The state’s Criminal Justice Commission, in two deadlock votes Thursday, failed to nominate a prosecutor for the new role of inspector general, a key position tasked with investigating police killings in Connecticut, opting instead to send the names of both finalists to the legislature for consideration.
After several hours of interviews, comments and deliberations, the commission cast its votes just before 7 p.m., split three-to-three between New Britain State’s Attorney Brian Preleski and Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney C. Robert Satti. Jr., who works in the Fairfield Judicial District.
Voting in favor of Preleski were Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald, Reginald Dwayne Betts and Moy N. Ogilvie. Voting for Satti were Robert Berke, Scott Murphy and Judge Melanie Cradle. Murphy was Preleski’s predecessor as New Britain state’s attorney.
Chief State’s Attorney Richard J. Colaneglo is a member of the commission, but is barred from voting on positions including deputy chief state’s attorney, which includes the inspector general.
Failing to reach an agreed-upon nominee with an Oct. 1 deadline looming, McDonald, the commission chair, offered that they send both names to the legislature for consideration and was met with no objections.
“I am sorry that we have not been able to break the deadlock but we have spent an awful lot of time trying to resolve this important issue,” McDonald said in closing the meeting. “I should say, by the way, both of these candidates are extraordinarily accomplished attorneys and the judiciary committee will have a very difficult time, I suspect, as we did, in navigating this process.”
Both Preleski and Satti have decades of experience as prosecutors in the Division of Criminal Justice trying complicated cases. Preleski, New Britain’s state’s attorney since 2011, has been with the division for 27 years. Satti, who has spent a decade as a supervisor, recently celebrated his 40th year as a prosecutor.
As the commission began interviewing the candidates for inspector general, commissioners spoke of having little precedent to guide their inquiries, but stressed questions about transparency, experience with complex cases and whether each attorney was willing to prosecute police officers.
Both Preleski and Satti, aware that the role could cause friction between the office and law enforcement, did not hesitate to say they would prosecute police officers who violated the law in using deadly force. The two prosecutors briefly acknowledged past prosecutions involving law enforcement.
The position was created in a sweeping piece of police accountability legislation passed this summer in a special session amid a growing concern locally and nationwide that police were held legally blameless when they use deadly force.
When the police accountability bill was crafted, legislative researchers estimated that the office will conduct roughly 25 investigations a year into the use of deadly force by police, or any death that results from that use of force. The inspector general’s office is also tasked with prosecuting any such cases that are deemed not justified by law.
Many advocates, activists and others see the inspector general as an important investigatory role that may hold police legally accountable when they kill. In the past 20 years, state’s attorneys have investigated roughly 80 deaths at the hands of police, but nearly all officers were found to be justified.
Several people testified before the nomination was made, pressing for the need for police accountability that some believe state’s attorneys have not pursued in the past.
“We don’t have the luxury of getting this one wrong," said Corrie Betts, the chair of the criminal justice commission of the Connecticut NAACP. “Too many lives have been lost at the hands of law enforcement officers who have not been held accountable for their brutal, reckless actions. Families have been destroyed forever. We out to the loved ones left behind to get it right. We owe it to the community, my community, that has been battered and bruised by this system.”
The names now goes to the legislature’s judiciary committee for consideration and a final decision on who will serve the four-year term.
It is unclear when the office will start conducting investigations. After a nomination is approved, the inspector general will have to both find a space to operate and staff the office with an assistant state’s attorney, inspectors and other positions. Both candidates expressed concerns with finding qualified staff willing to conduct the difficult investigations, along with receiving the funding necessary for the office to meet its mandate.
The commission Thursday also appointed Executive Assistant State’s Attorney Sharmese L. Walcott to serve an eight-year term as the Hartford’s state’s attorney, replacing Gail P. Hardy. Hardy, who held the post for 13 years, withdrew her consideration for reappointment during a hearing in June, a week after she was suspended without pay for leaving deadly police shooting investigations open for as long as 11 years.
The appointment means a return for Walcott, who spent about two years in the judicial district, trying four cases while she worked for the office. A prosecutor in Connecticut since 2007, Walcott spent 11 years in the Danbury Judicial District.
Walcott, who was interviewed for more than an hour, spoke of how she will bring a new energy to top leadership of the Division of Criminal Justice. She committed to connecting with the community across all levels to keep the public better engaged with what happens and why it happens within the judicial district.
“I believe I am the right person to move Hartford forward in way that brings together two large spheres: management and community relations,” Walcott told the commission.
Nicholas Rondinone can be reached at email@example.com.
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