An independent arbitrator has recommended a Connecticut detective be restored to his job on the force, after determining he did not do anything wrong while handling certain aspects of a Black woman’s death.
The investigation contends it is “not convinced” the officer handled the case any differently than any of his other cases and opens the door for a radical suspension reversal of another colleague accused of the same impropriety on the same day with a different woman of color.
On Wednesday, May 18, an arbitrator said Detective Angel Llanos should have not been placed on paid administrative leave from the Bridgeport Police Department for the way he handled the death of Brenda Lee Rawls, 53. The African-American woman’s family members said he and his team did not notify them in a timely manner about their loved one’s death.
The 34-year police veteran was accused of failing to notify Rawls’ family of her death.
Rawls told her family on Dec. 11, 2021, she was going to spend time with a male friend in her neighborhood. After not hearing from her in two days some family members visited the home of the unidentified male companion on Dec. 14, who told them he was unable to wake Rawls the morning of Dec. 12.
A medical examiner later found that she had succumbed to heart disease, a complication of her diabetes.
The family alleges that despite the Bridgeport police learning of her death on Dec. 12, they did not inform Rawls’ family of her death.
“Nobody ever notified us that she died,” her sister Dorothy Rawls Washington said her sister’s death. “We had to do our own investigation and find out where she was.”
The family finally found Rawls’ body after a funeral home directed them to the state medical examiner’s office.
“They never took any opportunity to look for next of kin,” Washington said. “The next time we saw our sister, she was in a funeral home.”
Arbitrator Michael R. Ricci, operating on behalf of the American Arbitration Association and at the prompting of the police union, wrote he found no evidence to suggest Llanos violated any departmental notification policy, aligning with the police union’s contention that Llanos should be restored to duty.
“The union provided a persuasive argument that the grievant’s actions (or inaction) related to the December 12th (case) were no different than his actions with other similar cases,” Ricci wrote regarding the reversal of the suspension.
He continued in his report, “Since there is no record of the grievant being disciplined for his past actions regarding DOAs (dead on arrival), it must be assumed that his past actions were acceptable. More importantly, there was no evidence that he violated the death notification policy.”
Ricci further ordered Llanos to be offered 128 hours of overtime opportunities to make up for the past 16 weeks of administrative leave he had to take. He further recommends 8 hours of overtime opportunities each week until the city gives him back his job.
Kelly Rommel, who serves as the police union’s staff attorney, likes the proposal because the city’s detectives are understaffed, and “there’s plenty of work to be done.”
Rawls’ sister Dorothy Washington believes no one should be thinking about overtime and that the detective should be “held accountable,” the Connecticut Post reported.
She said, “It just made us feel like my sister was nothing, was treated like trash, like he just didn’t care.”
Llanos and another officer, Detective Kevin Cronin, were placed on leave by Bridgeport mayor, Joe Ganim. Their status in the department would be in limbo until an internal investigation was conducted and completed.
Cronin faced a very similar complaint regarding how he handled an unrelated death of 23-year-old Lauren Smith-Fields, a Black woman who died on the exact same day.
This investigation, referenced by the mayor, also looked into the appropriateness of how they handled the women’s deaths. In a statement released in January, the official apologized to the families of Smith-Fields and Rawls for the “unacceptable failure” to follow police protocol regarding delicate incidents like these.
“I want you to know that I am extremely disappointed with the leadership of the Bridgeport Police Department and find actions taken up to this point unacceptable,” the statement read from the Mayor.
Because the city did not have a Chief of Police, Bridgeport’s chief executive directed the deputy chief to place the two on leave because they displayed a “lack of sensitivity to the public and failure to follow police policy in handling of these two matters.”
The Bridgeport Police Union/AFSCME Local 1159 president wants the mayor to consider Ricci’s proposal to give the officer back his job.
“Arbitrator Ricci’s decision demonstrates Mayor Ganim acted inappropriately in ordering Detective Llanos, a 33-year veteran with an impeccable career, to be placed on administrative leave for his response to the untimely and tragic death of Brenda Rawls,” President Brad Seely said in a written statement on behalf of the police union. “This was a clear case of the City denying an employee their rights under collective bargaining.”
In addition to their advocacy for Llanos, the union has also filed a grievance for Cronin. His case will be heard next month.
Acting Police Chief Rebeca Garcia said in a statement her office is still working with the mayor and does not anticipate changing its course in the middle of their plan. On Thursday, May 19, she stated, “We are reviewing the recently concluded IA (Office of Internal Affairs) investigation for next steps.”
Washington also chimed in on the internal report, claiming they never reached out to her family to get their side of the story.
“I don’t know how the internal affairs (investigation) can be completed,” the sister said. “They to this day never came, sat down, talked to us, the family. … I don’t see how they can complete a case when they never even involved the family.”
As a result of the two women’s deaths and how the family claimed they were treated, legislation was passed by the General Assembly requiring law enforcement to notify a deceased person’s family “as soon as practicable.”
The law states police have up until 24 hours after identifying the body to reach out to the family member. The bill also requires the Office of the Inspector General to investigate any failure to report a death to a family. The bill is on the desk of Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, waiting for him to sign.