Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Connecticut Cop Culture of Corruption and Laziness

CONNECTICUT NEWS

A Pileup On The Desk

Authorities Say Former Detective's Cases Languished
November 23, 2006
By DON STACOM, Hartford Courant Staff Writer
BRISTOL -- When a 9-year-old boy told city police in 1998 that he had been sexually assaulted, authorities handed the case to Det. James W. Palmer. In the following years, the veteran officer took on the case of a 13-year-old girl who reported being raped and the possible abuse of a baby who suffered two skull fractures.

But authorities now say investigations into those crimes and at least five other reports of major crimes languished for years when Palmer stopped working on them.

Internal police records, obtained by The Courant after a lengthy legal fight, also show that 19 other cases went for several months or longer with little or no apparent effort to solve them.

In at least three of those cases, the statute of limitations has expired, officials said. The police chief maintained that other detectives have since followed up on the cases but would not say which - if any - ended with arrests.

Palmer's habits were so well known in the department that other detectives routinely played a game they called "Palmer Bingo," in which they would draw files buried on his desk to see who came up with the oldest unsolved case, an internal investigation states.

The detective, who has since retired, told police commanders he was overworked; an internal affairs report states that lax supervision contributed to the problem.

Early last year, a newly promoted supervisor in the detective division discovered years-old case files buried in stacks of overflowing paperwork on Palmer's desk. Subsequent audits turned up more investigations that had stalled, were missing key information or simply showed no signs of work.

"Some of these cases are of a serious nature and involve children as victims. The lack of work on these cases could cause the department a great deal of embarrassment and possible civil action against the department by the victims," then-Sgt. Kevin Morrell wrote in a memo to the detective bureau's commander. None of the victims was identified in the report.

Contacted at his home this week, Palmer declined to comment. Chief John DiVenere called the matter regrettable but isolated, and said he has instituted new systems to better track cases.

"I don't want anyone thinking this is still going on. It was an aberration," DiVenere said this week. "You had a detective who had some performance issues. A number of supervisors tried to address them. We took internal action, and he retired immediately."

Documents show that Palmer's colleagues and supervisors had concerns about his work since at least 2001, but it was not until last year that senior commanders began a comprehensive investigation. Capt. Daniel McIntyre brought 24 misconduct charges against Palmer in July 2005 and recommended a hearing by DiVenere, but the city and the police union negotiated Palmer's retirement the following month.

The city had tried to keep the matter confidential since last year but released more than 200 pages of documents last week after losing a case before the Freedom of Information Commission. The Courant had pursued access to the files since last fall.

In at least three instances, the statute of limitations ran out while cases sat idle for years.

And when McIntyre questioned him about the stalled investigation of a reported robbery, Palmer explained that a suspect told him the victim didn't want to pursue the complaint.

"Thinking he must have misspoke, I confirmed this statement asking Det. Palmer a total of three times and he reiterated it was a suspect that told him the victim did not want to follow through with the case," McIntyre wrote in his internal affairs report.

McIntyre's internal investigation last summer concluded that some instances were sloppy paperwork. For instance, Palmer apparently investigated a 1999 rape allegation well enough to conclude the claim was false, but he never filed a report to close it out.

And Palmer said he was disrupted by repeatedly being pulled away from his regular job to do computer-related work - sometimes for months at a time - for other divisions. Palmer complained to McIntyre that Lt. Thomas Killiany, the head of the detective bureau, knew that but overloaded him with cases anyway.

"While Lt. Killiany maintains that his subjective judgment is fair and everyone gets the same number of cases, he has made allowances for other detectives ... while making no allowances for me," Palmer wrote in a 2005 statement to McIntyre.

"This is a condition which has gone on for 15 years. I have never been disciplined. I have obeyed conflicting orders following the last order given and done my best," Palmer wrote. "I have made many attempts to catch up."

McIntyre's report faulted Palmer, but not exclusively.

