The Harp administration forced its prison reentry chief out of his job after he was barred from reentering prison—to work with inmates—- because of pending criminal charges.
Sundiata Keitazulu offered his resignation from the position this week after learning at a meeting with city Human Resources Chief Stephen Librandi and Youth Services Director Jason Bartlett that he would otherwise be fired.
They told Keitazulu that they made the decision in part because the state Department of Corrections had barred him entry to the Whalley Avenue pre-trial prison to work with inmates because of the outstanding criminal cases. (Keitazulu is pictured above before a debate during a mayoral campaign he ran last year.)
“The Connecticut Department of Correction [DOC] routinely conducts criminal background checks to determine if individuals will be allowed access into any of our agency’s correctional institutions. In this particular case, Mr. Keitazulu was not granted access following this process,” DOC spokeswoman Karen Martucci stated in an email message Friday.
“Our position is that it’s impossible for him to do that job” without having access to the prison, Librandi told the Independent Friday.
“He could resign or he would be let go that day,” Librandi said.
Keitazulu lashed out Friday against that decision, saying he’s innocent of charges against him—or, in the case of an old outstanding warrant from New York City, being unfairly punished for a matter in which he had been wronged.
“I also told [Bartlett] that was years ago. He asked why I didn’t tell them about it. I forgot about it! It never came to my attention. At the same time, it would not stop me from doing my job,” Keitazulu said.
The city plans to unveil a new version of the reentry program, now called Project Fresh Start, at a Monday press conference. Mayor Harp said Friday that she has learned a lesson from the Keitazulu incident: The city will wait for a criminal background check to come back before hiring his replacement.
Meanwhile, Keitazulu said he plans to start a not-for-profit agency to help offenders. And he has some visits to courthouses on his calendar.
Clinton police arrested Keitazulu on Sept. 2, 2013, on two misdemeanor larceny charges. Keitazulu, who has pleaded not guilty, has a March 13, 2014, Middletown court date scheduled in that case.
He is also scheduled to appear this coming Tuesday, March 4, in state housing court in New Haven, he said, to respond to a summons he received in a dispute with a tenant who accused him of stealing $200.
And then there’s that New York case.
Those “Hippies” Were Cops!
Police did not have information available about that case Friday morning. Keitazulu offered his version of what happened.
[Update, March 6: Records show two warrants on file for Keitazulu’s arrest based on outstanding charges from two New York incidents. The first arrest occurred on Nov. 26, 2005. Police charged Keitazulu with three felonies—assault on a police officer with a dangerous weapons, reckless endangerment, and criminal possession of stolen property (a credit card)—as well as misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance and unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. New York police also arrested Keitazulu on Feb. 22, 2006, on a misdemeanor reckless endangerment charges; he pleaded guilty but then never returned for sentencing, according to records.]
Keitazulu claimed he had an outstanding warrant based on a New York incident from the mid-1990s. He said he was driving and almost hit another car—a police car. He described the charges alternatively as reckless driving and assault on an officer. He also said he fled the scene, in fear.
“They said I almost hit a police officer. I told them I didn’t know he was a police officer. He was an undercover police,” Keitazulu said.
“They pulled guns on me! So I took off. I didn’t know who they were. They looked like hippies! I thought they were trying to rob me.”
Keitazulu said he “went to court once” to answer the charge. But he didn’t return, because he was subsequently locked up in Connecticut on drug charges. So he couldn’t.
He claimed that in recent years he settled the matter with parole officers.
“They told parole they’re never going to pursue me. They told me never come back to New York again,” Keitazulu said.
The old case “does not stop me from doing my job. I told Jason, ‘If you want to give people jobs, we cannot go down the same line we’ve been going down.’”
Bartlett responded Friday that entering prison was a crucial part of Keitazulu’s job description—a job description the two hammered out together.
He said they agreed Keitazulu shouldn’t spend his days on “grant writing or writ[ing] memos or to do[ing] office work.” Rather, he would serve as “an outreach worker, somebody who can go in and out of the prisons and somebody who can work in the community with people who are on parole, people who are in halfway houses.” He said Keitazulu signed the job description and agreed to visit offenders in prison, assess their needs, then draw up plans to connect them with mentors and employers upon their release.
“What I saw as his strength was to go into the prisons and do assessments with inmates and figure out their needs and to do a plan so we can match them up with mentors and look to see what kind of services we can look to hook them upon their release,” Bartlett said. “He was unable to do that.”
