Vote Hinges On Cop-Subpoena Details

Thomas Breen photos(Updated): Board of Alders leaders won’t oppose the idea of a Civilian Review Board (CRB) issuing subpoenas to cops it investigates.

But the alders won’t formally endorse that power in the text of a new city law scheduled for a final vote Monday.

So said Amity / Beaver Hills Alder and Board of Alders Majority Leader Richard Furlow on Thursday night after a closed-door, two-hour-and-ten-minute Democratic Party caucus meeting on the second floor of City Hall.

Under discussion at the private caucus meeting was the latest draft of an ordinance to create a new version of the CRB. Voters approved a 2013 charter referendum that called on the alders to create a new version with more power; that has proved to be a long and controversial process.

The latest proposed ordinance is on the Board of Alders agenda for a second reading and final vote at next Monday’s full board meeting. The vote has been delayed over activists’ demand that the CRB have subpoena power and leading alders’ concerns that state law might not allow them to include that power. Until this week alders said they were receiving conflicting legal information on whether state law allows for it.

See below for a statement from one of those activist groups, calling on the alders to delay Monday’s vote.

Furlow said on Thursday night that the alders cannot grant the CRB subpoena power, because, alders now acknowledge, state law determines that right.

And what does state law say? According to this 2015 memo written by city Corporation Counsel John Rose, the CRB would indeed have subpoena power per authority granted by the state legislature’s Special Act of 1899.

“The Civilian Review Board,” Rose wrote in the memo, “as one ‘of the several boards of commissioners’ of the Board of Alders has the power to compel the attendance and testimony of witnesses before it by the issuance of subpoenas and the administration of oaths.”

“I don’t think he’s wrong,” Furlow said about Rose’s opinion on Thursday. However, he noted, there is no case law to support this interpretation of state law.

He said alders would not fight against a CRB exercising its state-given right to issue subpoenas, but that the courts would ultimately have to decide on the validity of that authority if the city were to be sued.

Furlow added that the alders do not need to add any explicit endorsement of the CRB’s right to subpoena power in the city ordinance.

“We don’t need to make a decision in regards to subpoena power,” he said.

“We don’t have to take a position,” he continued, “because of the special act” of 1899.

Furlow said the alders’ interpretation of state law as granting subpoena power to the CRB is not a deviation from what he or his colleagues thought several weeks ago, despite recent postponements to scheduled votes on the CRB ordinance after activists filled the Aldermanic Chambers and demanded that the alders amend the ordinance to explicitly include subpoena power.

Furlow said those delays were not because of confusion over whether or not the CRB should have subpoena power, but because alders still needed to review various amendments submitted by their colleagues. At least one of those amendments, from Newhallville / Prospect Hill Alder Steve Winter, explicitly endorses the CRB’s right to subpoena power unless that right is prohibited by state law.

Furlow said the alders are still finalizing an amendment that will be considered alongside the CRB ordinance on Monday night. He said the draft of the amendment will be finished and available for public consumption by the end of Friday.

As for what was said during Thursday night’s two-hour-plus, closed-door Democratic caucus meeting, which 17 alders attended? The alders discussed policy and procedural details regarding the CRB ordinance and other items up for a vote at Monday’s full board meeting, according to Furlow.

“It’s a discussion, not a debate,” Furlow said about the private caucus meetings. All 30 alders are registered Democrats, though two alders, Downtown’s Hacibey Catalbasoglu and Newhallville / Prospect Hill’s Steve Winter, won their respective aldermanic races as unaffiliated candidates.

Connecticut law grants alders and other elected officials the right to meet privately and talk about whatever they want away from public view so long as the elected officials are all members of the same political party.

Unlike executive session portions of public meetings, which public officials can use only on specific occasions, single party caucus meetings offer unrestricted opportunities for public officials of the same political party to discuss whatever they want in private. In a city like New Haven, where every alder is a Democrat or caucuses with the Democrats, that means that the entire board can, and does, get together to talk about whatever they’d like for as long as they’d like, all in private.

