There’s an old saying in law enforcement, New Haven attorney John R. Williams says, “If you’re a cop, you’re not white, you’re not black, you’re blue.” That, however, may not always be the case.
On July 25, Williams filed a racial discrimination lawsuit in Federal Court on behalf of three African American police officers against the and Groton Chief of Police Bruno L. Giulini.
The suit, brought by Groton Patrol Officers Peter Miller and Bobby Joe Harris and Sergeant Bruce Lowe, alleges that the City of Groton Police Department and Groton Chief of Police Bruno L. Giulini, “created and maintained a racially hostile working environment within the City of Groton Police Department in violation of the rights of the plaintiffs to equal protection of the laws.”
In his 30 years of practice, Williams has represented many victims of civil rights violations and many victims of police misconduct too. “I sue a lot of cops and I represent a lot of cops,” Williams says. Even so, he notes, “this whole case is unusual.”
Though racism is endemic in our society, Williams says, it’s relatively rare within a police department, because police officers “recognize that their lives depend on each other.”
Yet according to the lawsuit, “throughout the time that the defendant Giulini has been Chief of Police, a double standard has existed within the City of Groton Police Department pursuant to which African-American officers are held to different and more exacting standards than Caucasian officers.”
“African-American officers are presumed to be less honest, less honorable and less competent than Caucasian officers,” the lawsuit states, “and African-American officers are treated by their superiors with less respect than are Caucasian officers.”
The lawsuit details a number of examples of alleged discrimination, including the inclusion of pictures of all three police officers in photo array lineups used for witnesses to identify potential suspects.
One of the earliest examples of alleged discrimination detailed in the lawsuit happened in 2005, when Patrol Officer Peter Miller claims Caucasian police officers falsely accused him of damaging a police cruiser.
Miller said Bruno ordered him to appear before Groton City Council for a disciplinary hearing on the matter, even though Miller claims Bruno was aware that the damage was caused by a vehicle malfunction that had similarly damaged a Caucasian officer’s vehicle.
Miller is only the second officer in 20 years to have appeared before Groton City Council for a disciplinary hearing, the lawsuit notes. The other police officer who appeared before the council on a disciplinary matter had been convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison.
In June, 2010, Sergeant Bruce Lowe alleges that he received a written reprimand for telling a Caucasian Detective Sergeant to “shut his mouth” when the detective interrupted him during a staff meeting. Lowe claims that Bruno never reprimanded white officers who made similar statements under similar circumstances. Indeed, the lawsuit claims that on one occasion, two Caucasian officers got into a physical altercation in public and neither one was reprimanded.
The most recent incident noted in the lawsuit happened earlier this year, when Giulini disciplined Harris following an investigation into a civilian complaint lodged against the patrol officer. The lawsuit claims that the white officer investigating the complaint did not include the fact that Harris had previously arrested the complainant, who therefore had motive to lie.
“Throughout his investigation, he presumed the guilt of the plaintiff Harris whereas in any investigation of charges against a Caucasian officer the officer would be given a presumption of innocence,” the lawsuit alleges.
To date, no one from the City of Groton or the police department has publicly commented on the pending case. Neither Giulini nor Groton Mayor Marian Galbraith returned Patch’s calls for comment as of this writing, although the Groton City Council is expected to take up the matter for discussion during executive session at Monday night's meeting.
Patch has learned, however, that the city has retained attorney Jim Tallberg of the West Hartford law firm of Karsten & Tallberg, which specializes in defending such cases, to represent the City of Groton Police Department.
Williams says Tallberg told him that he expects to have the city’s official response to the complaint sometime in September. The case is scheduled to be heard by U.S. District Court Judge Stefan R. Underhill at the federal courthouse in Bridgeport.