Conn. Names Inspector General To Investigate Police Shootings, Deaths
Connecticut leaders selected the state’s first inspector general on Monday, jump-starting 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 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 after the high-profile 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 likely will 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 those 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 state’s attorney in New Britain 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 persuade 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 Commissioner Andrew McDonald, who previously served as an associate justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court.
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 news conferences and speak with community members and victims’ family members after 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.