“City Needs To Be Clear” On Subpoena Power

As the alders deliberated in private inside Meeting Room Three on the second floor of City Hall Thursday night, CRB subpoena proponent Kerry Ellington and a half-dozen other strong CRB activists waited in the hallway outside. In recent weeks, Ellington and dozens of other representatives from community groups like People Against Police Brutality have filled the Aldermanic Chambers in protest of legislation that did not explicitly give or acknowledge the CRB’s right to issue subpoenas.

Before the alders entered their private caucus on Thursday, the activists tried a quieter tactic to influence the alders on the issue. They gave the alders a basket of oranges and pretzels.

“We’re trying the kindness route,” the New Haven Resistance Choir’s Laurie Sweet said with a smile.

Ellington was less sanguine after learning that Furlow and his colleagues are reluctant to include a specific reference to the CRB’s right to issue subpoenas in the city ordinance itself.

“The city needs to be clear in whether or not it’s going to support this body,” Ellington said. By not making any reference to the CRB’s right to issue subpoenas and by silently deferring to state law, she said, the alders would be abdicating their responsibility to inform the public on where they stand on such a pivotal issue.

“We want an affirmation that the city is going to acknowledge that power and not challenge it,” she said.

Activist Statement

Below is a statement written and submitted by CRB activist Jenny Tumas on Friday afternoon.

Dear President Walker-Myers and the Board of Alders,

We are writing to urge that the vote on the CRB be delayed until a number of remaining details are ironed out. The residents of this city need and deserve a real Civilian Review Board, and we need your political courage to make that happen.

Firstly, through our conversations with various Alders, we understand that the Board of Alders has now come to the conclusion that the Civilian Review Board legally can and will have subpoena power. As has always been our position, subpoena power is absolutely necessary for the CRB to be a true mechanism of accountability.

However, we have now learned that the Board of Alders plans not to explicitly affirm the CRB’s power to issue subpoenas and that subpoena power will not be written into the ordinance. We cannot rely on unofficial accounts and ‘implied powers’ when it comes to such a key aspect of the CRB. Subpoena power must be written into the ordinance. The fact that state law permits the CRB to have subpoena power does not absolve the city government of the responsibility to write an ordinance that clearly explains the specific powers and responsibilities of the Civilian Review Board. Further, we have seen no legal reasoning that explains why subpoena power should not be written into the ordinance. Now that you have come to the conclusion that subpoena power is legal, it needs to be written into the ordinance and we demand a delay until this issue is resolved.

Secondly, the staffing mechanism laid out in the current proposal is not adequate to ensure that the CRB will have the resources it needs to be able to investigate misconduct. The CRB needs to have an investigator on staff, not a contractor. Requiring that members of the CRB vote before contracting an investigator adds unnecessary layers of bureaucracy, subjects the CRB to unnecessary fiscal and budgetary volatility, and ultimately makes it less likely that the CRB will be able to investigate complaints. There is still work that needs to be done to iron out the most effective staffing for the CRB, from both an investigatory and fiscal standpoint.

Thirdly, exclusively using the Community Management Teams to select members of the Civilian Review Board does not guarantee the independence of the CRB that the Charter demands. Civilian Review Board need to be drawn from representative neighborhood-based organizations, a pool wider than New Haven’s Community Management Teams. The vitality of CMTs varies significantly across neighborhoods, and many Community Management Teams have complex and disqualifying connections to alders, police, and neighborhood watch organizations.

Fourthly, the language in the preamble that states “WHEREAS, it is the unique power and privilege of police officers acting within the scope and course of their employment in these departments to use force, even deadly force, in making arrests” is dangerously vague, unnecessary, and legally incorrect.

These remaining issues are significant and threaten the legitimacy of the CRB as an independent body. We demand a delay in the vote until these issues are resolved. That said, these issues are not insurmountable. The last few months have shown that we can improve the proposal when the Board of Alders works in collaboration with residents and community organizers. We urge you to continue working with us to resolve these outstanding problems with the current proposal.

