be released under the state’s Freedom of Information Act does not negate trooper’s privacy rights “nor implies that all such records will be disclosed.”

Connecticut Media Group