Derby’s Police Commission will go to court to keep the public from seeing a lawyer’s report detailing an investigation of a citizen’s complaint made against the police chief.
The state’s Freedom of Information Commission voted unanimously last month to order the city to release the document after determining it was a public document.
But the police commission — a three-member civilian oversight board — voted at a meeting July 10 to appeal the FOI Commission’s ruling, which could put the issue in front of a judge.
The appeal itself has not yet been filed in court.
Public Document Or Not?
Laurene Boulton of Derby made the initial complaint against the chief that triggered the investigative report.
She is the wife of Derby Police Sgt. Scott Boulton and a Republican candidate for the Derby Board of Education.
She filed a complaint last year with the police commission alleging that Derby Police Chief Gerald Narowski harassed her, in part by posting a snarky message on social media.
Last year the police commission hired a lawyer, Eric Brown, to investigate Boulton’s allegations about the chief.
When Brown’s report was finished, Boulton tried to get a copy of it through a Freedom of Information request, but the police commission, through a city lawyer, denied the request, saying the report was protected from public view because of attorney-client privilege.
However, the Freedom of Information Commission eventually ruled the police commission broke that privilege when they shared the report with someone who was neither an attorney nor client — namely, the subject of the investigation, Chief Narowski.
Fran Teodosio, the city lawyer representing the police commission, has argued the commissioners were compelled by state law regarding police chiefs to give the report to Chief Narowski.
Narowski risked being fired by the police commission for his actions, Teodosio has said. Showing him the report was due dilligence under the law, he argued.
Ultimately the state Freedom of Information Commission didn’t buy Teodosio’s argument, and in June they ordered the document released.
It Started On Facebook
The investigative report — at this point, still secret — caused the police commission to write a short letter to Narowski saying he had violated the Derby Police Department’s social media policy.
Narowski had allegedly posted a link on Facebook in October 2015 regarding a woman related to Boulton who had been charged with shoplifting.
“Must run in the family,” Narowski’s post allegedly read.
Boulton had previously been charged with stealing $187 in clothes from a store in Danbury. In 2015 she was fired from a clerk’s position in Derby City Hall after city officials learned of her prior arrest.
In 2016 Boulton sued Narowski in civil court, putting the Facebook post into the public realm, and alleging he harassed her on other occasions.
Boulton also filed a separate complaint against the city with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) saying her termination as a city employee had to do with her gender.
Click here for a previous story on the CHRO complaint, which was still under investigation as of July 26.
Report Still Not Released
The Police Commission voted to appeal the FOI ruling to a judge during a meeting July 10 after discussing the case with Teodosio in an “executive session,” a type of meeting closed to the public.
Derby Police Commission Chairman Thomas DeGennaro, the police commission’s chairman, said July 18 that the commission wants a judge to look over the FOI decision.
If a judge orders the report released, he said, the police commission would drop the appeal.
“The commission chose to refer to the superior court for their ruling,” DeGennaro said. “We feel that it should be heard by a superior court to get their opinion on it rather than just let it stand from FOI.”
Patricia Cofrancensco, a lawyer representing Boulton in her lawsuit against the chief, said the police commission is wasting taxpayer money fighting a case it can’t win.
“This is a matter of public concern,” she said. “This goes to the behavior of their police chief. Why are the wagons circling?”
She said the FOI Commission’s decision was solid.
“What puzzles me the most is that the (city) of Derby would be spending taxpayer dollars to dig their heels in about what is otherwise a public document,” she said.
She questioned what the police commission is “hiding.”
A review Derby’s legal bills — released by the city in response to an FOI request from the Valley Indy — indicates the city has spent $3,193.75 so far in payments to Teodosio regarding the FOI case.
The figure does not include a hearing before the FOI Commission last month for which Teodosio’s firm has not yet submitted an invoice.
DeGennaro disputed Cofrancesco’s comments.
“We have absolutely nothing to hide,” DeGennaro said. “We’re very transparent. We’re proud of our work. There was a ruling on it and we just want to make sure it was the correct ruling because it will set precedent in the future.”
He said he couldn’t comment further because the case is pending, referring questions to Fran Teodosio, the city’s lawyer.
Teodosio said that the state law he cited during the FOI Commission meeting last month meant the Derby police commissioners had to give a copy of the report to Narowski.
He pointed to the FOI Commission’s nearly 20-minute discussion of the case at its June 14 meeting. The members of the FOI Commission seemed sympathetic to his argument, even though they voted unanimously to reject it.
“It was not a slam dunk,” he said. “The vote was. The discussion wasn’t.”
The Valley Indy had sent a request for Brown’s report to Teodosio and Mayor Dugatto May 19, but has not received a response.
According to state law, the city should have at least acknowledged The Valley Indy’s request within four business days.
The publication filed a complaint with the FOI Commission June 19.
Finally, the police commission also appears to have violated open government law in the agenda for its July 10 meeting during which members discussed the matter behind closed doors.
The agenda included an executive session item for “personnel updates,” which the Freedom of Information Commission has ruled repeatedly is illegal because it provides no information.
Click here for a Valley Indy podcast during which the Freedom of Information Commission’s public education officer comments on agendas reading “personnel updates.”
For example, in a 2014 ruling, the commission wrote:
“. . . in order for the public to be fairly apprised of the reason for an executive session, the public agency must give some indication of the specific topic to be addressed, prior to convening such session. Therefore, descriptions such as ‘personnel’, ‘personnel matters,’ ‘legal’ or even ‘the appointment, employment, performance, evaluation, health, dismissal of a public officer or employee’ are inadequate.”
Teodosio said the commission’s agenda should have been more specific.
A recording of the FOI Commission’s meeting from last month is embedded below.