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Mayor sheds light on forgotten call

By Paul Choiniere

Publication: The Day

Published August 21. 2013 4:00AM

New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio and police Chief Margaret Ackley have checked their notes and calendars and, with memories refreshed, now say their curious exchange of phone calls July 20 concerned The Day or, more precisely, documents that had been provided to the newspaper.

As noted in my Aug. 17 column, the phone calls were curious, and surprising, because up until then Mayor Finizio had said he had no contact with police officials that weekend. This is important because in the early morning hours of July 20 there was a reported sexual assault in the downtown commercial district.

It took several days for police to disclose the incident. Both the police administration and the mayor have faced heavy criticism in some quarters for not alerting the public sooner; and the attacker remains at large. There has still been no arrest. Some critics of the mayor have suggested the decision not to make an announcement was purposeful, an effort to play down crime in the city at a time when the police force has seen a large reduction in staffing.

Mayor Finizio has called the contention absurd. The chief says flatly that the administration never directed the department how to handle the information. But the mayor had also said he never talked with the police administration that day -a contention contradicted when I received phone records for the mayor's city-issued cell phone.

Those records show the mayor calling the chief at 9:45 a.m. and the chief soon calling back, the total exchange lasting about 10 minutes. As referenced in my earlier column, last week neither the chief nor mayor could recall the call or its content.

On Monday the chief - who the mayor says is a diligent note taker - emailed me and stated: "I have been able to determine the reason for the calls back and forth between myself and the Mayor; the reported sexual assault was NOT part of the conversation. The issue was a personnel matter that I cannot comment on."

Mayor Finizio, however, provided more detail. "The chief consulted her records and it is clear the conversation concerned the release of social security numbers to David Collins in response to his FOI request regarding dog bite statistics," he wrote me.

On July 19 The Day had published a column by Collins that referenced numerous complaints against the NLPD involving bites by police dogs over several years. Attached to the online version were the reports. But the city had failed to remove social security numbers and, after complaints, The Day took the reports off the web page.

It was a personnel matter for the city, said the mayor, because an NLPD employee should have removed the personal information.

"At no time was the alleged sexual assault discussed. The chief had not been made aware of the alleged sexual assault yet at the time of our conversation Saturday morning," stated Finizio. "I am confident our internal investigation will demonstrate that conclusively once it is completed and released."

That would be the investigation, ordered by the mayor, into how and why police did not disclose information about the assault sooner. Finizio said he did not learn about the assault until July 22, a Monday, during a conversation with the fire chief.

The mayor also offered an explanation why he had forgotten about the call and its content.

"Coming as it did on my birthday and being what I thought of as a minor issue, I had forgotten the call entirely … this conversation did not stand out," he wrote in the email.

Next time, perhaps the mayor should check the phone records before declaring with certainty he did not make or receive a call.

For some reason I don't think this will end the speculation. It also raises the question why the chief did not know about a rape in her city hours after it happened. Perhaps the results of the internal investigation will shed more light.

Most troubling, a serious crime remains unsolved. Amidst the politics and finger pointing that should not be forgotten.

Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.

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