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Connecticut Demands Accountability for Falsified Police Tickets

A new audit found that there is a “high likelihood” that hundreds of state troopers collectively falsified tens of thousands of traffic ticket records over the last decade. The state has launched an investigation into the matter.

Connecticut lawmakers said state police officials need to be questioned and held accountable after a damning new audit found there is a "high likelihood" hundreds of troopers collectively falsified tens of thousands traffic ticket records over much of the past decade.

Rep. Steven Stafstrom said the Legislature should hold public hearings and conduct its own investigation into the audit's findings.

"It's shocking and downright disturbing," said Stafstrom, D- Bridgeport and co-chairman of the judiciary committee. "It raises a whole host of questions about line officers and frankly the command structure and the oversight."

Separately, Gov. Ned Lamont on Wednesday said an investigation was being launched.

Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney called the findings "serious" and "very disturbing." He said he was glad the governor promised an investigation into the matter.

"An investigation is certainly in order," said Looney, D- New Haven, who has helped lead the passage of the police accountability laws. "These are clearly serious findings of a significant amount of improper activity by a number of troopers."

Sen. Billie Miller said she wanted the legislature's Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, which she chairs, to examine the matter.

"This is something that we need to look at because they've circumvented the law," said Miller, D- Stamford. She also called for police who intentionally fabricated to be held accountable.

Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly called the audit's findings "disheartening" and agreed with Lamont's decision to investigate it further but said lawmakers should let that probe play out before intervening.

"I would allow the investigation to look into this, and then, when we get those findings, figure out whether there needs to be a legislative response," said Kelly, R- Stratford.

Advocacy groups, including the Connecticut National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ( NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, called for people to be held responsible.

"We think there needs to be swift accountability, not just for the officers who falsified the reports, but also for the State Police," said ACLU CT executive director David McGuire.

"This is really troubling. It's not one officer. It's not one troop. It's widespread," McGuire added. "It really calls into question whether oversight systems in the Connecticut State Police are functioning, or present at all. Because this is the kind of widespread issue that should have been caught early."

What the Audit Found

The audit's findings, presented at a virtual public meeting Wednesday, allege systemic violations of state law and that the misreporting skewed racial profiling data making it appear troopers ticketed more white drivers and fewer minority motorists than they really did.

Auditors cautioned their monthslong review — triggered by a Hearst Connecticut Media investigation that exposed how four troopers purposefully created fake tickets for their own personal gain — did not attempt to determine if the widespread problems were intentional. They said a formal investigation would need to determine that.

"This report suggests a historical pattern and practice among some troopers and constables of submitting infraction records that were likely false or inaccurate," according to the 78-page audit released Wednesday by researchers on behalf of the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, a state-funded group that analyzes police citations to determine racial profiling trends.

The report found there was a "high likelihood" at least 25,966 tickets were falsified between 2014 and 2021. Another 32,587 records over those years showed significant inaccuracies and auditors believe many of those are likely to be false as well.

The auditors emphasized their analysis was extremely conservative, and "the number of falsified records is likely larger than we confidently identified."

The findings showed significant numbers of false and inaccurate tickets were submitted by up to nearly one quarter of the 1,301 troopers who wrote tickets for the state's largest law enforcement agency during those years.

Officials, Advocates React

Gov. Ned Lamont, after an unrelated media event Wednesday, said there would be "an independent investigation."

"We'll get to the bottom of it," Lamont said. "We are going to take a good, hard, independent look at what's going on."

A spokesman for Lamont later said the investigation was being spearheaded by the office Chief State's Attorney Patrick J. Griffin, which last August launched an ongoing criminal investigation into the four troopers.

Griffin watched Wednesday's virtual meeting where the audit's findings were presented but did not speak. A spokeswoman for Griffin later said the office was reviewing the audit, and "at this initial stage of review, it would be inappropriate for the office to comment further."

Lamont on Wednesday took issue with the tickets being called "false" or characterized as "inappropriate," and he emphasized how the report found the discrepancies had declined over the years and urged the public to not rush to judgment.

"I wouldn't jump to conclusions," said Lamont, who became governor in 2019, a few months after state police found four troopers had been fabricating tickets. "There's no indication that was purposeful. A lot of it may have been inadvertent. We've got to look into that."

