For the past six weeks the New Haven Police Department has been without a de facto police chief, after Chief Dean Esserman went on two consecutive periods of leave. A document made public last week outlines the terms of his first leave of absence, mandated by Mayor Toni Harp after the chief engaged in conduct she termed “unbecoming [of] a public official.”
On July 25, Harp announced that Esserman would serve a 15-day leave of absence, following an incident at Archie Moore’s Bar and Restaurant on July 22 in which Esserman allegedly behaved rudely to the wait staff and disrupted other diners at the venue. But when the 15 days ran out on Aug. 15, Esserman transitioned directly into an indefinite sick leave that is still ongoing.
A document outlining the 10 conditions Harp and Esserman agreed to when he went on his first leave of absence was released last Thursday by People Against Injustice, a New Haven-based organization committed to reforming the criminal justice system. The group, which had previously been critical of the chief and his leadership at NHPD, submitted a request under the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act for the document containing the conditions, according to the group’s Facebook page.
“[Harp] declined to release the document outlining the conditions or describe the conditions, telling local press outlets there was a ‘presumption’ of ‘confidentiality’ for personnel disciplinary records,” the group’s statement read. “In fact, under the CT Freedom of Information Act, the presumption is the opposite. Disciplinary records are presumed to be public records.”
The two-page document, signed by Esserman, Harp and a witness — acting New Haven Corporation Counsel John Rose Jr. — concedes that members of the public and employees of the city have made claims relating to the “temperament and conduct” of Esserman, and that Harp had issued a written warning to Esserman after a Yale football game for “unprofessional conduct” in September 2014.
The document then lists the 10 terms under which Esserman would serve a 15-day paid leave, including certain conditions he would have to meet before he could return to his job as chief.
One condition stated that to return to work, Esserman would have to provide the city’s human resources department with medical documentation showing that any and all current medications he takes do not interfere with his job duties. The agreement also required Esserman to disclose to Harp any other situations he has been involved in that could be considered “disrespectful, threatening or harassing,” as well as to enroll in an Employee Assistance Program, a program that helps participants with problems that may impact job performance and personal well-being.
Other conditions prohibited Esserman from speaking with the press or releasing any documents to the public during the leave. He was also prohibited from interacting with any members of the Board of Police Commissioners as well as members of the Department of Police Services.
If he were to return to work at the end of his first leave on Aug. 16, Esserman would have needed to have any and all “discipline, including private and closed-door meetings” preapproved by the Corporation Counsel and the Chief Administration Officer for the first six months. The counsel and Chief Administration Officer, alongside Harp, would also have needed to approve any disciplinary action Esserman chose to take against his officers. Lastly, any future display of “intemperance or unwarranted and/or unprovoked disrespect” could have resulted in the termination of Esserman’s employment.
It remains to be seen if Esserman would have even been made to comply with the last two conditions listed, as he has not yet returned to his job. On the afternoon of Aug. 15, shortly before Esserman’s 15-day leave ended, Harp announced in a press release that the chief would begin an indefinite sick leave.
According to calculations by the New Haven Independent, Esserman has enough accumulated sick -leave days during his tenure at the department to last roughly eight more weeks.
In the meantime, Assistant Chief Anthony Campbell continues to lead the department. Esserman is still listed as the instructor of PLSC 225, “Policing in America,” which currently has 55 students enrolled as shoppers.