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Jones v. East Hartford Police Department

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 31, 2016

JUMA JONES, MARK ALLEN, and KENNETH COMBS, Plaintiffs,
v.
EAST HARTFORD POLICE DEPARTMENT and MARK SIROIS, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

WARREN W. EGINTON, Senior District Judge.

This is an action by African-American police officers against the town of East Hartford Police Department and its former police chief, alleging racial discrimination, retaliation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Counts I, IV, V, and VIII of the fourth amended complaint are asserted on behalf of plaintiff Juma Jones; Counts II, IV, V, VI, and VII on behalf of Mark Allen; and Counts III, IV, and VIII on behalf of Kenneth Combs.

Counts I-III allege a practice of racial discrimination in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment against the Town and Chiefs Sirois and Sansom in their official capacities. Count IV alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress against Chiefs Sirois and Sansom in their individual capacities. Count V alleges retaliation in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment as to the Town. Count VI alleges racial discrimination in violation of Title VII as to the Town. Count VII alleges retaliation in violation of Title VII as to the Town. Count VIII alleges racial discrimination in violation of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practice Act ("CFEPA") as to the Town.

BACKGROUND

The following factual background is reflected in the parties' evidentiary submissions.

Scott Sansom is the current chief of police for the East Hartford Police Department ("EHPD"). Chief Sansom is listed as a defendant on plaintiffs' fourth amended complaint, but he has not been served with a copy of the summons and complaint, and is not listed on the docket.

In 2001, after serving as acting chief for approximately one year, Mark Sirois was selected as the permanent chief of police. Sirois retired on January 1, 2014.

The chief of police makes all decisions for the EHPD concerning discipline, hiring and firing. The EHPD rules and regulations allow the chief to consider an employee's history when handing down discipline.

Juma Jones

Jones was employed by the Town as a police officer from December 2003 until February 22, 2013, approximately nine years.

On January 11, 2013, Jones was arrested for alleged domestic violence. The alleged victim reported to the Hartford Police Department that she was Jones' ex-girlfriend, that Jones would not stop calling her, and that he showed up at her house and would not leave. The alleged victim was unaware of how Jones knew of her residential address. Jones admitted to the Hartford Police Department that he had obtained his ex-girlfriend's address from his work computer. As a result, Chief Sirois initiated an internal affairs investigation concerning Jones' use of the COLLECT computer system, a database operated by the State of Connecticut for law enforcement purposes. The investigation found that Jones had violated multiple section of the EHPD Rules and Regulations and the policy of the COLLECT system. On February 4, 2013, Jones was arrested for 3 counts of computer crime in the third degree.

On February 22, 2013, Chief Sirois terminated Jones' employment based on the findings that Jones (1) engaged in personal conduct that lead to his arrest by the Hartford Police Department; (2) knowingly accessed the COLLECT system on three separate occasions to obtain information for personal reasons; and (3) knowingly entered inaccurate information on the COLLECT system.

Mark Allen

Officer Allen has been employed by the EHPD as a police officer since 1995.

In 2011, Allen conducted an internal affairs investigation into a complaint against Lt. Curt Stoldt, concerning the belittlement of another officer. Allen substantiated the charges against Stoldt. Thereafter, Allen claims that Stoldt harassed him.

On April 13, 2011, Stoldt complained that Allen had gone to the mayor's office and discussed an open internal affairs investigation with the mayor and her secretary, Karen Noel. Deputy Chief Vibberts conducted an investigation. Ms. Noel denied that she had spoken with Allen, and Allen was not disciplined.

In May 2011, Stoldt made verbal and written complaints to human resources alleging that Allen had sexually harassed a 22-year-old female reporter. Stoldt also complained that Allen had spread false rumors about him, that he believed Allen held a grudge against him, and that Allen had improperly investigated him. Stoldt subsequently filed a complaint with the Chief Sirois regarding these same issues. Allen contended that Stoldt was fabricating these issues as a form of retaliation due to Allen's internal affairs investigation of Stoldt. An investigation found Stoldt's complaints did not substantiate any wrongdoing on the part of Allen.

On September 8, 2011, Allen filed a complaint against Stoldt. Allen reported that he was speaking with Stacey Dew and Officer Ian Allison in Ms. Dew's office when Stoldt entered and asked, "what, is this a convention?" Ms. Dew asked if he was scared. Stoldt responded, "No, I dated a black girl in college."

Officer Allen's complaint was investigated. Deputy Chief Vibberts concluded that Stoldt had violated Town policy. Mr. Cassetta likewise issued a memo stating that Stoldt's statements were contrary to the spirit of the policy prohibiting harassment, but that he did not believe there was a hostile work environment. Accordingly, Stoldt was not disciplined, but he did receive counseling by the chief of police.

In January 2012, Allen filed a complaint with HR alleging harassment by Stoldt. Allen reiterated his complaint about the "convention" comment. He also complained that Stoldt had made a subsequent derogatory remark. Officer Allen reported that, in November 2011, Stoldt approached Allen and Lt. Rosa, and said, "What's up, boys?" After Stoldt walked away, Lt. Rosa immediately expressed his concern to Allen that Stoldt had made such a remark. As part of his January 2012 complaint, Allen also alleged that Stoldt had made some false complaints against him; had during his Garrity interview accused him of being insane; had attempted to solicit information to use against him; had excluded him at a Fight for Hunger event; and had veracity issues.

The Town hired Halloran & Halloran ("Halloran") to investigate Allen's complaint. On May 10, 2012, Halloran issued its report. Halloran concluded that the two comments, the convention comment and the "boys" comment, over the course of three months did not rise to the level of a hostile work environment. Halloran also found no violation of the retaliation policy. Halloran, however, recommended some corrective action. In April 2012, Stoldt received harassment training.

Allen did not file any subsequent complaints alleging racial discrimination or harassment. Aside from Stoldt, no one else employed by the EHPD ever made any comments to Allen that he found to be racially derogatory or offensive.

On November 23, 2012, Allen was found to have violated General Order 50, for failure to notify a supervisor of potential employee misconduct concerning an investigation. Allen was issued a reprimand. On January 17, 2013, Allen was involuntarily transferred out of OPS. In February 2013, Allen was notified that he did not get a School Resource Officer ("SRO") position, which he had applied for, and which Deputy Chief Thurnauer and Deputy Chief Vibberts had allegedly told him they would support him.

Kenneth Combs

Officer Combs was employed by the Town of East Hartford from March 12, 1984 to November 2, 2013. This was his first job in law enforcement. He was hired as a patrol officer. Combs was promoted to sergeant in October 1993. He held that rank until he was demoted.

Lt. Tomkiel was Combs' immediate supervisor for the last one or two years of his employment. Lt. Mormino was Combs' immediate supervisor prior to Lt. Tomkiel. Lt. Stoldt was Combs' immediate supervisor prior to Lt. Mormino. Chief Sirois was the Chief of Police at the time of Combs' retirement.

Combs was demoted after an investigation into a citizen complaint, alleging that a sergeant in an EHPD uniform had behaved inappropriately while he was at the Kahoots Bar and Restaurant located at 639 Main Street on Friday, August 31, 2012. Specifically, the citizen alleged that he watched the sergeant embrace and fondle a dancer at Kahoots, and that the sergeant failed to take enforcement action despite witnessing several violations of the sexually-oriented business town ordinance, liquor control regulations, and/or the laws of the State of Connecticut. Officer Allen (Plaintiff) and Lt. Rosa went to Kahoots, watched the ...


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