“They never allowed me to do my job,” Keitazulu said Friday.
Prior convictions wouldn’t have prevented Keitazulu from entering the prisons again to work, Bartlett said. “That’s not the issue. The issue is, [DOC] came back and said, ‘He’s got a warrant for his arrest in New York State’” as well as his fresher outstanding Connecticut criminal charges.
Librandi, the human resources chief, was asked why his office didn’t come across that record in its background check before Keitazulu’s hiring. He responded that his office did make inquiries. “It’s not uncommon” for it to take weeks or longer to obtain a response, Librandi said. He said the information came back from DOC “simultaneously” with the response to Bartlett about admission to the Whalley prison.
Barltett called Keitazulu’s “lack of disclosure” about his criminal record “troubling.” Keitazulu argued that he did nothing wrong.
$200 & A Dirty Sock
Keitazulu ran into new trouble in September, when Clinton police issued an arrest warrant for him in the larceny case. Keitazulu’s mug shot popped up soon after on the screen of top cops’ weekly Compstat data-sharing meeting at police headquarters.
The incident occurred on Sept. 2. Police accused Keitazulu of sixth-degree larceny as well as conspiracy to commit larceny.
Here’s Keitazulu’s version: He was driving a cousin to Clinton. They visited a Stop & Shop. His cousin passed bad checks.
“I just gave him a ride! I never wrote no checks. I never purchased nothing. They said, ‘Well, you brought him out here!’ He opened up his own checking account! He has his own ID! They said, ‘You should never have brought him out here. So you’re with him too.’”
He argued that he was also unfairly accused in the matter coming up next week in housing court. It stemmed from a dispute with a tenant, or former tenant, of a building his mother owns on Shelton Avenue.
Here’s Keitazulu’s version of the incident:
“He moved out, and he wanted to move back in. I told him the only way to move back in is he pays a month’s security and a month’s rent. He had moved with this girlfriend. He got upset about it. He said he still had some of his stuff there. I told him, ‘I don’t know about your stuff. Whatever you left there, it’s your problem, not mine. Once you move out, I don’t have to let you back in there. You surrender your keys.’
“He said that he had $200 in a sock and it’s missing. I said, ‘Who goes around checking your socks for money? That’s ridiculous!’ He said he had $200 in his socks. I said, ‘Who’s going to look around in dirty socks for money anyway! If you move out, how would I know there’s $200 in there anyway?”
Keitazulu will next have a chance to tell that story at court. Meanwhile, Mayor Harp said she plans to wait for results of the next check before hiring a new person to run the reentry initiative. “We definitely learned that lesson,” she said.
posted by: connecticutcontrarian on February 28, 2014 1:24pm
It would seem that conducting a criminal background check on EVERY employee at that level might be useful in the future. Not just the ones who need to enter correctional facilities. How exactly did HR miss this one?
zulu’s story certainly sounds different from the basic “they pushed me out” story he gave reporters yesterday.
posted by: Tell The Truth on February 28, 2014 1:29pm
This is disgraceful. Yesterday Shaka Zulu made some very inflammatory allegations toward the Harp Administration. Mayor Harp gave him a chance. A chance not readily afforded persons with his criminal past! He owes a public apology at the very least towards Mayor Harp and Jason Bartlett. Thank you NHI for getting this story out, as yesterdays “truth” seemed very untrue!!
So the Harp Administration doesn’t do it homework.
Waaait, waaait, wait for the other shoe to drop!
posted by: robn on February 28, 2014 2:39pm
Even though Mr.K dropped out of the mayors race on August 2nd, he remained high profile because he immediately endorsed Toni Harp. How did the press (and for that matter the Harp campaign) miss the September arrest in Clinton?
posted by: Atticus Shrugged on February 28, 2014 2:54pm
Okay, so let’s see whether Robn, Wendy1, cedarhillresident, threefifths and the great Brian Jenkins will eat crow. I mean, really, the dude lied about his pending criminal history while seeking to be re-entry chief. Just gonna wait and see how much of that humble pie is eaten.
My guess, not a bite. There will somehow be blame placed on Mayor Harp and her administration for believing that he had turned his life around and not lied on his application. There likely won’t be any sort of acknowledgement that this was the correct decision in light of subsequent facts. And that’s fine because people have short term memories.
But perhaps, next time an administrative decision is made, the administration will get the benefit of the doubt.
