Derby must release a lawyer’s report detailing an investigation of a complaint made against the city’s police chief, the Freedom of Information Commission ruled Wednesday (June 14).
Now the city’s police commission has 45 days to decide whether or not to appeal the decision in court.
The report was written by Eric Brown, a lawyer hired by the police commission last year to look into a complaint made against Police Chief Gerald Narowski.
The complaint was filed by Laurene Boulton, the wife of Derby Police Sgt. Scott Boulton. She alleged that the chief harassed her, in part by posting a message about her on social media.
Boulton has since filed a civil lawsuit against Narowski.
In 2015 Boulton was fired from a clerk’s position in Derby City Hall because the city learned she had previously been charged with shoplifting.
Her lawsuit against the chief alleges that Narowski made a disparaging remark about her arrest on social media as part of a larger harassment campaign against her.
Boulton filed a similar complaint with the police commission regarding the chief.
The police commission is an appointed body that supervises the police department.
In response to Boulton’s complaint, the police commission hired Brown to look into it and to report back to them with recommendations.
Once the Brown report was completed, the commission gave the chief a copy and talked with him about it behind closed doors with for 90 minutes.
Ultimately they voted to place a letter in his personnel file noting that he had violated the department’s social media policy.
Then Patricia Cofrancensco, a lawyer representing Boulton in her lawsuit against the chief, filed a Freedom of Information request asking for a copy of the Brown report.
But the city wouldn’t release it, claiming the document was covered by attorney-client privilege.
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Cofrancesco filed a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission, which held a hearing on the matter in February.
The hearing officer, Kathleen Ross, said the commission made the report public when they gave Narowksi a copy of it. The attorney-client privilege was between Brown (the attorney) and the police commission (the client).
The police commission waived the attorney-client privilege once they gave it to a third party — in this case, the chief.
In May, the hearing officer’s decision was sent to the full Freedom of Information Commission for formal approval.
However, Fran Teodosio, the lawyer representing the Derby Board of Police Commissioners, urged them to study the matter further.
Teodosio argued that the police commission was forced to give Narowski a copy of the report to comply with a state law that spells out what municipalities must do before firing a police chief.
Teodosio said the police commission could have fired Narowski, so they were obliged to give him Brown’s report. Teodosio pointed to the state law and a 1994 Connecticut Supreme Court case.
Teodosio reiterated the argument Wednesday (June 14) during another appearance in front of the full Freedom of Information Commission in Hartford.
“We were obligated to do that,” Teodosio said, referring to handing the chief the report.
But Cofrancesco said the city was grasping at straws to prevent the document from being made public. The police commission was not considering firing the chief, she said.
“What we’ve got now is an 11th hour attempt on the part of the respondent to find a reason not to disclose this report,” she told the commission.
The commission’s members said the city was within its rights to give the report to the chief — but that it couldn’t then rely on attorney-client privilege at the same time to keep the document from the rest of the public.
“I think there was a waiver of attorney-client privilege when the chief received a copy of the report,” Commissioner Jonathan Einhorn said. “It’s an interesting question, I’d have to concede . . . but I think that on balance there was a waiver.”
He said he didn’t buy the city’s argument that Narowski could have been fired.
Einhorn referred to a March 8 letter Teodosio had sent to the chief advising him that the police commission would be meeting to talk about Boulton’s complaint.
“It’s not exactly a dismissal notice, is it?” Einhorn said. “Basically it says ‘Listen, chief, a complaint was filed against you. There’s going to be a hearing. The actions could range from no action, reprimand, remedial action, suspension, or dismissal.’ It’s not really a ‘dismissal notice.’”
Other commissioners agreed with Einhorn.
“You raise some interesting points, valid arguments, but I think that the hearing officer’s decision is on point,” Owen Eagan, the commission’s chairman, told Teodosio.
The commissioners then voted unanimously to adopt Ross’ report ordering Derby to disclose the report.
The city has 45 days to appeal the ruling in court. Teodosio said Wednesday’s it’s up to the police commission members whether or not to do so.
The Valley Indy emailed Narowski Thursday morning seeking comment.
The publication also sent a request for Brown’s report to Teodosio and Mayor Anita 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.
Cofrancesco said after the meeting that the FOI Commission made the right call.
“The ruling speaks for itself,” she said. “I’m very, very pleased with it.”
The Derby Police Commission is scheduled to meet again July 10.
A status conference on the Boulton-Narowski civil lawsuit is scheduled for July 31, according to the state’s judicial website.
A recording of Wednesday’s arguments in front of the Freedom of Information Commission is below.