Assistant Police Chief Luiz Casanova is asking a federal judge to do what he couldn’t convince Mayor Toni Harp to do: name him New Haven’s police chief.
And throw him some extra cash in the process.
Casanova — who returned to work this week after being out on medical leave — makes that request in a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court.
The lawsuit charges that Casanova has suffered continual harassment and retaliation in violation of federal law in a quest to make him retire, in part because he “opposed overt race discrimination” in the department.
The lawsuit was filed Nov. 3 by Casanova’s attorney, Thomas Bucci. It asks the court to:
• “Enjoin [the city] from engaging in such conduct.”
• “Order [the city] to appoint the plaintiff to the position of Chief of the New Haven Police Department.”
• “Ward the plaintiff economic damages based on his loss of income” as well as “compensatory damages.”
Mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer said the city has no comment on the suit, since it is pending.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill in Bridgeport.
Attorney Bucci is a former mayor of Bridgeport. He was asked in an interview Thursday how he would have reacted as mayor if one of his appointees had asked a judge to order him to fire a police chief and hire someone else.
“I would ask my corporation counsel: ‘Did we follow the charter provisions for hiring a chief of police? And if not, how do we correct the situation?’” Bucci responded.
Bucci said he could not immediately cite a “concrete example” of a case in which a judge ordered a top mayoral appointee fired and a lawsuit plaintiff hired in his stead. But he noted that it is common for public employees to file suits alleging they were unfairly disciplined or passed over for promotion, and that judges have ordered that successful plaintiffs be promoted.
The lawsuit is the latest installment in an ongoing drama involving Casanova since he and Anthony Campbell competed to become New Haven’s police chief. Different community groups backed each of them; immigrant-rights who have worked with Casanova rallied to his side. Some of the controversy took on a racial cast. (Casanova is Latino, Campbell black.) Mayor Toni Harp eventually picked Campbell.
In his lawsuit, Casanova alleges that he became the subject of ongoing unfair disciplinary actions stemming from that dispute. The incidents involved include:
• A one-day suspension for allegedly calling a cop a “fucking mope” and not allowing him to have union representation during a confrontation about it. Click here for a full story on that.
• An allegation that he created a hostile work environment and undercut Campbell’s disciplinary orders at the training academy. Click here for a full story on that.
Casanova also alleges in the suit that he is being punished by the Harp administration for speaking honestly about an alleged request by a white East Shore alder to have a Latino district manager, Sgt. Wilfredo Cruz, removed from his assignment so that a white cop could take his place. Click here to read a full story about that.
“The selection process for the position of Chief of Police was a charade, and the Mayor had no intention of selecting the plaintiff ... or giving the plaintiff a fair opportunity to compete for the position,” Casanova’s legal complaint reads in part. “The rejection of the plaintiff ... was an act of retaliation directed at the plaintiff because he had opposed the discriminatory treatment of Sergeant Wilfredo Cruz, and because of his expected testimony before the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities supportive of Sergeant Wilfredo Cruz’s claims of race discrimination.”
An Avian Fable
In the suit, Casanova alleges that Chief Campbell sought to get him to retire and “threatened” to continue harassing him if he didn’t.
The complaint states that Casanova brought his complaints to the mayor and Chief Administrative Officer Mike Carter. It describes Carter concluding a meeting on the subject by telling Casanova the following story:
“A little bird refused to join the flock which was flying south for the winter. It refused to listen to its parents and elders, thinking that it could tough it out. Winter came, and it was so cold that the bird froze and fell to the ground covered with snow. A cow came by and dropped some dung on the bird. The pile of dung warmed the bird and brought it back to life. It lay there all warm and happy, and soon began to sing for joy. A passing cat heard the bird singing[,] took the bird out of the pile of cow dung, and ate it.”
The complaint then quotes Carter offering a moral to the story: “When you’re in deep shit, it’s best to keep your mouth shut!”
Carter declined comment for this story.