Speaking of which, why did no one on the NHI staff (i.e., the reporter) note in the body of the article on “budding union leaders fired” point out that the most current performance evaluation was for 2011. That leaves 2012 and 2013 unanswered for. Kind easy to say that all of your evaluations were great if you don’t include potentially damning evaluations. Just a thought on journalistic accountability/integrity. You call it. Just an observation.
posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 28, 2014 3:18pm
posted by: Atticus Shrugged on February 28, 2014 1:54pm Okay, so let’s see whether Robn, Wendy1, cedarhillresident, threefifths and the great Brian Jenkins will eat crow. I mean, really, the dude lied about his pending criminal history while seeking to be re-entry chief. Just gonna wait and see how much of that humble pie is eaten.
Eat crow for what.The city plans to unveil a new version of the reentry program, now called Project Fresh Start, at a Monday press conference. Mayor Harp said Friday that she has learned a lesson from the Keitazulu incident: The city will wait for a criminal background check to come back before hiring his replacement.
How come they did not wait for the Back ground check.
posted by: Atticus Shrugged on February 28, 2014 3:19pm
Robn, thanks for proving my initial thought correct. I love being right. With respect to why this wasn’t caught, Librandi clearly stated that inquiries were made on Keitazulu’s criminal past. The man likely has many aliases as Keitazulu isn’t his birth name. Therefore, it takes some time for these things to come back.
Now, I admit, this does look bad for the Harp administration. However, she is doing the right thing by trying to clean it up rather than just shuffling him into another department or otherwise. Most people who are bosses have made a bad hire or two. The question is how does the boss respond. This was the proper response and one it appears the city intended to keep quiet by not responding yesterday.
Such is life. But man, being able to say that I’m right is almost as good as if I were to watch you eat some humble pie.
posted by: robn on February 28, 2014 3:20pm
With the limited information I had to go on I thought it was “unfair”. With today’s revelation though…. at first glance it seems that they had to do what they had to do.
However, i’m still torn between the idea of Mr. K as a discardable campaign tool vs Mr. K as an interesting experiment by the incoming Harp administration to put an ex-con in a position to help others with re-entry.
How his arrest in Clinton escaped everybody is puzzling. If his mug showed up at a NHPD Compstat meeting in September either the NHPD suddenly observed the most pious display of diplomacy ever, or word got out. If word got out, Harp/Bartlett may have knowingly offered him a job he couldn’t keep.
posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 28, 2014 3:27pm
Correction.WE will all being eating crow thanks to this.
Sundiata was the right man for the job. This is just another example of injustice, something that black men come up against every day.
Police and courts make mistakes all the time. Any of us can get caught up in BS at the drop of a hat especially if we’re black and poor. SD will never have to explain about those warrants or charges against him to me. I dont know any adult who hasn’t cheated, lied, been negligent or stupid in their lifetime. When I started in nursing, I was told by a great MD that most of us would or could be responsible for the death of a patient in our careers. This was scary to hear when I was young but helped drive me to be more paranoid and prone to triple-checking myself. This doc was just being honest with me. Now that I am old I am more tolerant, open minded, and aware of the multitude of glitches in our failing society. Our prisons for the most part are a disgrace run by callous and disinterested people. I understand the need to protect society from the crazies but SD is not one of them. The city needs people to deal with ex-prisoners.
posted by: robn on February 28, 2014 4:46pm
I’m gratified that you enjoy being right about me being right.
posted by: alex on February 28, 2014 4:54pm
This seems wrong to me. The City should have worked to clear Sundiata’s name, instead of cutting him loose. The best person for the job in prison reentry very well may be someone who still sometimes has difficulty navigating the system.
posted by: FacChec on February 28, 2014 4:59pm
Apparently there is a huge question mark for re-entry folks seeking redemption in a city that claims that previous records will not stand in the way of employment.
While the case against Keitazulu is a matter of record in the Middletown district court, he has pled not guilty while awaiting disposition.
Bartlett called Keitazulu’s “lack of disclosure” about his criminal record “troubling; because he did not disclose information prior to his hire.
Because Keitazulu failed to mention his record is not an indication of guilt or negligence, it is more a failure on the cities part by failing to have him fill out a job application before hire. It was not until after the hire that Barlett even developed a job description informing Keitazulu that his jail visits would expose his culpability.
Matter of fact there are a great number of current city employees who had records before and after being employed by the city. Apparently there is no standard covering these matters.
