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State police union: Dozens exonerated in ticketing scandal

James Rovella talks to legislators about the state police traffic ticket scandal on July 26, 2023.
James Rovella talks to legislators about the state police traffic ticket scandal on July 26, 2023.

State police union officials on Wednesday said that 20% of the 130 state troopers accused of either submitting false ticket data or underreporting their numbers to a racial profiling database have been exonerated since the release of the audit a few weeks ago.

At a hastily called press conference, attorney Andy Matthews, a former state trooper who was the union president for years, criticized the media, state police command and Ken Barone, project manager for the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, a group collecting traffic data and helping to identify and address racial and ethnic disparities in traffic stops.

Barone is one of the authors of a 79-page report released by state auditors earlier this summer that alleges state troopers and constables may have eroded the accuracy of the state’s profiling system by submitting phony traffic tickets or not reporting traffic stops — the former referred to as “overreporting,” the latter as “underreporting.”

The report identified about 130 troopers who had more than 20% of their overall traffic stop records uncorroborated in any given year, combined with those who had more than eight unmatched records in any given year. Their names have not been released to the public, and the union has gone to court to fight requests to release the names.

“How is it that to this date, almost a month after a legislative hearing on this report, they’ve already cleared almost 20% of the troopers? Does anybody in the press find that concerning?” Matthews said.

Matthews said 26 troopers had been exonerated. State police officials have not confirmed the number.

Matthews said the records of the other troopers whose names were flagged were still being reviewed.

Matthews said the coverage has had repercussions for troopers who have been threatened. He referred to a post on the union’s Facebook page, which read in part, “If you were a person of color, and have been harassed by one of these troopers, please don’t march or pray just find their names and follow them home and handle business outside of the courts. The only way to fix the corrupt police is to take their life.”

Matthews said the union has asked for a state police crime squad to investigate that threat.

Matthews said he would welcome a forensic audit of his records.

Last week, the CT Mirror reported that Matthews had the second-most underreported infractions out of the 1,301 state troopers examined from 2014 to 2021.

Matthews’ badge number is associated in the data with 224 infractions from 2014 through 2021 that were not reported to the profiling database, an apparent violation of state law. Fifty percent of his infractions were flagged as underreported. He also may have overreported 27 traffic tickets, the data shows.

Matthews denied any wrongdoing to the CT Mirror and on Wednesday repeated why he believes he is among the 130 troopers on the list.

Matthews said the underreporting, which he doesn’t think “is the real issue,” likely stems from him having to drive an outdated work vehicle that didn’t have electronic reporting equipment. Therefore, he hand-wrote many of his tickets, he said, and communicated the required information to dispatchers. He said it’s possible dispatchers didn’t enter his information as required. He thinks auditors failed to account for the latter in their report.

“I’m calling in, either on the radio or on the phone, and I’m saying to the dispatchers who are not very happy that we’re calling in and bothering them, ‘Hey, this is a traffic stop I had … this is the racial profiling information.’ It’s their responsibility to put it into the computer,” he said.

“I’ll be the first person they can investigate. Bring it, bring the DOJ, bring the state police, bring the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office, bring whoever — but in return, let’s be fair,” Matthews said on Wednesday. “Grab every transmission on the radio that I called in. Bring every audio recording from the phone calls. Bring every motor vehicle recording that shows me actually physically handing a ticket to the operator. Bring every hand-written ticket and every e-ticket, every transmittal, and I guarantee you 100% without hesitation there’s not one falsified record.”

Union officials have been critical of the methodology used by Barone and his team to do the analysis — and of state police command for not standing behind the troopers. The union recently issued a vote of no confidence in both state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella and State Police Colonel Stavros Mellekas and asked Gov. Ned Lamont to relieve them of their duties.

“We’re not only here today to question the methodology of the audit. We’re here to question the procedure,” Matthews said.

“In the future, for any other law enforcement agency, Mr. Barone should do a couple of different things. He should sit down with the command staff of each department. He should sit down with the people that represent the police officers and say, ‘Is there anything that happens in the field that could affect the data without trying to present to the public the perception that there’s corruption or illegal or improper conduct?’”

Matthews said the union believes that should have happened before the audit was released, instead of scrambling now to say that people have been exonerated.

Barone has said the numbers are “conservative.”

“It is not my job to do a forensic review,” Barone said. “We took all of the information we had, and we spent time and gave ample opportunity for the State Police to weigh in to tell us things that they wanted us to consider. And we did that,” Barone said. “At some point, the product has to be done. And I’m sure the State Police would have appreciated it if we just waited for them to come up with every reason why there could be a discrepancy.”

Barone described the report’s methodology as “conservative,” so much so that it accounted for any scenario that he thinks would have called the conclusions into question.

“At some point, you just have to accept the findings,” Barone said.

This story was originally published by the Connecticut Mirror.

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