Mayor Toni Harp agreed to pay embattled former New Haven Chief of Police Dean Esserman nearly $100,000 and a year of health care costs in exchange for his resignation, according to a document released by City Hall on Friday.
The undated document, which lays out the terms of the agreement between the city and Esserman, was released to the New Haven Independent after the Independent filed a Freedom of Information Act request. Signed by both Harp and Esserman, the agreement stated that in exchange for the termination of his employment on Sept. 2, New Haven would pay Esserman a lump sum of $99,500 by Sept. 16. Esserman would also be eligible for the New Haven Police Department’s retiree medical program, which the city would pay through Sept. 1, 2016, as well as any accrued time or benefits by Sept. 9, 2016.
Additionally, the terms state that the New Haven government would “defend, indemnify and hold Esserman harmless from any and all claims” made regarding his employment as New Haven chief of police. For example, the city government agreed to provide Esserman’s prospective employers with “a letter of recommendation attesting to his service as police chief and his being in good standing as of the effective date of his resignation.”
According to the document, Esserman in turn agreed to release the city from all obligations, liabilities, costs and damages and cooperate with the counsel for the New Haven government in any current or potential future court litigation or administrative claims or appeals.
The large sum allotted to the former chief, who resigned following months of controversies and pressure from both the public and within the NHPD, came across as a disappointment to some community members.
Barbara Fair, a New Haven community activist who pushed for Esserman’s removal, was deeply dissatisfied when she learned the terms of Harp and Esserman’s agreement.
“He really got a good deal, and to me it was almost like blackmail, and I think it’s terrible,” Fair said. “It’s almost like they gave in to the bully.”
Fair noted that since the lump sum was just $500 short of $100,000, the agreement did not have to be approved by the Board of Alders, which she believes would have rejected the agreement had it gone before them. She added that the total value of Esserman’s health benefits should have pushed the total sum over the $100,000 minimum.
Esserman resigned on Sept. 2 following two consecutive periods of leave, caused primarily by conduct termed by Harp as “unbecoming [of] a public official.” One such incident, which took place in July, involved Esserman allegedly disrupting wait staff at a local restaurant. And earlier that month, New Haven’s police union had voted 170–42 in a no-confidence vote against the chief.
NHPD spokesman David Hartman declined to comment on the topic of Esserman’s resignation agreement.
City spokesman Laurence Grotheer said the lump sum Esserman received through the agreement was a significant loss in comparison to his projected earnings and represented a “savings for the city.” Esserman’s original contract with the city went through January 2018, and, based on his annual salary of $162,000 per year, the value of his remaining time was over $200,000, according to Grotheer.
“I don’t think [Esserman] could have gotten a better deal for leaving under unsatisfactory conditions and yet having these benefits in place,” Fair said.
Fair said she was particularly disappointed that the city agreed to provide Esserman with a letter of recommendation after his resignation and said the agreement would send a “bad message” to future employees of City Hall.
Assistant Chief Anthony Campbell ’95 DIV ’09 continues to serve as interim chief of the NHPD.