BERLIN - The police union filed a grievance Wednesday night claiming the Police Commission violated the police contract and the due process rights of a lieutenant by going into executive session during a disciplinary hearing Sept. 20.
In addition, the union and New Britain resident Richard Judd, a former New Britain police commissioner and former president of Central Connecticut State University, this week also filed separate complaints with the state Freedom of Information Commission regarding the same Berlin Police Commission meeting.
The disciplinary hearing, which was held as part of the regular commission meeting Sept. 20, focused on the proposed three-day suspension of Lt. James Gosselin, who was accused of being untruthful about whether he had approved two hours of overtime for an officer who needed a medical exam.
During the hearing, the union attorney, E. Gregory Cerritelli, representing Gosselin, was not allowed to speak or cross examine witnesses, union officials said. As was his right according to the police contract and state Freedom of Information law, Gosselin asked to have the hearing held in public rather than in executive session. But commission Chairman Robert Peters announced a motion to go into executive session and then seconded his own motion when no other commission member spoke up.
The commission went into executive session to discuss the suspension meted out by Police Chief James Fitzgerald after an internal affairs investigation was conducted. The commission then invited the public back into the meeting to vote to approve the suspension.
“As far as I’m concerned we didn’t violate anything,” Peters said Thursday. “Let the Labor Department decide.”
But union officials said the commission violated Gosselin’s rights. “It’s the union’s position that by not allowing Lt. Gosselin’s attorney to speak or cross examine any witnesses and by going into executive session at a public hearing, they violated his due process as specified by the union contract and Connecticut labor law,” said officer John Flynn, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 056, Berlin’s police union. “They need to be held accountable for their actions.”
The union is asking for Gosselin to be reimbursed for the three-day suspension and have any record of the discipline removed from his file. The grievance also asks the Police Commission to “cease and desist” from violating Section 8 of the union contract, which allows officers to request to have their disciplinary hearings held in public.
Flynn filed the grievance with Deputy Chief John Klett Wednesday night since Chief Paul Fitzgerald is out of town. If Fitzgerald declines to address the grievance it will be forwarded to the interim town manager, Jack Healy, for review, Flynn said. If Healy declines to address the grievance it will be forwarded to the American Arbitration Association.
Gosselin was disciplined by the commission in November with a five-day suspension for allowing a former Berlin officer to take a free off-site certification class. But the discipline was revoked and he was reimbursed for the suspension after state arbitrators became involved in the case. Flynn estimated that it cost the town about $8,000 to deal with the November discipline that was reduced to a written letter of reprimand.
The union’s and Judd’s FOI complaint alleges Peters violated state FOI laws when he went into executive session since Gosselin wanted the hearing to be public. The union is asking the Freedom of Information Commission to institute “monetary sanctions” against the police commission for violating the law.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.