Thursday, March 15, 2007

Connecting The Dots In New Haven

NAACP Chief: Are Mayor's "Fingerprints" On Cop Corruption?
by Paul Bass

New Haven Independent

Saying he wants to find out if the mayor protected the job of a top narcotics cop arrested this week for allegedly taking bribes and stealing cash -- a charge the mayor adamantly denies-- NAACP President Scot X. Esdaile (pictured) and other local black leaders are planning a community meeting to "connect the dots"

Esdaile said Thursday that he believes Mayor John DeStefano's "fingerprints" may be "all over" the alleged misdeeds of Lt. Billy White and the narcotics unit he headed until his arrest this week by the FBI. More arrests are believed likely in that case; the city plans to disband the narcotics unit on Friday.

Esdaile said he organized the community meeting along with local attorney Michael Jefferson, state ACLU Executive Director Roger Vann, and the Rev. Boise Kimber, until recently the mayor's most visible supporter in the black community. The meeting is scheduled to take place Tuesday, March 27, at 7 p.m. at the Elks Club at Webster and Dixwell. (For more info call the NAACP at 203-776-2662.)

Esdaile said the meeting grows out of concern that Mayor John DeStefano might have protected White's job as head of the narcotics unit two years ago. At the time Esdaile and other black leaders were complaining to the police chief about dangerous behavior by members of the unit, including an incident in which cops chasing a marijuana dealer allegedly shot up a Day Street playground where little kids where playing. Ortiz moved to remove White from his post. White retained the position after an outcry that included a no-confidence vote against the chief by the department's rank and file.

Ortiz said this week that he prefers not to discuss that episode.

"The word on the street is that Francisco Ortiz got rid of Billy White, and the mayor put him back in," Esdaile said Thursday. "I don't know if it's true, but we are going to find out.

"If he put him back in after the chief took him off, I want to know where the police commissioners were in all this. If the mayor did this all on his own, his fingerprints are all over this situation and he needs to be held accountable."

Esdaile called this week's arrests a "vindication" of public complaints he and other black leaders have been making for the past two years about a unit out of control, as well as other incidents of unchecked police violence.

"Our community has been abused for years" by the narcotics unit, Esdaile charged. "If there are other people out there [also engaged in corruption], we need to get the information out."

Esdaile met with DeStefano in the mayor's office Wednesday to express his concerns. He said that when he asked DeStefano if he was responsible for White keeping his job after Ortiz wanted him out, "He didn't say yes or no. He did state the he thought Ortiz had gotten rid of Billy White in the wrong manner."

Asked about the matter Thursday at an unrelated press conference in Trowbridge Square, DeStefano unequivocably said no. He said he in no way protected White's job.

"Cisco [the chief] never wanted to fire him. Cisco had some issues with him. I don't get involved in personnel assignments," DeStefano said.

At the time, Ortiz came under criticism from the rank-and-file for the way he had handled a host of reassignments of cops in the department, including White. Cops received notice of reassignments at 5 p.m. on one day with orders to report to the new position the next.

DeStefano Thursday noted that he had been "very supportive" of Ortiz when the rank and file voted no confidence in him.

Over the years, Billy White has not been known as a supporter of Mayor DeStefano's campaigns. He was supportive of a challenge to DeStefano in 2001 by fellow Democratic Martin Looney.

White's reassignment from the narcotics unit was scrapped after an outcry from cops; lost in the controversy over White's arrest this week has been the fact that he enjoyed deep support among many cops as well as other New Haveners.

Black Community Tensions

Some members of the black community have not been supportive of the performance of the local cops, including the narcotics unit.

"There have been enough people in the African-American community complaining about this for years, and they turned a deaf ear," said former Hill Alderman Anthony Dawson. "Francisco and the mayor need to own up to it."

Current Hill Alderwoman Jackie James spoke earlier this week about how the FBI arrests this week followed unsuccessful efforts on her part to get the narcotics unit to respond to drug-dealing in her neighborhood.

The ACLU's Roger Vann has agreed to serve as moderator for the March 27 public meeting at the Elks Club. (He's appearing on his own; the ACLU is not a sponsor of the event.)

"If it's true, it's very disturbing," Vann said of the allegation that the mayor protected White's job. "The mayor should be asked directly and held to account." He said he hopes DeStefano attends the forum. "I'd like to have him come out and answer some questions."

Vann called interactions between the black community and narcotics cops "a necessarily tense relationship because of what they do. Folks want police to help root out the drug problem. The line is crossed with cops dipping into the till. Of all units, it has to be free of corruption."

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