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Report: CT State Police fake ticket scandal was ‘limited’

Gov. Ned Lamont, Commissioner Ronnell Higgins and Col. Daniel Loughman.  (Mark Pazniokas, CTMirror.org)

An independent investigation released on Thursday found “significant failures” by the Connecticut State Police to follow the state’s racial profiling law, while also revealing that the scope of state troopers and constables who intentionally falsified data was “far more limited” than what was suggested by an audit last summer. 

The highly anticipated report was released by a team of independent investigators led by Deirdre M. Daly of Finn Dixon & Herling LLP in Stamford, a former U.S. prosecutor appointed by Gov. Ned Lamont to probe a State Police scandal involving the potential widespread falsification of traffic stop tickets. 

Gov. Ned Lamont and State Police Commissioner Ronnell Higgins held a press conference on Thursday, lauding the work of the investigators while acknowledging that significant changes in the ways their officers report traffic stop data are to come.

It comes after state auditors published a report in June detailing how they were unable to corroborate tens of thousands of traffic stop tickets submitted to Connecticut’s racial profiling system by troopers and constables, outlining how potential falsifications may have compromised the accuracy of the racial profiling data.

Daly’s inquiry sought to answer the unanswered questions that went beyond the scope of the audit, including how widespread the problem was and whether troopers and constables acted with intent.

The 16-page investigation offers the most comprehensive look into the ticketing scandal since the audit was released last summer and could likely provide the General Assembly with a starting point for any potential legislation in response to the findings. 

“On one hand, the governor’s independent investigation provides some measure of closure for the 74 active State Troopers who were unfortunately accused of malfeasance,” Rep. Craig Fishbein, a ranking Republican on the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “However, I remain troubled by the lack of scrutiny from senior command staff that led to these accusations, including a seeming abdication of their supervisory role when the issue was first raised in 2018.”

The findings, which relied on the State Police’s own reconciliation process, showed that 74 of the 81 active troopers and constables identified in the audit were not likely to have engaged in intentional misconduct. Some officers flagged by the audit are retired.  

It found “no evidence” to suggest that any officer engaged in conduct with the intention of skewing racial profiling data to reflect more infractions for white drivers and fewer for Black and Hispanic motorists.

However, it found that at least six active troopers (including one trooper already under criminal investigation for potential falsification) and one active constable may have intentionally falsified data, and investigators concluded that internal affairs should conduct investigations into those individuals.

The investigation also concluded that there were “significant failures” by the Connecticut State Police to abide by the Alvin W. Penn Racial Profiling Prohibition Act, the state’s racial profiling law.

The State Police’s shortcomings included failing to respond effectively to an initial investigation in 2018 that found that four troopers had falsified data, failing to address information from 2018 that pointed to broader problems with the data, and not properly supervising and training troopers on data entry.

The report stated that “inattention and carelessness” likely caused discrepancies in the profiling data, ranging from errors by dispatchers to malfunctions and connectivity issues with mobile data terminals and electronic-ticket printers.

Daly’s team did not investigate whether there were officers who intentionally neglected to report traffic stops to the racial profiling database.

Among the investigators’ recommendations was enhancing supervision and auditing by the State Police, enhancing communication and collaboration with auditors, implementing training for troopers and dispatchers, and making technology and policy changes to improve the tracking of trooper activity.

After receiving the findings and recommendations, Lamont and Higgins spoke publicly at the state Capitol, where the governor largely focused on the fact that the investigation found few instances of intentional misconduct. 

“I have as much confidence in my state police today as I’ve ever had,” Lamont said. “I think this shows that if there were problems, they were almost all unintentional, and we’re going to do everything we can to support our state police, starting with the IT and the guidance and the training they need to make sure they have the tools they need to get the job done.”

Higgins, whose appointment as commissioner was announced in October, said he found it “troubling” that even one trooper may have intentionally falsified data. He vowed that, moving forward, the agency would work to ensure full compliance with the racial profiling law.

“It is important for decision makers to be able to rely upon that data, and we’re going to improve upon our processes,” he said.

Higgins also said the agency has assembled a team of people to investigate the officers who potentially falsified data. The handful of troopers and the constable under scrutiny were referred to the State Police’s internal affairs division on Wednesday, the commissioner said. The seven individuals are on “modified administrative duty” pending the investigation, he said.

Lamont said he plans to submit a bill to the legislature, which convenes on Feb. 7, aimed at creating legal consequences for officers who intentionally falsify information. Following the recommendations made in Daly’s report, Lamont also said the state plans to bring in a compliance consultant responsible for supervising and assisting the State Police in its response to the investigation. 

