Lawyer to fight delay in Bridgeport assistant police chief challenge
BRIDGEPORT — The lawyer for four top city police officials, seeking to overturn the appointment of Rebeca Garcia as assistant police chief, said he will appeal a court ruling delaying the case to October.
Thomas Bucci said his clients, Captains Brian Fitzgerald, Steven Lougal and Roderick Porter, and Deputy Police Chief Anthony Armeno, are being retaliated against because of the stand they have taken against Garcia’s appointment. He would not say what that retaliation has been.
In the meantime, Councilwoman Eneida Garcia, who had been an ardent supporter of the assistant police chief, said Friday the council had been misled by the mayor and his administration into approving Garcia’s appointment.
“Personnel matters like this come up at times. It is a consistent policy for the city to withhold comment on these types of incidents that are pending litigation,” said the mayor’s spokeswoman, Rowena White. Garcia did not return calls for comment.
In December, the captains and Armeno filed suit in state Superior Court one day after the City Council approved Garcia as assistant police chief. Garcia, the first female Hispanic to hold the post, was chosen by Mayor Joe Ganim and Police Chief Armando Perez for the $142,425 a year job.
The suit claims the appointment of Garcia to assistant chief is “unlawful and invalid,” because it was not done under the provisions of civil service.
“The right to make a unilateral appointment to a position of assistant chief doesn’t exist under the city charter nor under the civil service provisions,” Bucci said at the time he filed the lawsuit.
The trial before a judge was scheduled for March but then the pandemic hit. It was rescheduled for May 27 and then on Thursday, Judge Barry Stevens continued it to Oct. 22.
“My clients are interested in a date earlier than October but we have to wait until the courts are up and running again,” Bucci said on Friday.
He said the concerns about retaliation are one of the reasons he will be seeking an earlier trial date than October.
Bucci admitted that the delay in the case has enabled them to discover new evidence that he said makes their case stronger.
That new evidence, he said, is a memo that was put out by Police Chief Joseph Gaudett just before he retired in February 2016, eliminating the position of assistant chief. Bucci said Gaudett had the authority to make such an order and the order was still in place when Garcia was promoted.
Councilwoman Eneida Martinez said the council was not told of Gaudett’s order by the mayor or his administration when they were urged to approve Garcia’s appointment.
“We were misled on this position, that in 2016 Gaudett had eliminated the position,” Martinez said. “When (the appointment) was brought in front of us by the mayor, that was not given to us and we were misled.”
At the time, only Councilwoman Maria Pereira cast a “no” vote against the appointment, questioning the legality of it.
“I am not opposed to Garcia. I have a problem with the process used to appoint her,” Pereira said on Friday. “Every other position in the Police Department had to go through the Civil Service Commission except this one and that’s not right. When they selected the last assistant chief (James Nardozzi), it was after a nationwide search and going through civil service.”
The lawsuit states that under the city charter the position of assistant chief is considered a classified service and must follow the competitive hiring provisions of the charter starting with a list of people eligible for the position and the scheduling of a competitive test for the job.
“The plaintiffs possess qualifications, in the least, equal to those of Captain Rebecca (sic) Garcia, and, under the City Charter must be allowed to compete for the position of assistant police chief, unless legitimately disqualified,” the suit states.