HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice has taken over an investigation into allegations that hundreds of Connecticut state troopers may have submitted false information on thousands of traffic infractions to a racial profiling board, data that made it appear police were pulling over more white drivers than they were, the state’s top prosecutor said.
Chief State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin told WTNH-TV on Thursday that the DOJ asked his office to suspend its investigation, which was ordered by Gov. Ned Lamont, because it is doing its own probe. “I agreed with that decision,” Griffin said in a taping for the station’s weekend news show ‘This Week in Connecticut.’ “I think DOJ brings the tools and the resources necessary to conduct this investigation, on the one hand,” he said. “On the other, I think that the investigation will be thorough. I think that it will be independent.”
Griffin confirmed the information in a statement sent to The Associated Press on Friday.
Civil rights groups had raised questions about the objectivity of the investigation being conducted by Griffin’s office, which works with the state police on criminal cases.
In addition to the Justice Department inquiry, an independent investigation ordered by Lamont is already being led by former Connecticut U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly, who now works in private law practice.
The Justice Department did not return an email message seeking comment. The Connecticut U.S. attorney’s office and state police officials declined to comment Friday.
Adam Joseph, Lamont’s communications director, said the governor’s office has not been notified of any DOJ investigation. “We would welcome any law enforcement investigation in order to get to the bottom of this matter,” Joseph said in a statement.
In an audit released in June, data analysts with The University of Connecticut said they had a “high degree of confidence” that more than 300 of 1,300 troopers reviewed submitted false and inaccurate information on at least 26,000 — and as many as 58,500 — traffic stop infractions between 2014 and 2021. The researchers believe the infractions were never actually given to drivers.
The alleged false information was submitted to a statewide police traffic stops database, which the analysts use to prepare reports on the race and ethnicity of drivers stopped by all Connecticut police agencies under a 1999 law aimed at preventing racial profiling. Those reports have shown that police statewide have been pulling over Black and Hispanic drivers at disproportionate rates.
The reputed bogus data was more likely to identify motorists as white than as Black or Hispanic, skewing the data used for the reports, the audit said. Civil rights groups say the bogus data could mean those disproportionate rates are worse than the reports have indicated. Analysts, however, cautioned that they did not try to determine whether the records were intentionally falsified or were wrong due to carelessness or human error.
The auditors said the falsified infractions were entered into the state police’s internal system but not submitted to the state court system, which adjudicates all traffic infractions issued statewide — supporting the belief that troopers reported stops that never happened and infractions never issued.
The audit was spurred by a Hearst Connecticut Media report last year that said four state troopers in an eastern Connecticut barracks intentionally created hundreds of bogus traffic stop tickets to boost their productivity numbers. After internal affairs investigations, one trooper was suspended for 10 days, another was suspended for two days and the other two retired before the probe was completed.
State lawmakers also have been looking into the questioned data. And state police also have received a subpoena related to the traffic stop data from the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which is looking into whether false data was used to secure federal money, the state’s public safety commissioner, James Rovella, has said.
Rovella has said he is angry about the false-data allegations, while the state police union has been urging against a rush to judgment about the claims.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut said the Justice Department takeover of the investigation was a welcome step. It is calling for the decertification of all state police troopers and supervisors involved in submitting false information, which would cause them to lose their jobs.