Wednesday, February 13, 2008
JI Stops Town From Destroying Public Records
Enfield, ex-cop agree to destroy files
By Alex Wood
ENFIELD - When Duane Tompkins resigned from his job as a police lieutenant in October, the town agreed to return a computer memory device belonging to him and to ask permission from the state records administrator to destroy transcripts of the material on it.
That revelation comes from Tompkins' "severance agreement" with the town, a copy of which Town Attorney Kevin M. Deneen provided to the Journal Inquirer in response to a freedom-of-information request.
Deneen said late Tuesday afternoon that, as far as he knows, the transcripts remain in existence. He also said he didn't believe a request for their destruction had been sent to the state records administrator and that he had directed that no action be taken on destruction of the transcripts while the newspaper's information request is pending.
Earlier Tuesday, a JI reporter had e-mailed a request to State Records Administrator Eunice G. DiBella that she deny the town permission to destroy the transcripts while the information request is pending.
Two JI reporters faxed a freedom-of-information request to town officials on Oct. 15, requesting information on the investigation of the lieutenant, who was then suspended but hadn't been publicly identified.
As it turned out, that was six days after the Oct. 9 signing of the severance agreement by Tompkins, Town Manager Matthew Coppler, and lawyer Kenneth DeLorenzo on behalf of the local police union. It was a day before the end of a seven-day period during which Tompkins could have revoked the agreement.
Absent the FOI request, the agreement would have obligated town officials to request permission to destroy the transcripts at that point.
Aside from disclosing the severance agreement, the town has denied the reporters' request for documents relating to the investigation. The reporters are appealing that denial to the state Freedom of Information Commission.
The severance agreement says nothing about what type of material was stored on Tompkins' computer memory device, known as a "pen drive" or USB drive.
But it does say there are disputes between Tompkins and the Police Department "concerning his off-duty conduct."
The agreement says Tompkins decided to resign "in lieu of further proceedings and to act as the primary caregiver to his elderly and ailing grandparents in Vermont."
Tompkins is being paid by the town and will continue to draw a paycheck until July 9, using up accrued vacation, holiday time, and sick leave, according to the agreement. Tompkins also may be continuing to receive town health benefits, although they will end if he obtains coverage under another employer's health plan.
Moreover, the agreement says, the town won't challenge any claim for unemployment compensation that Tompkins may make after July 9 because the two sides agree that his resignation "is not voluntary for the purposes of the Connecticut Unemployment Compensation Act."
The agreement indicates that Tompkins may also be entitled to benefits under the Police Department's pension plan.
But the agreement makes abundantly clear that Tompkins is no longer a cop.
Referring to the period between its signing on Oct. 9 and the end of Tompkins' paid leave on July 9, the agreement says he "shall not in any way hold himself out as or exercise the authority of a police officer."
It also requires him to return to the town his certification card, showing that he meets Connecticut standards as a trained police officer, as well as "any other town property in his possession."
The agreement strictly limits what town officials can tell the news media about the circumstances of Tompkins' resignation and the investigation that preceded it.
The agreement contains a confidentiality clause with several exceptions, including release of the severance agreement as required by the state Freedom of Information Act, and the following:
* "The chief of police may respond to inquiries from the media regarding the pending investigation by informing them that the investigation has been terminated with no report or findings," the agreement says. That is almost precisely what Chief Carl J. Sferrazza did tell a reporter in October.
* "If asked about Tompkins' status, the chief of police and/or the director of human resources may state that he has resigned and is using leave time until his resignation takes effect," the agreement says.
The agreement requires town officials to be equally tight-lipped with any prospective employers who may contact them. It requires that all such calls be referred to the human resources director, who generally may disclose only Tompkins' dates of employment, the positions he held, the job description for his last position, and his final pay rate.
The town also is required to disclose any documents from Tompkins' personnel file for which he provides "a written release and authorization."