State police settlement reinstates trooper to lieutenant
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut officials have agreed to reverse the demotion of a state police lieutenant who said he was wrongly accused of drunken driving hours after pulling a fellow officer to safety during a shootout, according to a lawsuit settlement.
The attorney general’s office also agreed that the state will pay Lt. Patrick Torneo’s lawyer $40,000, delete all references to the internal affairs investigation that led to the demotion, not disclose any information about that investigation and restore his seniority standing as a lieutenant, according to the document obtained Monday by The Associated Press.
The agreement ends a federal lawsuit Torneo filed against state police officials accusing them of unjustly demoting him to master sergeant in 2014, based on unproven anonymous complaints alleging state police covered up the fact that Torneo had driven drunk in the hours after the shootout with robbery suspects in 2013. He won’t receive back pay for the salary decrease that came with the demotion.
A spokeswoman for the state attorney general’s office, which represented state police officials, said the settlement speaks for itself and declined further comment. A message seeking comment was left for state police officials Monday.
“He is a very good police officer who wasn’t treated fairly,” Torneo’s lawyer, Lewis Chimes, said. “I’m really happy that he was reinstated to his position with full benefits.”
Middletown police officers found Torneo in his cruiser on the side of a road in April 2013, the morning after the shootout. Court records show Middletown police treated the situation as a “medical issue,” which they did not disclose, and no charges were filed.
The previous night, Torneo pulled injured state police Detective Scott Wisner from his cruiser in the middle of the shooting involving two robbery suspects in Westbrook. Wisner was shot by one of the suspects after their cars crashed during a chase. Wisner returned fire and wounded the two men. One of the suspects, Jonathan Alvarado, later died, while Wisner and the other suspect survived.
Torneo and other officers went to Wisner’s home later that night to support him and Torneo had a couple of drinks, according to court documents.
Torneo, an 18-year veteran of state police, was promoted to lieutenant in September 2013 and three months later was awarded a medal for bravery for rescuing Wisner. He also was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after the shootout.
In August 2014, after receiving the anonymous complaints alleging he drove drunk, state police officials extended Torneo’s probationary period — which he said was improper. Two months later, he was demoted and suspended without pay for five days.
Torneo has been in the news in connection with an unrelated case. He is one of three state troopers accused in a lawsuit of retaliating against a protester at a sobriety checkpoint in West Hartford in 2015 by arresting him on bogus criminal charges. An internal affairs investigation cleared the three troopers of wrongdoing, and they deny the allegations.