"The primary factor mitigating the case against Det. Palmer is the comprehensive failure of supervision in this matter," McIntyre wrote. "Supervisors did on occasion observe cases where no apparent work had been done for months. In spite of this, no timely supervisory followup was done, nor was Det. Palmer disciplined.

"Additionally, no effective system of routinely inspecting case files was in place for at least several years," wrote McIntyre, one of the department's top three commanders.

DiVenere this week refused to say whether Killiany or any detective sergeant was ever disciplined, saying, "I can't address those personnel issues."

The chief said Palmer's cases were reassigned to other detectives last year who either closed them, charged suspects or are still investigating. But DiVenere said he didn't have details about individual cases and couldn't specify how many of the felony reports turned out to be unfounded or unsolvable, or how many resulted in arrests. He would not release any case files.

DiVenere blamed the situation partly on a steady turnover among the front-line supervisors in the division. Sergeants rapidly transfer in and out of that assignment, leaving little continuity, he said.

And Killiany himself was overworked for years, a situation that didn't improve until a staff redeployment in 2004 created a third detective sergeant's job, DiVenere said. Before then, Killiany - who manages the narcotics and investigations units and conducts most internal affairs investigations - had to supervise roughly a half-dozen day-shift detectives himself, DiVenere said.

During that time, Killiany repeatedly warned Palmer about substandard work. In a Sept. 11, 2001, memo, Killiany told Palmer he had been assigned 33 cases so far that year, but "it was quite obvious that very little investigation had been conducted on the majority of those assignments. Cases assigned several months prior ... had yet to be started."

Sgt. Andrew Langlais warned in early 2004 of the same trouble cropping up.

"It's time again for case reviews. I have looked at investigations that in some instances haven't had notations for over six months," Langlais wrote to Palmer. "Notes are often cryptic and illegible."

According to DiVenere, the detective division tried to handle the problem on its own until March 2005, when Morrell advised Killiany of "alarming" problems with Palmer's work. Morrell determined that Palmer was carrying 28 open cases, more than twice as many as other detectives. They included reports of seven sexual assaults, 12 burglaries, three larcenies, two identity thefts, an arson, a robbery and the abuse of a child.

Writing of a larceny that happened in 2000, Morrell said: "This case had an identifiable suspect and strong chance of being closed with an arrest. It appears that there has been no work done on it since 9/12/02. This case is now beyond the statute of limitations and no arrest can be made even if the suspect confesses to the crime.

"There are four sexual assaults from 2004 in various stages of investigation. Three have not been worked on since 10/04 and the fourth since 12/04," Morrell continued. "All of these have known suspects."

Morrell reported finding seven of the oldest case files scattered between miscellaneous papers on Palmer's desk.

"It appears that they were kept in this location so that a supervisor would not find them when conducting case reviews nor would a supervisor have any knowledge that they existed, unless he witnessed a game of Palmer Bingo," Morrell wrote.

Killiany himself began an internal investigation of Palmer after getting Morrell's memo, but that task was later turned over to McIntyre. McIntyre examined 24 of Palmer's open cases but focused on just eight so he could wrap up the investigation by a mid-summer deadline.

"It appears serious cases sat idle until they were no longer viable," McIntyre concluded.

Palmer, now 54, was paid $57,567 a year as a detective and had accumulated 30 years of service when he retired in August 2005. The city gave him a $32,206 payout for unused vacation and sick leave, along with his pension.

DiVenere said he has implemented a computerized case-tracking system and other "stringent controls" to prevent any similar situation and is trying to create a second detective lieutenant's job to better distribute the workload in that division. He emphasized he is proud of the rest of the detective division and said he hopes the community doesn't blame the whole department.

Why did a 30-year detective leave so many major crime investigations in limbo?

"I can't fathom it," DiVenere said.

Contact Don Stacom at dstacom@courant.com.

Visit courant.com to read excerpts from the internal affairs report into the investigations of Det. James W. Palmer.

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