NORWALK POLICE UNION, LOCAL 1727, COUNCIL 15, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, ET AL.
CITY OF NORWALK ET AL.
December 8, 2016
M. Lucan, with whom, on the brief, was Saranne P. Murray, for
the appellant (named defendant).
William Gagne, Jr., with whom, on the brief, was Kimberly A.
Cuneo, for the appellee (named plaintiff).
Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Eveleigh, Espinosa, Robinson and
Vertefeuille, Js. [*]
ROGERS, C. J.
issue that we must resolve in this appeal is whether the
trial court properly vacated an arbitration award that had
found that the defendant city of Norwalk (city) had just
cause to terminate the employment of Stephen E. Couture, a
police sergeant employed by the Norwalk Police Department
(department). The plaintiff,  Norwalk Police Union, Local 1727,
Council 15, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, and the city are parties to a
collective bargaining agreement (agreement) governing the
terms and conditions of employment for certain police
officers employed by the city. The agreement provides that
disputes over its interpretation will be resolved through
Couture notified a fellow police officer, Thomas Cummings, of
a pending criminal investigation against him, Harry W.
Rilling, the chief of the department, reassigned Couture to
the department's patrol division. Thereafter, Rilling
determined that Couture may have violated a number of
department rules and regulations by telling Cummings about
the investigation. The allegations of misconduct were
litigated in a public trial before the Board of Police
Commissioners (board of commissioners). The board of
commissioners concluded that Couture had violated a number of
departmental rules and that his employment should be
terminated. Couture disputed the board of commissisoners'
decision through the grievance procedures set forth in the
agreement and ultimately initiated an arbitration proceeding
with the defendant State Board of Mediation and Arbitration
(arbitration board). A majority of the arbitration board
found that Couture had been terminated for just cause.
Thereafter, the plaintiff filed an application to vacate the
arbitration award pursuant to General Statutes § 52-418.
After conducting an evidentiary hearing, the trial court,
Hon. Kevin Tierney, judge trial referee, vacated the
arbitration award on the ground that the city had disciplined
Couture twice for the same misconduct in manifest disregard
of the law. The city then filed this appeal. We conclude that
the decision of the arbitration board was not in manifest
disregard of the law and, therefore, that the trial court
improperly vacated the arbitration award.
record reveals the following procedural history and facts
that were found by the arbitration board or are undisputed.
Couture started working at the department in 1984. He was
promoted to the rank of detective in approximately 1987 and
to the rank of sergeant in 1991. In 2001, Rilling appointed
Couture as commander of the department's youth bureau.
his tenure at the youth bureau, Couture became an experienced
investigator of crimes involving persons under the age of
majority. Couture's supervisor, Captain Rosemary Arway,
considered him to be a leader in the development of team
approaches to interviewing child sexual assault victims and
Internet sting operations.
was a lieutenant in the department and the commander of the
detective division. Couture and Cummings had worked together
for many years and were on friendly terms, although they were
not social friends.
Friday, October 26, 2007, Couture's subordinate,
Detective Charles Perez, returned a telephone call that he
had received earlier in the week from Jill Ruggiero, a
detective with the Westport Police Department. Ruggiero
informed Perez that there was an ongoing sexual assault
investigation that was possibly going to be transferred to
the department. Perez told Couture about his conversation
with Ruggiero, and Couture instructed Perez to get further
information. When Perez spoke again with Ruggiero that same
day, the information that she provided led Perez to believe
that the suspect in the investigation might be Cummings.
Perez told Ruggiero that she should speak directly to Couture
about the matter. Perez also called Richard Colangelo, an
assistant state's attorney, and told him that the sexual
assault suspect possibly was Cummings. At approximately 2:43
p.m., Ruggiero called Couture and gave him information about
the investigation, and Couture confirmed that the suspect
indeed was Cummings. At the end of that telephone call, both
Couture and Ruggiero stated that they would report the
situation to their respective chiefs of police.
after speaking to Ruggiero, Couture called Cummings' cell
phone and made arrangements to meet him in a parking lot
across the street from Norwalk High School. Couture spoke to
Perez by cell phone while he was driving to the parking lot,
but he did not inform him that he was on his way to meet
Cummings. During the meeting in the parking lot, Couture told
Cummings that he was a suspect in a sexual assault case that
the Westport Police Department had been investigating. While
Couture and Cummings were still together, Couture received a
call on his cell phone from Colangelo. Couture spoke to
Colangelo by cell phone again after he left the meeting with
Cummings. Couture did not tell Colangelo during either
conversation that he had met with Cummings and informed him
that he was the suspect in the sexual assault investigation.
same day, October 26, 2007, at 5:34 p.m., Couture telephoned
Ruggiero from his extension at the police station. Couture
told Ruggiero that the sexual assault investigation of
Cummings was a ‘‘really big deal'' and
that, if word of it became public, it would likely draw the
attention of the national news media. Couture further stated
that if that occurred, it would be a very bad development for
the department. Ruggiero had the impression that Couture was
trying to tell her not to make the situation
‘‘any bigger than it already was'' and
not to pursue the matter.
morning of Monday, October 29, 2007, Colangelo went to the
department to meet with Rilling. When Colangelo told Rilling
about the investigation of Cummings, Rilling indicated that
he was concerned that Cummings might have been notified about
Colangelo assured Rilling that that was not the case. Rilling
then called Couture into his office, and Couture confirmed
that he had told Cummings about the ...