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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Veteran city police detective pleads not guilty to larceny, forgery charges

By Randall Beach
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— Police Detective Clarence Willoughby was silent in the courtroom Wednesday as defense attorney Norman Pattis pleaded not guilty on his behalf to larceny and forgery charges, but Pattis said his client looks forward to clearing his name in a jury trial.
Willoughby, a 24-year veteran of the New Haven Police Department, is accused of stealing from a fund used to pay confidential informants. He faces four felony counts of second-degree larceny, four felony counts of second-degree forgery and two misdemeanor counts of second-degree making a false statement.
Dressed in a suit and tie, Willoughby stood and waited alongside Pattis in a crowded courtroom at the Elm Street courthouse. This was an unaccustomed role for Willoughby, who has often testified against defendants in Superior Court trials.
But Willoughby’s name was the first to be called by Judge Richard Damiani.
After Pattis entered the not guilty pleas, he said Willoughby wanted a jury trial. Damiani then transferred the case to the Superior Court on Church Street, which handles more serious charges. Willoughby’s next pre-trial court date is March 19.
Damiani granted a request by Assistant State’s Attorney Helen McLellan to keep the warrant sealed for another two weeks. She said this was necessary “to avoid compromising an ongoing investigation.”
McLellan declined to elaborate or to comment after court adjourned. But during the proceeding, Damiani referred to problems with the first-degree manslaughter case against Errie McClendon, accused of slaying Robert “Scotty” Bennett in November 2006.
Sources have said Willoughby used a CI number assigned to the wrong informant when he obtained a $1,500 payment. According to the sources, authorities are trying to determine if it was intentional and if the informant was shortchanged.
Willoughby’s previous attorney, Michael Dolan, has said Willoughby used the right CI number and the informant received the full $1,500.
During a January court appearance, McClendon, 17, who had pleaded not guilty, was released on a written promise to appear but was taken into juvenile custody. At that session, Damiani and Assistant State’s Attorney Stacey Haupt asked anyone who was present when Bennett was shot to come forward. If they don’t do so, Damiani noted, the charge against McClendon might be dropped.
Willoughby filed for retirement Feb. 6, just before he turned himself in at police headquarters. He was placed on paid leave. He also faces departmental charges; Police Chief Francisco Ortiz Jr. has said Willoughby should be fired.
Pattis did not object to the warrant remaining sealed. After adjournment Wednesday, he said, “We don’t want to try this in the paper. We’ll take it one witness at a time. We look forward to taking it to a jury.”
Willoughby declined to comment before and after the court session. But Pattis said, “It’s a mystery to me why the New Haven Police Department is feeding on itself regarding questionable charges when there are real cases of violence unsolved in the streets.”
Pattis called Willoughby “an outstanding homicide detective with a great record of success. The jury will sort it out.”
Pattis was also upset by the presence of a TV camera in the courtroom. Under a two-year pilot program, cameras are now being allowed in certain courts.
Randall Beach can be reached at rbeach@nhregister.com or 789-5766.

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