People Against Police Brutality

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posted by: Noteworthy on January 4, 2019  9:00am

These “private” Democrat party meetings - which are really aldermanic meetings should not be private. This is where this hapless group of do nothings cook the votes and figure out how to posture their BS for the public. These policy discussions should be subject to the sunshine. They are only attended by publicly elected, publicly paid and in the public owned City Hall. But they hide their shxt behind closed doors.

posted by: hoshinonakata on January 4, 2019  9:30am

“Before the alders entered their private caucus on Thursday, the activists tried a quieter tactic to influence the alders on the issue. They gave the alders a basket of oranges and candy bars.”

So in other words, a group looking for elected officials to make a certain decision brought said officials a gift at the start of the meeting. Is that what I’m reading here?

[Note from the reporter: I was incorrect in stating that the gift basket contained oranges and candy bars. It contained oranges and pretzels. I’ve corrected the article accordingly.]

posted by: SteveO on January 4, 2019  9:40am

Noteworthy, you do know that the alders only get 148.00 a Month ! Peanuts for the amount of time they put into trying to help their constituents.

posted by: JohnDVelleca on January 4, 2019  10:18am

Really?  This issue is now reliant upon the interpretation of an obscure law that’s over a hundred years old by an attorney who is choosing to see things through “rose colored glasses” (pun intended).  This may take ridiculousness to a new level.  What happened to the city that I love?  I remember when people running the city actually had a clue.  For the record, anybody can interpret any law to their own liking.  An attorney is not a magician nor do they have special powers of perception that the mere mortal cannot understand.  Let’s be logical just for one second: the courts grant subpoena’s and the courts operate under state mandate (i.e. state laws).  So the BOA, even though they believe they have as much power and authority as the US Congress, cannot grant that right.  For example, let’s hypothetically assume that they have the right to grant the CRB subpoena power.  Next, the CRB issues a subpoena for appearance to a police officer.  Next, the subpoena is deemed invalid (which is exactly what a union attorney will do) and the cop disregards it.  What is the violation here and how is it enforced?  It can’t be contempt can it?  A while back I remember reading something written by a guy named Einstein who said “Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced.”  I understand that there are citizens who are dissatisfied with the NHPD, but arming each side with power and authority and setting up to battle each other is not the answer.  Maybe the activists should stop the protests and mini riots and attempt to talk through their grievances with the police and the police should stop circling the wagons every time they’re criticize and actively listen.  I honestly think we’re better than this in New Haven.

posted by: wendy1 on January 4, 2019  10:38am

We need and must get a CRB with sub. power.  The public must have effective recourse for problems with the police and these problems do exist.  There are NH victims.

Yes the alderman only get a pittance and I have mentioned this for years. The BOA is a volunteer job, almost a hobby.  But why haven’t the alders demanded change???  And now it may be too late for that kind of money.  Should ward alderman/alderperson be a paid position???  What do you think?

Aside from the famous five last year, the BOA has been an echo chamber for the mayor, very disappointing.

posted by: westville man on January 4, 2019  11:00am

John Velleca-  Actually, many non-judicial commissions and administrative agencies have subpoena power. Connecticut Gen. statutes section 7 – 279 specifically gives it to police commissioners, for example.
At least one fairly recent Supreme Court decision appears to indicate a liberal application of that power.  Perry v Perry, 222 Conn. 799. 
So it’s not a stretch that the CRB can get it, depending upon the City Charter empowering provisions, of which I am not familiar.

posted by: fcastle1984 on January 4, 2019  11:20am

NHPD is over 100 positions short. The alders would be smart to think this through. Word around the city is the CRB would cause an instant and mass exodus. Even tenured veterans not eligible for retirement will walk.

Imagine footing the training bill because the dept is now 200 + short. That number can easily go to 300 short. For remaining officers, it will be overtime every day. If the city tries to fill 200-300+ spots, that will cost approximately 18-27 million. Half of them will leave anyway. The other half will be the 2nd chance society criminals that only New Haven Board of Police Commissioners will hire. New Haven will put them through the academy with problematic backgrounds and pay 70k a head. The Police Officer Standards and Training council (POST), will refuse to certify them. Legally, they will not have the authority to even make an arrest. Thereby wasting 70k per head to train problematic people how to become better problematic people.