These Issues point out the compelling reason why Keitazulu should not have resigned, he now has an uphill fight in court where he otherwise might have prevailed. After All, with a good lawyer and the city’s record of loss labor cases fresh on the mind of Victor Bolden.
posted by: jenand on February 28, 2014 6:30pm
Paul Bass and Melissa Bailey - Let us hope that all continues to bode well for the Harp Administration. This story is a beautifully written humor piece, disguised as straight reporting, only it Was straight reporting, and could (must) become a film. I have no idea, being from the country, how so many infractions could add up withought everybody knowing about it. I feel embarassed for Mayor Harp.
posted by: getyourfactstraight on February 28, 2014 6:39pm
I think from what I read Harp did the right thing. However, she needs to get her act together and her administration when hiring people for certain jobs. Some positions absolutely call for background check. That is what happens when you hire someone because they supported you and you appoint them blindly. Where the heck is Tomas Reyes on all these things coming out. What the heck is he getting paid for anyway. Frankly, there is no need for an Chief Executive Officer and a Chief Administrative Officer (CEO and CAO). That was John DeStefano piling bureaucracy after bureaucracy positions. There is so much waste in this city and now more waste. The taxpayers are absolutely screwed!
posted by: HewNaven on March 1, 2014 12:46pm
Do Keitazulu’s supporters here really think he was qualified for such a high-level job, or are they just being polite? Maybe they didn’t hear his responses in the debates? He’s a great example for re-entry, but he doesn’t exactly strike me as someone who could work collegially or someone who could entirely manage a re-entry initiative. Indeed, he signed on to a job description that would have made him more of an outreach worker than a ‘manager’ of the re-entry program. His pending cases aside, Keitazulu was not qualified to manage. He admitted as much when he signed the job description Bartlett crafted for him.
posted by: FacChec on March 1, 2014 4:25pm
@HewNaven on March 1, 2014 11:46am
Hew, I disagree with you on the following points:
1. You said: Do Keitazulu’s supporters here really think he was qualified for such a high-level job”
Ans: Harp thought he was qualified based on his campaign contributions.
2. You said: “he signed on to a job description that would have made him more of an outreach worker than a ‘manager’ of the re-entry program”.
Ans: That is precisely Keitazulu’s argument. Bartlett did not take his opinion into consideration while developing the job description. “They never allowed me to do my job,” Keitazulu said.
3. You said: Keitazulu was not qualified to manage. He admitted as much when he signed the job description Bartlett crafted for him.
Ans: Bartlett actually said: “He said they agreed Keitazulu shouldn’t spend his days on “grant writing or writ[ing] memos or to do[ing] office work.” Rather, he would serve as “an outreach worker, somebody who can go in and out of the prisons and somebody who can work in the community with people who are on parole, people who are in halfway houses.” He said Keitazulu signed the job description and agreed to visit offenders in prison, assess their needs, and then draw up plans to connect them with mentors and employers upon their release.
There is every indication that Bartlett wrote the job description with management credentials specified, after all, how could Bartlett justify paying him $55K.
The central question left unanswered is whether it was justified forcing Keitazulu out based on a finding by DOC, but not yet confirmed by a court of law. Or, was he forced out because of his demand to perform the job, which before him had no job description, at a level more identified with by the re-entry folks.
Secondly, there is no reason to believe that he could not perform the same task without going into the jails, but only once the re-entry person was actually released in New Haven and not winding up someplace else.
posted by: 14yearsinNHandgone on March 3, 2014 10:39am
This falls on the city’s shoulders.
It’s not like this man was an unknown quantity, but they thought he was probably clean, so they let him start working while his background check ran.
It’s not like they didn’t expect him to have to get security clearance, and it was added to the job description once he started.
This is a man with a criminal past, and a job with a clear need for regular access to the prison population. Any competent hiring manager would have waited for the background check to clear first.
Incompetence from the city, that is all this comes down to.
posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on March 7, 2014 1:43am
Apparently the court jester Atticus Shrugged didn’t read my prior comments thoroughly.
I clearly stated that, I WASN’T SURE AS TO WHAT HAPPENED.
Fortunately for you Atticus, the NHI refuses to post my comments when you try and take shots at me.
Since I copy all of my words, I’ll try again. If they act as your attorney again, I’ll abandon this paper and begin to use the other one.
posted by: NHRedemption on March 7, 2014 6:01pm
Sundiata said he “I forgot about it” meaning the outstanding warrant(s). Well if you think about it—no one could ever forget you can’t go south of CT in a car without going thru NY,,,kinda hard to forget that…surely this new information sheds even more light on the memory lapse.