Adrian Kulesza, Contributing Photographer

The New Haven Civilian Review Board is currently evaluating its first police discipline case since its creation in 2019. 

After years of community advocacy, the Civilian Review Board was established to conduct  investigations into civilian complaints of police misconduct in the Elm City. But the Board has faced logistical challenges since its inception, and is now taking on the first case brought to it. 

The Board’s first case is a New Haven Police Department internal investigation into three officers’ responses to a domestic violence call. The Board will recommend disciplinary action for the three officers, but it has requested extra time to make its decision. 

“The Civilian Review Board is now where the rubber meets the road of government,” Ward 7 Alder Eli Sabin ’22 told the News. “Because they exist, other decision-makers are going to be more likely to make the right decisions and be more likely to hold police officers accountable… They know that there’s an independent oversight body… making sure that police officers are treating everybody in the city with dignity and respect.” 

According to a New Haven Police Department Internal Affairs report obtained by the New Haven Independent, the three officers did not follow department rules and procedures when they were uncharacteristically lenient toward a city firefighter who had engaged in possible hazardous driving and then broken into his ex-girlfriend’s home. Hours later, the firefighter shot himself with a gun that the officers failed to confiscate. 

Acting NHPD Chief Renee Dominguez recommended that Sergeant Jasmine Sanders, one of the three officers involved, receive a “six-month suspension and probationary period” for her handling of the case. She provided the Board with a file and video materials to understand the case. The Civilian Review Board asked Dominguez “to delay the discipline so the case can be investigated further,” according to an email sent by Board member Rick Crouse. “We are concerned that all of the relevant facts have not been discovered, and we want to go deeper and broader.”

“The persons on the subcommittee that reviewed the case thought that there were things that we needed to understand that we couldn’t understand from the file and in the video,” Samuel Ross-Lee, the chair of the Civilian Review Board, explained. 

The Board has until December to provide an official recommendation, according to an email Dominguez sent to the Board. The Board has the authority to launch an independent investigation, but it has not used this power yet. According to Ross-Lee, the Board can call on “persons outside the police department to do an actual investigation of things, questions that we may have that we don’t feel get answered by the police departments,” to aid in its decision. 

While this first case has a high level of confidentiality because it was brought directly to the Board by the police chief, Ross-Lee said that the Board hopes to be as transparent as possible. He added that the Board’s review process was likely to be more open to the public if a case was brought by a citizen rather than the police department. 

“If a person, a civilian, requests that their case is reviewed by the Board, then the police are required to bring the case to us,” Ross-Lee added. 

Currently, the Civilian Review Board is calling on Dominguez to take another look at an Internal Affairs exoneration of an officer’s actions in a controversial Jan. 29 arrest in the lobby of the Connecticut Financial Center on Church Street. This case may turn into the Board’s second investigation.  

Members of the Civilian Review Board are participating in an ongoing training process with the police. According to Ross-Lee, the training process covers topics such as general orders, bylaws, use of force laws, procedural justice, diversity training and implicit bias. 

The Civilian Review Board was established in response to local activism in the Elm City. In November 1995, Ward 3 Alder Anthony Dawson proposed that an all-civilian body able to discipline officers who committed acts of police brutality be established. When an East Haven police officer, Robert Flodquist, shot and killed unarmed New Haven resident Malik Jones in April 1997, Emma Jones – Malik’s mother – advocated and organized for the creation of a review board with community groups such as Black Lives Matter New Haven, People Against Police Brutality and Unidad Latina en Acción.

The Civilian Review Board is composed of 15 New Haven residents. 

Charlotte Hughes reports on climate and environmental issues in New Haven. Originally from Columbia, South Carolina, she is a freshman in Branford College majoring in English.