Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cop charged in theft faces loss of job

By William Kaempffer
Register Staff
— A police detective who was arrested for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars from a fund used to pay confidential informants was charged departmentally Thursday, the first step in his anticipated firing.
Clarence Willoughby, a 24-year veteran, faces seven internal violations, ranging from being the principal in a criminal offense to conduct unbecoming a police officer.
“I’m recommending strongly to the Board of Police Commissioners that he be terminated as a result of his egregious actions,” said police Chief Francisco Ortiz Jr. Wednesday. “He betrayed the public trust.”
Willoughby would be the fourth officer fired by the commission in the last year.
Three members of the narcotics squad were fired in 2007 after arrests in a federal corruption probe. Former Lt. William White, who ran the unit, and Detective Justen Kasperzyk have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Jose Silva, another narcotics detective, started serving a three-month sentence last week.
The criminal case against Willoughby and subsequent internal violations stem from an unrelated investigation by police internal affairs that concluded he stole funds during four cases dating from 2003 to 2007. In those cases, he was provided with a total of $5,300 to pay informants, and in each case, according to internal affairs, he did so under false pretenses and “misappropriated such funds.”
Willoughby filed for retirement Feb. 6, just before he turned himself in at police headquarters, and has since switched his legal counsel to Norman Pattis. He will handle the criminal case and the police union will represent Willoughby before the board.
“I’m not at all confident that the state can make any kind of case,” said Pattis. “I’m looking forward at getting up close and personal with some of New Haven’s finest in this case.”
Even if he were fired, Willoughby will be entitled to a pension, although a termination could affect other retirement benefits. The city’s position with Willoughby, as it was with White and Kasperzyk, is that it’s the police board’s prerogative to determine how a person leaves the department — even if they have filed for retirement, so long as the pension board hasn’t yet acted on the application.
“My position right now is such that the Board of Police Commissioners has the right to terminate an employee,” said Emmet P. Hibson, the city’s director of labor relations. “Just putting in your pension papers doesn’t take away that right.”
The Pension Board is scheduled to next meet Feb. 28. Willoughby is due before the commission Feb. 21.
The warrants against Willoughby are sealed.
What effect his arrest will have on the four criminal cases remains to be seen. One, a prosecution in a 2006 fatal shooting, is at risk of imploding in court, officials have said.
The victim’s father, Doug Bethea, a longtime friend of Willoughby, stands by the detective, whom he requested be assigned to his son’s case.
He has exhibited increasing vocal frustration with police and prosecutors at efforts to investigate Willoughby while his son’s case is falling apart and others remain unsolved.
“They should be putting that much energy into solving those cases,” he said.
Police said the investigation on Willoughby began after Ortiz ordered an internal audit of the informant funds. Internal affairs arrested Willoughby on four counts each of second-degree larceny and forgery, and two counts of making a false statement.
“We have over 400 honorable and dedicated members of this department that do great work on our streets each and every day,” said Ortiz.
“It’s important that our residents understand that we won’t tolerate this type of conduct and that we will weed out individuals who do not meet the ethics and standards of this department.”

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