It was reporting last year by Hearst Connecticut Media that uncovered how four state troopers had fabricated hundreds of traffic stop tickets for better assignments, pay increases, promotions and specialty vehicles.

The individuals, Timothy Bentley, Noah Gouveia, Kevin Moore and Daniel Richter, were subject to internal affairs investigations at the time, but they had otherwise evaded public scrutiny. 

Moore and Richter received 10-day and two-day suspensions, respectively, after the investigation, while Bentley and Gouveia retired. Richter then retired in 2021, while Moore remained an active employee. The investigation references one active trooper on desk duty already confirmed to have intentionally falsified data, but it does not specify Moore by name. The four individuals are under criminal investigation, but no charges have been filed.

After the reports became public, the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, a team of researchers who collect statewide data on the race and ethnicity of individuals stopped by police, reviewed over 800,000 infractions submitted by 1,301 troopers from 2014 to 2021.

A falsified record was one that did not reflect a real traffic stop event. An overreported infraction referred to records identified in the state’s racial profiling system but not in the court system, known as the Centralized Infractions Bureau. Underreported records were those found in the CIB but not in the profiling system. 

Researchers said they were unable to corroborate 25,966 stops submitted to the racial profiling database while indicating that the number of falsified records could possibly exceed 58,000. Overreported traffic infractions by state troopers were more likely to involve white, non-Hispanic drivers, while underreported violations were more likely to include Black or Hispanic motorists, the report states. 

The audit also found 311 troopers with “significant discrepancies,” a number that was whittled down to 130 in an effort to “better hone the analysis” to reflect those with the “most significant” inaccuracies. 

State Police officials then launched an investigation into the 130 troopers, vowing to “dig into those names, exonerate those who are falsely alleged, but pursue those who are falsifying these documents.” No resident received a fake ticket, officials also said. 

More than 7,400 traffic stop records were falsified by constables, researchers said, though they likely had minimal impact on the state’s annual analysis of traffic data, given that constables contribute less than 5% of all stops reported by state police.

After the audit, the Department of Justice, the Department of Transportation, the chief state’s attorney, state legislators and Lamont’s office launched inquiries with the intent of finding out what exactly took place. The public scrutiny also led to the retirements of Commissioner James C. Rovella and Col. Stavros Mellekas, the state’s top two public safety officials, which led to Higgins’ appointment. 

Rep. Greg Howard, a ranking Republican on the Public Safety and Security Committee, spoke to members of the press on Thursday, saying he was “as thrilled as everybody” that the investigation didn’t identify intentional wrongdoing. 

“The narrative has been that we have widespread racial profiling in our state police, and they’re doing things and they’re lying and falsifying documents, and overwhelmingly, that was not the case,” Howard, a detective with the Stonington Police Department, said. 

Andrew Matthews, general counsel and executive director of the State Police Union, was one of the former troopers whose ticketing data came under scrutiny after the audit. As first reported by The Connecticut Mirror, Matthews’ badge number was associated in the data with 224 infractions that were not reported to the profiling database, an apparent violation of state law. 

At the time, Matthews said the underreporting, which he didn’t think was “the real issue,” likely stemmed from him having to drive an outdated work vehicle that didn’t have electronic reporting equipment. He hand-wrote many of his tickets, he said, and communicated the required information to dispatchers. He said it was possible dispatchers didn’t enter his information as required, which he said auditors failed to account for in their report. 

On Thursday, Matthews and the union’s president, Todd Fedigan, criticized former State Police leadership for their actions, or lack thereof, in response to a finding in 2018 that four troopers had falsified data. 

The two union representatives also blasted the audit, which they called both “rushed” and “sloppy.” And they condemned it for causing “irreparable harm” to State Police troopers and constables.

“I think there’s vindication, but I think it’s disappointing that the taxpayers of Connecticut deserve better, the people in Connecticut deserve better,” Matthews said. “It was not a systemic, widespread corruption within the State Police.”

Ken Barone, who has faced criticism from the union for his role in co-authoring the audit, pushed back on the notion that the report was rushed. In the several months before the report was released publicly, he said, the State Police received ample opportunity to weigh in. But police officials didn’t begin “drilling down” on the data until roughly a month after the report came out, Barone said. 

Moreover, the audit never sought to establish intent, he said, and the researchers still stand by their work. Had the group not published it last summer, he said, “I don’t think these improvements would be made.” 

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