Thursday, April 20, 2006

Selective Arrests and Prosecutions


Some officials, police, prosecutors, judges, and others working on our taxpayer dime, can do as they please, others doing the same small or large indiscretions and/or crimes face no discipline while others get hung out to dry.

Why is that?

Well it is a way to retaliate against whistleblowers to enforce the official code of silence.
-Steven G. Erickson aka blogger Vikingas


Cat And Mouse On The Job
April 20, 2006 By OSHRAT CARMIEL, The Hartford Courant

Laura Rosario was driving her employer's car down Park Street one day when she noticed, unmistakably, a white van following her. She drove faster, then slower; swerved; merged onto the highway and drove to Windsor and back - fearful, she says, of what the man on her tail wanted.

"I thought I was going to be carjacked," she said.

Turns out her employer, Hartford's department of health and human services, had hired a private investigator to look into complaints of goldbricking by its nuisance-control inspectors, the four men and women who respond to complaints of rats, abandoned vehicles and other urban scourges.

For a fee of $9,000, the city bought itself a detailed report - with satellite maps and video -of their whereabouts, their activities and even what they were wearing. The investigation led to the firing of Rosario and the unpaid suspension of the three other inspectors, leaving no one to answer nuisance complaints for several days this month.

Santiago Malave, the city's human resources director, said the investigator was hired in response to telephone complaints from the public about the four inspectors. One wrote a letter to complain about Rosario specifically, he said.

"When the taxpayers in the city of Hartford express concern about the delivery of services," Malave said, "we have an obligation to address their concerns."

"The citizens pay for our salaries and they have a right to get what they pay for."

But critics wonder whether better supervision would have avoided the need for the gumshoe - and the associated costs.

"Where was management? That's my question," said Councilwoman Elizabeth Horton Sheff, who chairs the council's health and human services committee.

"If in fact these employees were, you know, not doing their job and doing such a terrible job for such a long time, where was management? I don't understand how it got this far."

Neither the city's health director, Ramon Rojano, nor the head of the department's environmental health unit, Michael Pascucilla, returned calls for comment.

In a no-bid contract, the health department hired Hunt Investigations of Winsted, which is run by Neil V. Hunt, a former Hartford police officer. At the rate of $125 an hour plus 45 cents per mile, Hunt and an associate followed each inspector over a few days, videotaping and chronicling their every move.

Hunt's findings are transcribed into a down-to-the-minute surveillance worthy of the most suspicious lover - but not quite as scintillating to read.

Rosario. Jan. 4, 2006

9.56 a.m.:
Subject is observed by her car. She is wearing a lime green pantsuit. She got into the car and drove to 77 Barbour Street, the Cozy Spot restaurant and went inside.
11:10 a.m.:

Subject is observed coming out of the restaurant. ... She does not stop for stop signs and goes through red lights while driving in a very reckless manner.

Investigators also followed inspector Naomi McKoy, an active member of Hartford's Democratic town committee.

McKoy. Jan. 9, 2006
2:35 p.m.:

Subject ...stopped on the side of the street talking to someone who she seems to know since they are laughing

.2:40 p.m.:

She stops for a while in front of 280 Martin Street. She then leaves and continues to drive around in that general area. It does not appear that she has done any work on this day.

Hunt's report describes the health department's inspectors - all of whom earn about $38,000 annually - entering restaurants, chatting with locals, sitting in their cars, driving in circles, driving to their homes, and socializing with police officers and similarly roaming members of the licenses and inspections department.

"It appears that many city of Hartford employees spend a good part of the day doing nothing but driving around killing time," Hunt wrote.

"I hope the city of Hartford taxpayers pay attention to it," Hunt said this week, suggesting that investigations like his should be more common.

"They're getting screwed."

McKoy said it is the inspectors who were spied on that are being mistreated.

"How can they tell whether we're doing any work or not, just because I pull in front of a building?" she said.

"I might be calling somebody who's inside, saying, `I'm outside. Go out there and clean that stuff up.'"

As for talking to neighborhood folks, well, that's part of the job, said McKoy, who is also on a North End community board.

"People stop me for anything," she said.

"Sneakers on the wires. I'm a community person in the neighborhood. Everyone has my number."

The other suspended inspectors, John Givens and Richard Nieves, could not be reached for comment. McKoy was suspended for four weeks, Givens for three weeks and Nieves for a week.

Rosario, who is appealing her dismissal, said the report is misleading. Though it appears as though inspectors are driving around aimlessly and not leaving their cars, the report does not take into account a recent edict by Pascucilla, of the environmental health division, that bars nuisance-control inspectors from stepping on private property or entering a property from behind.

As a result of the new prohibition, she and McKoy said, inspectors have been relying on drive-by observations. They also take notes in their car, she said.

The Cozy Spot restaurant, Rosario said, is a place where she meets with community leaders, who point out locations where rats or abandoned cars might be found.

Through her union, the City of Hartford Professional Employees Association, Rosario obtained copies of the GPS satellite report for her car. She points to instances where the GPS printout conflicts with the investigator's findings.

One of the instances in which the report described her reckless driving - speeding, crossing into the oncoming traffic lane - was precisely the day she feared she was being followed. At one point, she spotted a teenager whom she knows and begged him to drive along with her in her city car, fearing being alone.

The surveillance report records that she picked up a teenager, drove with him to Windsor, and had him get out of the car and start shoveling snow at a particular house, while an oil delivery truck was making a delivery there.

Then, the report said, she left the house in Windsor "driving at high rate of speed."

"I was so scared," Rosario said.

"Every single move I did, he was following me."

A discussion of this story with Courant Staff Writer Oshrat Carmiel is scheduled to be shown on New England Cable News each hour today between 9 a.m. and noon.

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