A month after being interviewed during an internal affairs investigation, Ansonia police Officer Mustafa Salahuddin has filed a human rights complaint with the state.
In the complaint, Salahuddin, 47, said the interview was the latest in a long list of retaliatory actions against him by the Ansonia Police Department.
Salahuddin has been on paid administrative leave since his July 2008 arrest for allegedly stealing a garden hose from the police department. A charge of sixth-degree larceny is pending in Derby Superior Court.
The internal affairs investigation — requested in May by Ansonia Chief Kevin Hale and conducted by the Connecticut State Police — is to determine whether Salahuddin violated any department rules surrounding the garden hose situation.
Salahuddin, in his Nov. 6 complaint with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, claims that he has been targeted by the department because of his race and religion. Salahuddin is a black Muslim.
Salahuddin also claims he is repeatedly retaliated against by department leaders because he has filed other complaints and fought the allegations in the garden hose arrest.
Salahuddin has pleaded not guilty to the sixth-degree larceny charge and a trial is scheduled to take place in January.
“Chief Kevin Hale ordered that I participate and provide an interview regarding alleged conduct that resulted in my arrest and placement on administrative leave as a way to retaliate against me for filing a prior CHRO complaint…(and) as retaliation for my decision to fight the false criminal allegations he personally requested be brought against me,” the complaint states.
The CHRO reviews complaints about alleged discrimination in the workplace.
If complaints make it past a merit review, the commission will investigate the case and determine if discrimination happened. Cases that are not dismissed may either result in a settlement between the two parties, or a public hearing with where a settlement is decided by a mediator.
The Internal Affairs Investigation
Hale said he asked the state police to launch an internal affairs investigation in May, once he realized the criminal case against Salahuddin was taking much longer than anticipated. Hale said often internal affairs investigations are performed after criminal cases complete, as departments try to keep the two separate.
Hale sent a written order to Salahuddin to participate in the state police investigation, which he said was normal procedure when an internal affairs investigation is taking place.
“I have not made any allegations or accusations,” Hale said. “The only contact was a letter I would have sent indicating to him the state police were investigating and he was ordered to cooperate.”
Salahuddin said he was interviewed by state police troopers on Oct. 9, 2009.
His attorney, Robert Serafinowicz, questioned the timing of the internal affairs investigation.
“Why would they need the state police to do an IA over a garden hose incident when they already did the investigation that led to the arrest?” Serafinowicz asked.
“It basically boils down to this,” Serafinowicz said. “Even if you didn’t take the hose, you didn’t get permission to go back to the break room that night and you’re supposed to.”
The Garden Hose Incident
The alleged garden hose theft happened in May 2008.
The department purchased two new hoses that month and stored them behind double doors leading to the rear stairwell, according to the arrest warrant state police prepared for Salahuddin. One hose went missing the day after they were purchased, and a supervisor and custodian were unable to locate it in the building after searching.
Three days later, the hose was found in a cardboard box in the basement of the police department, the custodian told state police.
Surveillance footage shows Salahuddin walking near the double doors with a jacket over some item during his shift the night the garden hose went missing, according to the warrant.
Salahuddin told state police he had spilled coffee on the roof of his police car during his shift, and returned to the police department to wash the car and get some items for the DARE program that were stored in a closet there. Salahuddin said he decided not to wash the cruiser after all, but used the garden hose to prop open the back door while he went to retrieve the DARE items.
Salahuddin said he then returned the hose to a shelf in the basement.
The Ansonia Police Department requested the state police look into the alleged theft, and Salahuddin was charged in July with sixth-degree larceny.
The arrest sparked a strong reaction from supporters of Salahuddin, including the local chapter of the NAACP.
According to media reports, support marches were held outside the court house during Salahuddin’s early court dates. The U.S. Department of Justice was asked to investigate the arrest.
Hale, in several media accounts from the time period after the arrest, defended the investigation and denied it was racially or personally motivated.
Salahuddin had filed other complaints against the department prior to this CHRO complaint. In his latest complaint, Salahuddin claims the alleged retaliatory actions started after his first complaint to the CHRO.
In 1998, Salahuddin filed a CHRO complaint saying he was denied the right to wear a beard at work. Salahuddin claimed a beard was part of his practice of religion, and CHRO agreed.
“These developments angered my superiors and they took every opportunity to retaliate against me as a result,” Salahuddin stated in his most recent complaint.
Salahuddin claims his supervisors allowed other employees to be “openly hostile” toward him because of his race, and subjected Salahuddin to “frivolous internal affairs investigations,” of which he was cleared of wrong doing.
In September 2008, Salahuddin filed a complaint with the CHRO that was similar to the one filed at the beginning of November. Serafinowicz said the complaint was dismissed after CHRO failed to notify him or Salahuddin about a hearing date and they subsequently didn’t show up for it.
Serafinowicz said he filed a complaint for not being notified about the hearing, too.