I actually want it to pass. Between the protesters constantly trashing the pd, the lack of a contract, the city basically hiring criminals, the stealing from the administration, the graft, the bribes, etc. This city is heading toward anarchy.

Maybe the CRB can get subpoena powers to review the theft from the Mayor and her cronies too. Oh, wait, I forgot. They need her support for this. Well, their graft is A OK! 😂🤣😂🤣

Please CRB protesters, continue with the gifts and bribes. Get this passed anyway possible.

Maybe the NHPD Union should learn from protesters tactics. Maybe instead of Harp having the City pay for a China trip, maybe they should try the “kindness” tactic and buy one for her. Maybe they would get a contract, then.

Oh wait, they realize that’s considered a bribe.

Some people just want to watch the world burn. Cant wait for the impending chaos.

It’s amazing the pd hasn’t picketed town hall yet over all this non sense.

posted by: fcastle1984 on January 4, 2019  11:27am

Definition of bribe

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : money or favor given or promised in order to influence the judgment or conduct of a person in a position of trust

2 : something that serves to induce or influence

That’s from the webster merrium dictionary. Let’s resort to BRIBERY! The CRB people should go work in the TRUMP ADMINISTRATION!  They’re just as pitiful and scummy as Ryan Zinke.

posted by: Noteworthy on January 4, 2019  11:33am

Steve O - The alders are paid a pittance because it’s a volunteer job. There are city boards where members don’t even get a pittance. They are still subject to sunshine laws. If this was Florida - they’d be sanctioned by the governor, fined and for repeated offenses, be removed from office. When elected officials get together to discuss and make decisions on public policy - it should be public regardless of how much they’re paid. Florida law says if two or more are gathered where policy is discussed, the press and public must be notified.

As for the pay - I’d advocate we have a maximum of 5 alders and pay them a living wage - and get rid of half these committees. That would make them full time and really constituent focused. This charade is not focused on residents, taxpayers or the public.

posted by: fcastle1984 on January 4, 2019  11:48am

This is what happens when policy shifts too far.

New Haven is going to suffer the same fate. When the real estate market goes underwater for all the people trying to leave as the city delves into chaos, its gonna be interesting to see what happens then.

Property values will drop and the mill rate will need to rise as the city needs to fund the 2nd chance lunacy.

Tax Em Toni will be left with no other choices 🤣😂
Florida, here I come!

Mill rate gonna be over 50 after lawsuits and paying for a complete pd rebuild.

posted by: thecove on January 4, 2019  12:08pm

Are there really that many incidents of officer misconduct to warrant all of this?  If so, I’m not seeing it.  I would agree that it would have a substantial adverse affect on officer recruitment and retention.  Won’t the body-cams suffice?  If the plan is to move forward with this, I would expect that a requirement to serve on the CRB would be at least 2-3 shifts of ride-alongs with beat cops to experience the scrutiny they face everyday on every call.  This seems to be a piling of more onto a deck that already stacked against them.

posted by: wendy1 on January 4, 2019  12:41pm

Hey Noteworthy, I like your idea—-5 paid alders.  And they would have to show up on time for the meetings.

posted by: robn on January 4, 2019  12:43pm

Refresh the mission and composition of the already existing Police Commission and stop cow towing to radical, pro-criminal activists.

posted by: TheMadcap on January 4, 2019  2:44pm

Either explicitly grant the review subpoena power or don’t even call it a review board

posted by: thecove on January 4, 2019  4:39pm


Well said…!

posted by: narcan on January 6, 2019  10:56am

Allowed to meet in private any time they wish as long as they are all members of the same party?

As in having other voices represented is a good thing for public policy and transparency?


It’s no wonder New Haven is in such a mess if the alders fold so easily to a small group of anti-cop extremists and professional protestors.

Next step: the taxpayers foot the bill when the police sue to vacate a bogus subpoena or for being improperly disciplined by the CRB.

posted by: jepadilla on January 7, 2019  2:39pm

I’m all for paying our Alderpeople when we get the BOA down to 9 elected representatives.  This would cut down the noise from so many narrow interests, and force Alderpersons to campaign more broadly for votes.