Stamford Advocate

State names inspector general to investigat­e police shootings, deaths

- By Andrew Brown

Connecticu­t leaders selected the state’s first inspector general on Monday, jumpstarti­ng a new office that will be responsibl­e for investigat­ing highly publicized police shootings and deciding whether to prosecute officers for their use of force.

The state’s Criminal Justice Commission voted unanimousl­y to appoint Robert Devlin, a former judge and prosecutor, to the position, which will also be responsibl­e for scrutinizi­ng deaths in the state prisons.

Devlin, who currently chairs the Connecticu­t Sentencing Commission, beat out three other candidates for the job, attorneys Moira Buckley, Ryan McGuigan and Liam Brennan.

“I’ve seen a lot. I’ve learned a lot,” Devlin said of his long career. “I think I’ve gained some discernmen­t and judgment.”

The vote was 5-0. Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo Jr., who sits on the commission, was ineligible to vote for the candidates, and fellow commission­er Dwayne Betts was not able to attend the hearing.

The hiring decision is more than a year in the making and is part of a larger push by state leaders to increase trust in the state’s criminal justice system, especially among Connecticu­t’s minority communitie­s.

The state legislatur­e created the inspector general position as part of a sprawling police accountabi­lity bill that was passed in 2020 following the highprofil­e killing of George Floyd in Minneapoli­s.

This wasn’t the first group of candidates the Criminal Justice Commission reviewed for the job, which pays roughly $167,000 annually.

They also interviewe­d two career prosecutor­s last year but deadlocked during that vote.

In response, the legislatur­e voted earlier this year to expand the pool of candidates and cast a wider net for the position.

The job is likely to be controvers­ial, as several people noted during the hearing Monday. One member of the commission said the position is likely to be a thankless one, but it is also meant to usher in a new era in Connecticu­t.

In the past, it was up to Connecticu­t’s 13 state’s attorney offices — the local prosecutor­s — to review cases in which officers shot someone or oversaw the death of someone in their custody.

But that setup has come under fire across the country in recent years because of the close relationsh­ip that often exists between police officers and prosecutor­s, who need to work together to investigat­e other crimes.

Over the past two decades, there have been at least 76 investigat­ions into police shootings or deaths at the hands of police in Connecticu­t. Only one of those investigat­ions led to charges against a police officer, and in that single case, the officer was not convicted.

Community advocates hope that record will change once the inspector general’s office is up and running.

The job was meant to inspire public trust in the process of investigat­ing police shootings and provide a degree of separation between state and local police and the person who are tasked with holding them accountabl­e.

Corey Betts, the chair of the criminal justice committee for the Connecticu­t chapter of the NAACP, said the inspector general was needed to “add a major piece of accountabi­lity” to the state’s criminal justice system.

Betts and other members of the public who spoke on Monday want to see the inspector general shake up the status quo, as the legislatur­e intended, they said.

“We have to get this right,” Betts told the commission. “The person you choose will reflect how serious you are about reform.”

The questions that members of the Criminal Justice Commission asked the candidates during the hearing Monday showcased the importance they placed in the new role. It also highlighte­d the tightrope the new office will need to walk in the coming years. Several commission­ers emphasized the apprehensi­ons that members of the public and police have about the new office and its duties.

Scott Murphy, a retired state’s attorney who also sits on the commission, asked each candidate how they would deal with the fear among police who believe the inspector general will be pressured to issue charges against officers, even if the evidence is questionab­le.

By contrast, other commission­ers asked the candidates — all of whom are white — how they would deal with outreach to communitie­s of color and help convince those portions of the public to trust in the system.

“I would not even say it is to restore faith, because some people have never had any faith in the criminal justice system,” said Andrew McDonald, a Supreme Court justice and commission­er.

In response to those questions, most of the candidates emphasized the separation they would place between themselves and police and their refusal to make decisions based on public pressure or political influence.

During his interview, Devlin simply pointed out the rift that exists in American society when it comes to policing and trust in law enforcemen­t. Some members of the public, he said, believe police can do no wrong. Others believe police do nothing right.

The inspector general’s office, he said, needs to operate in the middle of those two camps dispensing justice based on the facts of each case. “It’s all about evidence,” he said.

Completely avoiding public pressure will be difficult, however, for a position that everyone understand­s will be the focus of “intense public interest.”

That’s why the commission­ers also asked each candidate specifical­ly about when and how they would release videos and other evidence from police shootings, like autopsy reports. The commission also questioned the candidates about whether they would hold press conference­s and speak with community members and victims’ family members following police shootings.

All of the candidates voiced support for public transparen­cy but said they would only release informatio­n if it would not inhibit their job as a prosecutor.

Everyone at the selection hearing also seemed to recognize the power and influence that the first inspector general will hold. As the first person to fill the position, Devlin will set the tone for the office and will get to test its powers and push its limits, if he chooses.

The inspector general, for instance, will be the only state prosecutor in Connecticu­t to have subpoena power, which could be used to force officers to testify about a police shooting they observed.

Most of the candidates agreed with the use of that power and said they would hold officers and other witnesses accountabl­e if they refused to comply with a subpoena.

One serious question that divided the candidates, however, was whether the inspector general should have the power to reopen older cases involving police shootings and bring charges against those who avoided indictment­s during previous investigat­ions.

Buckley, who is a defense attorney, and McGuigan, who is a principal attorney at Rome McGuigan, P.C., both suggested that could be a possibilit­y, had they been chosen for the job.

But Devlin said he was unsure that reopening older cases was within the power of the inspector general’s office.

 ?? ?? Robert Devlin Jr., a former state judge and federal prosecutor, was appointed by the Criminal Justice Commission to the position of inspector general after a full day of interviews on Monday. Robert Devlin Jr., a former state judge and federal prosecutor, was appointed by the Criminal Justice Commission to the position of inspector general after a full day of interviews on Monday.

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