Connecticut State Police leaders departing amid fake ticketing probe
The top two leaders at Connecticut State Police are stepping down, Gov. Ned Lamont announced on Wednesday.
The shake-up comes amid state and federal investigations into at least 26,000 potentially fake traffic tickets, but the governor insisted no one was forced out.
Departing next month are Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection commissioner James Rovella and state police commander, Col. Stavros Mellekas.
Lamont downplayed the timing at a state Capitol news conference.
“After four years, it's a good time to have a fresh start, and that starts with the police,” the governor told reporters.
But Rovella acknowledged that the scandal was a factor.
“We had a conversation. It was included,” he said. “That wasn't the driving force behind this.”
Mellekas did not appear at the announcement.
TRAFFIC TICKET AUDIT
Whatever the reason, the leadership changes come amid turmoil.
A recent audit found a “high likelihood” that at least 130 state troopers falsified almost 26,000 tickets – and potentially tens of thousands more.
The audit has led to a U.S. Department of Justice probe, an independent investigation led by former federal prosecutor Deirdre Daly and an internal state police investigation.
Lamont said Daly’s probe should be finished, and made public, by the end of this year.
“THE GOVERNOR HEARD OUR CONCERNS”
Since 2020, Rovella has faced two “no confidence” votes from two different state police unions. Mellekas was also the subject of one vote.
“We appreciate that the governor heard our concerns,” said Connecticut State Police Union director Andrew Matthews. “We believe the commissioner and the colonel mislead the Legislature.”
Union leaders have blasted the ticket audit, accusing the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project of releasing it prematurely. Matthews said Wednesday that 47 troopers have now been “exonerated” – a claim the racial profiling group called “inaccurate.”
“Following our review of the 27 troopers with badge issues (of which we only cleared 19), CSP provided us with feedback on 20 additional troopers,” said co-author Ken Barone. “The 20 troopers that CSP attempted to ‘reconcile’ had a variety of potential explanations that we reviewed. All of these troopers had problems with their records, and for some, we still cannot rule out that records were potentially falsified. For others, in the most generous scenario, the data entry was poor and the records continue to be unreliable. We did not ‘clear’ any of the 20 troopers recently reviewed. That being said, CSP can obviously make their own determinations about clearing troopers without our endorsement.”
At the announcement Wednesday, Lamont even cast doubt on the audit’s findings.
“The press is reporting, you know, hundreds of people and falsification. The number's going to be much less than that,” he said. “We have found evidence of, you know, inaccuracies, inadvertent mistakes, technology and the such.”
Lamont is nominating former Yale University police chief Ronnell Higgins to take over.
In addition to restoring public trust, Higgins must improve sagging morale at state police. The agency has struggled to recruit new troopers, but a lucrative new contract may turn the tide.
“I think I'll bear the responsibility for mending the relationship,” he said. “One interaction at a time. Each interaction at a time.”
Higgins is a part of the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Criminal Justice System and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. He also has a connection to the state troopers' union. Higgins trained Matthews at the Yale police force three decades ago.
Higgins will serve as acting public safety commissioner until state lawmakers vote on his nomination in February. He will pick Mellekas’ replacement as state police commander.