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The Day files complaint against Norwich police for withholding trooper arrest report

November 28, 2018

The Day has filed a complaint against Norwich police for failing to release a report about the Nov. 11 arrest of state police Trooper Sarah Starkey, accused of driving while intoxicated.

Police said they pulled over the 34-year-old after a caller reported an erratic driver on West Main Street that evening. They also charged Starkey with evading responsibility, failure to drive right and unsafe movement of a stopped vehicle.

Starkey, who wasn’t on duty at the time, has been suspended from her role at Troop E in Montville since her arrest.

Asked under the Freedom of Information Act to provide a copy of the arrest report, police at first said they “don’t release DUI reports.” They later said they had asked the local state’s attorney’s office whether such reports are public but hadn’t heard back.

Under the law, police for many years have had to provide basic details about arrests, including the name, race and address of the arrestee; the date, time and place of the arrest, and the charges lodged.

But they’ve had to go one step farther since an update to the law went into effect in October 2015. In the case of a warrantless arrest such as Starkey’s, for example, police also must provide the official arrest, incident or similar report.

Asked whether Norwich police should disclose the arrest report, Tom Hennick, public information officer for the state Freedom of Information Commission, said “there’s no such thing as a secret arrest” among adults in Connecticut and the state’s attorney’s office shouldn’t be involved.

In a Monday email reiterating the request for the report, The Day told police what Hennick said. Police did not respond to the email, prompting The Day to file its complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission.

The Day is awaiting a hearing in the matter.

Police Chief Patrick Daley did not respond Wednesday to a message seeking comment.

Starkey, who worked as an officer in New London before joining state police in 2013, posted a $250 bond. She next is due in Norwich Superior Court on Dec. 6.

A second complaint

The complaint is the second The Day has filed against Norwich police this year.

Staff Writer Claire Bessette filed a complaint against the agency in January after learning police didn’t arrest a city official who might have driven drunk last December.

Bessette formally had requested the report but was denied because police said it contained “uncorroborated allegations.”

She appealed the denial and, about one week before her July 11 hearing with the commission, got a redacted report from police.

The report said Officer Zachary Desmond, investigating a suspected DUI, found a city official in the driver’s seat of a car parked just off Dudley Street on Dec. 8, 2017. Desmond said he smelled alcohol when the woman, awakened by his knock on the window, opened the door. Desmond said the vehicle wasn’t running, its hood was cold to the touch and the keys weren’t in the ignition.

Desmond said the city official said she had been drinking and didn’t feel safe to drive, so she pulled over.

Because a city official was in the vehicle, Desmond called his superior, Sgt. Nichols Rankin, to the scene. The official allegedly told Rankin she pulled over to call for a ride and had another drink while waiting.

Another person did arrive and took the city official home, the report said.

Rankin closed the case because he was “unable to prove operation or BAC during operation.”

During her hearing, Bessette questioned the redactions, which omitted the names of the city official and the person who picked her up.

The commission said the redactions were OK because police, though they were investigating a possible crime, didn’t find any witnesses or evidence corroborating it.

Bessette then questioned whether police did a thorough investigation.

The commission, however, said it didn’t have authority to determine whether a law enforcement “agency, in the opinion of the commission, has conducted a sufficient investigation in order to obtain such corroboration.”

The commission dismissed the complaint.

Established by state law in 1975, the commission consists of nine people appointed by the governor and various members of the Connecticut General Assembly. No more than five may belong to the same political party.

l.boyle@theday.com

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