On Monday, March 11th, the NCPD honored part of a media FOI request and confirmed the officer on leave is Fred M. Pickering and they are running their own internal investigation on top of the States Criminal Investigation. This was a result of media pressure on the town 1st Selectman to get the cops to follow State FOI Laws about information on public servants put on leave. There are still unanswered questions on who is leading the investigation and why it’s being done by Pickering’ peers instead of an out of town police unit.
Update 3-9-13 11:30am: At least two employees of Tequila Mockingbird have said it was Lt. Fred Pickering who was in involved in the bar fight on February 23rd. Last night I stopped by the police station to see if Pickering was on duty but he wasn’t. The desk officer told me he didn’t know when he’d be back on duty. Pickering’s voicemail doesn’t say he’s on leave but the NCPD Chief also won’t answer emails asking when his senior officer will be returning for work. Attorney Gene Riccio told me he has been hired to represent Pickering and would not comment further on his client’s role in the alleged fight. Pickering has not returned a call for comment.
The 2011 NCPD annual report shows Lt. Pickering is in the top 6 of command for the 45 person force. He stated on the local Patch site once he needs 30 years of service to retire and started the job in May 1987. Pickering and his wife Mary Beth (a soccer coach) live at 129 Gower Rd in New Canaan. The modest 4 bedroom 3.5 bath house, that he bought two years after he started the force, is appraised at near $900,000. Pickering’s published earnings for 2012 is a little over $152k plus he can earn overtime or private service pay at $65 per hour with a four hour minimum. The police have still not told the press if the officer is on paid or unpaid leave although multiple publications including this one have made FOI request to get this information that is a matter of public interest (and paid for with our tax dollars).
The concern here is how did Officer Pickering handle himself while off duty with his friends who allegedly made racial slurs at another patron in Tequila Mockingbird. One witness, Kevin Jones, told me he heard someone called Pickering a ‘Pig’ and then more name calling happen, via Pickering’s crew, and then the altercation happen.
Pickering is the brother of the director of human resources for the town Cheryl Pickering Jones. The family has a history of working in fire, police, nursing services for New Canaan with deep roots tied to town government.
We are still waiting on the town attorney to give a legal opinion on if the NCPD has to honor the press FOI request to release the officer’s name. I first reported yesterday the State’s FOI commission believes they have to release the name of a public servant on leave. If the town attorney, Ira Bloom, denies the information we are seeking under Federal and State FOI laws I will file an appeal / complaint with the State FOI commission and I hope other local publications do the same.
3-9-13 3pm: The New Canaan Advertiser is also reporting Pickering is on leave and quotes sources that say it’s a paid leave. If Pickering is on paid leave, then given that’s funded by taxpayer dollars, the NCPD has to answer our FOI request. The public deserves to know who is running the investigation, who made the decision to put Pickering on paid leave, how long he’s been on it, and I’d like to see a copy of the police union contract that could show if they had to put him on paid leave or if they had an option. We also need confirmation if his weapons and badge have been turned back in while on leave.
3-10-13: Here is some interesting case law history on how Pickering and a few other NCPD handled a controversial DUI arrest in 2004 by a women who was having a reaction to medicine. In 2008 Pickering received the Police Meritorious Duty Award for his work in Domestic Violence cases.
3-12-13: The New Canaan Advertiser is reporting the name of the man accusing Pickering. Joel L. Anderson, of 186 Lakeview Ave, had been arrested by the NCPD in 2011 for allegedly stealing pot (but his arrest record was expunged and their are no convictions against Joel). Anderson’s address at the time of his arrest was in Section 8 Low-Income housing. He and two of his buddies were outed for the alleged pot heist after they reported the guy they might have stole it from had hit their car. It’s kind of a funny story. Sources close to Pickering have told me this is not the first time 24-year-old Anderson has tried to file a complaint against Pickering but I haven’t seen a 2nd complaint. The NAACP has gotten involved at some point in the complaints against Pickering and I have to wonder why Pickering wasn’t investigated by the State’s attorney before if there was a prior complaint?
A New Canaan, Conn. police officer was put on leave and is under criminal investigation by the State’s attorney. The NCPD release a statement today that a person complained they were hit by the off-duty officer at a popular local watering hole, Tequila Mockingbird. The complaint said a fight started when a person in the officer’s group started racial slurs. The NCPD is not releasing the name of the officer and said the event happen February 23rd.
Josh Fisher, New Canaan Advertiser Editor in Chief, asked the NCPD Chief Nadriczny if the name would be released via a FOI request. The chief said no until the investigation is complete. The name of the complainant is also not disclosed.
If something sounds fishy here you’re right it is. Why are we just getting word of this on March 8th. If a cop is put on leave that is a matter of public interest, if public coffers are being used to pay him while he is on leave that is a mater of public interest. I spoke with Attorney Valica Harmon at the State’s FOI Commission who said, “There is no basis of fact for the Police to withhold the name of an officer that has been put on leave. That’s a personal decision and separate from the State’s attorney investigation. The public has a right to know if public coffers are being used to pay this person while on leave.”
I emailed and called Chief Nadriczny at 2pm today with a FOI request explaining the above. If he doesn’t respond with a name today the State’s FOI office said I should filed a complaint with the FOI commission.
I have also asked Chief Nadriczny if ANYONE involved in the incident was arrested for breach of peace, disorderly conduct or assault. You know the charges you usually see when there is bar fight by grown men.
At 2:45pm Chief Nadriczny wrote back saying
“Ms. Buhl -This is an ongoing, active criminal investigation and our press release contains the information we will release at this time.”
I also want to know if another town is being called in to run the investigation. Can the NCPD investigating one of their own?
Remember this is the same police unit who was investigated for racial profiling with traffic ticketing writing last year by the CHRO and was also involved in accepting free alarms from New Canaan Alarm company but no one was ever charged with wrong doing or fired.
New Canaan Patch/AOL editor Michael Dinan wrote in comments on his story about the event that the Patch would not allow readers to post comments speculating who the officer is. I find that ironic since AOL/Patch is known to encourage their editors to allow all kinds of speculative comments about people in town to get the page views up.
If you’ve heard who the officer is feel free to comment here and I’ll investigate it. The NCPD is paid with our tax dollars and we have the right to transparent information from them, which we are unfortunately not getting today. Based on the NCPD Chief’s refusal to honor the press FOI request I’ll be filing a complaint.
Here is the NCPD press release from 11:45am on 3-8-13:
NCPD Press Release Dispute Investigation 03-08-13
UPDATE 4:30pm: I spoke with Ira Bloom the town attorney who said he’s looking into if he thinks the NCPD have to release the officers name. The Advertiser also spoke with the town First Selectman who said he asked Bloom to look into it and they’d have an answer on Monday. If they say no I encourage every local publication to file a FOI complaint with the State Commission as they clearly think the NCPD has to comply.