The head of state police, Col. Stavros Mellekas, responded to the audit's findings moments after they were presented to the project's advisory board at a meeting Wednesday.

Mellekas, who is also an advisory board member, focused on how the audit found the number of false and inaccurate records declined over the years, particularly following reforms the department took after four troopers were discovered fabricating tickets in 2018.

Still he said the audit's findings were "disturbing."

"Anyone ... that is creating false documents, we need to investigate that, and if it's criminality, we'll go to the chief state's attorney's office and handle all that appropriately," Mellekas said.

"If it's not, and it's an error, we're also looking to fix," the department's systems, Mellekas added. "We've updated our systems and put guidance out to our troopers and we are going to work with you closely to resolve any further issues."

Mellekas also stressed no drivers were actually issued fake tickets; officers only entered phony ticket information into databases. "No one in the public received any fake ticket," he said.

The audit's findings may also garner interest from federal prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office, which had asked auditors to share their results when the audit began in September. That office declined to comment Wednesday.

Requests for comment to the state troopers' union and other agencies were not returned Wednesday.

Stafstrom said while he was "somewhat encouraged" the data showed the number of false reports had dropped in recent years, "there are still documented incidents and that provides little solace."

"Obviously, state police are placed in great positions of trust and responsibility and at first blush this seems like a breach of that trust," Stafrstrom said. "It also calls into question all of our data and reporting over the last decade."

Stafstrom added: "I would submit that not just by executive branch but the legislature should play a role in this too. There likely needs to be hearings on this."

Looney said he believed there was intent behind most of the false tickets identified by the audit. And he said he doesn't think proving intent will be difficult.

"I don't think it's necessarily that difficult to prosecute someone who put false information in a state police database," he said. "Intent could likely be inferred from that."

"If someone put a false report of a traffic stop that never occurred into the database to make it look like they were more active on their shift than they really were — that I think is a serious effort to create a false appearance," Looney said.

Looney said he would like to see all police departments regularly audited to make sure the tickets they are filing to the racial profiling system and the ones they're sending to court match up to ensure profiling is being accurately tracked.

Miller said she was particularly concerned with how the problems affect analyses of whether police were engaging in racial profiling when they pulled drivers over in recent years.

She said the law requiring police departments to report data so the public and state officials could monitor for racial profiling — and intervene — was passed in the wake of a federal investigation in 2011 that found officers in East Haven were discriminating against Latino drivers and racially profiling them in traffic stops.

"(We) worked hard to stop the racial profiling and to prevent it," said Miller.

Miller, who is also a member of the legislature Judiciary Committee, said it is the legislature's job to ensure police are not discriminating.

"We need to ... be intentional about closing the loopholes and making sure that there's an end to racial profiling," said Miller. "As members of the Black and Hispanic communities, representing those communities, our job is to make sure that they are safe and that they're treated fairly."

McGuire, from the ACLU, said he wants to see more investigations to follow up on the audit "to get to the bottom of what was happening."

"The most important thing about the investigation is that it's rigorous and truly independent," he said.

The department's failure to accurately report racial profiling data has significant impacts.

"The public has been relying on the data in these reports. Legislators have been using that data to craft state policy ... There are a lot of people who rely on this data, and there was a lot of really great reporting that relied on the racial profiling data as it evolved over the years. To learn that a significant part of the racial profiling data wasn't real is awful."

ACLU CT's public policy and advocacy director Claudine Constant, who is a member of the racial profiling project's advisory board, said the audit "reveals a breathtaking disrespect for the state's racial profiling prohibition law by Connecticut State Police employees and, even worse, for that law's goal of reducing systemic racism in policing."

"Police cannot police themselves," Constant said. "We urge swift and transparent accountability for all individual Connecticut State Police employees who falsified traffic stop records, and this report also requires system-wide accountability for the Connecticut State Police."

After the audit's findings were presented at Wednesday's meeting, Tamara Lanier, from the Connecticut NAACP and a member of the profiling project's advisory board, wondered what would happen next.

"Are we going to have accountability?" Lanier said. "What happened to the troopers who engaged in this conduct?"

(c)2023 The Middletown Press, Conn. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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