November 21st, 2012 | City

Police bias case inches forward

For the 10 black police officers suing New Haven for bias in hiring, their attempts to seek an injunction against promotions based on a newly administered 2011 test appear no closer to conclusion.

The group, dubbed the “New Haven 10,” argued their case at the New Haven Superior Court on Monday, contending that the results of a 2011 promotional test should be voided because they override the results of a 2009 exam that the city unlawfully let expire after only one year, thereby denying the officers their rightful promotions. But the “status conference” — as it was dubbed by its participants — succeeded merely in scheduling a future hearing to decide on the injunction.

The real action, however, came in the hallway outside of the courtroom when the city’s lawyers attempted to strike a deal with John Williams, the New Haven attorney representing the plaintiffs, to prevent the injunction from moving forward. New Haven Corporation counsel Victor Bolden and New Haven attorney Nicole Chomiak approached Williams and suggested they ask the Civil Service Board to certify the 2011 examination to see how Williams’ clients scored, Williams recalled.

“They suggested to me that we wait for the results,” Williams told the News. “And I said I would agree to that only if they agreed not to take any action on the results until we had an opportunity to come back to court.”

But Williams said Bolden and Chomiak refused his counteroffer, saying they were unwilling to commit to an injunction against hiring based on the results of the test. Bolden said in a Tuesday email that such a move “certainly does not serve the public safety interests of New Haven’s residents well.”

“If the results are certified, there is no reason to leave justly earned promotions on hold, while litigation proceeds for several months, perhaps years,” Bolden wrote.

New Haven Police Department spokesman David Hartman underscored the NHPD’s impartiality in the case but noted the urgency of sergeant promotions. The city is currently 18 sergeants short, forcing the NHPD to fill shifts by hiring overtime, Hartman said, adding that this is “costing the city a lot of money.”

Williams, however, remained staunch in his objection to the 2011 examination, saying it was skewed and would therefore be unfair to use for promotions. He added that it was “totally subjective” and easily manipulated since it gave greater weight to the oral portion of the exam than did the 2009 version.

If an injunction is not granted and the city goes ahead with the promotions, the 18 open sergeant positions are unlikely to go entirely to the plaintiffs, which aside from the “New Haven 10” also include eight officers suing over the examination in federal court. Once the positions are filled, the plaintiffs would only be able to pursue monetary damages, which Williams said would be difficult to calculate.

“That’s one of the problems because it presumably would be very substantial. It’s a little hard to calculate,” Williams said, noting that any monetary damages would have to take into account lost promotional opportunities, higher salaries and pensions.

Regardless of the outcome of the injunction, the result of the case for five of the plaintiffs may be moot. According to Bolden, those five scored too low on the 2009 exam to be promoted and therefore “lack standing to sue the City, much less seek any relief from it.”

The next hearing on the injunction is set for 9:15 a.m. on Dec. 5, six days before the next meeting of the Civil Service Board — which is scheduled to certify the results of the 2011 exam at that time.