Dangerous Goofball Squad, The Connecticut State Police
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A state social worker is accusing four Hartford police officers of pressuring her to lie about the possible presence of drugs inside an apartment where two people were arrested and four children were removed three years ago.
Valerie M. Miles' refusal to change her report to remove mention of the three small plastic bags she said she saw, including one containing "a small quantity of a white substance," led to her arrest in 2005 and temporarily cost her her job at the state Department of Children and Families.
The police officers did not mention the bags in their reports, and no bags were seized as evidence.
Miles, 51, contends in a lawsuit filed against the Hartford Police Department that the officers charged her with fabricating evidence and witness tampering in retaliation for her decision not to cooperate. She is seeking money damages for emotional suffering and for damage to her reputation from publicity surrounding the case.
After losing her DCF job following her arrest in 2005, Miles was unable to pay her mortgage, and the lender began foreclosing on her house, said her attorney, Leon M. Rosenblatt of West Hartford.
"She wants to clear her name," Rosenblatt said Wednesday when asked about the lawsuit, which is pending in U.S. District Court in Hartford. "She has had some permanent financial damages because of this, and she wants some recompense."
Miles, a veteran DCF caseworker, was making more than $100,000 a year when she was arrested. She appealed her dismissal through the state employees union and got a state job back in May 2006, although she no longer works as a child abuse investigator for DCF. The criminal charges were dropped after she completed a period of special probation that resolved the case without a finding of innocence or guilt.
The lawsuit names the city of Hartford and four officers — Cheryl Gogins, Robert W. Russell, Joseph M. Davis and James A. Bernier — as defendants. Bernier is a police supervisor.
The lawsuit accuses the officers of abuse of power, malicious prosecution, false arrest and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Hartford police officials did not return phone messages seeking comment Wednesday. Sarah Barr, a spokesman for Mayor Eddie A. Perez, said it is the city's standard policy not to comment on pending litigation.
A source familiar with the case said the department launched an internal affairs investigation into the matter and that all of the officers insisted there were no plastic bags containing drugs in the house.
Miles' clash with police began May 27, 2005, when she was dispatched to an apartment on Hudson Street about 5:15 p.m. in response to a report that four children were living in deplorable conditions. Police were there and planning to arrest the children's mother and uncle, according to Miles' lawsuit.
The lawsuit said garbage was strewed about the house. The refrigerator was nearly empty. The children's beds were piled with clothing. There were rotten tomatoes in the mother's bedroom. There were empty beer cans on the kitchen table, and the children were hungry and infested with head lice.
While in the house, Miles saw Gogins, Russell and Davis search and arrest the mother and the uncle. Miles said in the lawsuit that during the search she saw the officers find three small bags, one of them containing a "white substance." She put that information into the report she filed in juvenile court supporting her decision to take the children into state custody.
A few days later, Miles said she got a call from Gogins asking her for a favor. The plastic bags Miles mentioned in her report were not in the police report, and Gogins told her the other officers were scared the matter would be investigated by internal affairs, the lawsuit states.
"I'm going to need you to change your statement. I need you to do me a favor, Mama," Gogins allegedly told Miles, according to the lawsuit.
Miles refused to deny the existence of the bags but agreed to amend her statement so it made no mention of the bags being placed in evidence because she did not actually see the officers do that, the lawsuit said. Her amended statement included a note that the children in the apartment had told DCF workers about drug use in the home since they were taken into custody.
Hartford police continued to pressure Miles in the following weeks, the lawsuit states. Miles eventually got one of the children's aunts, who was also in the apartment when police were there, to corroborate her account, the lawsuit said.
But Hartford police said the aunt later told officers she felt pressured to lie and support Miles' account, which police used as the basis to charge Miles with fabricating evidence and tampering with a witness.
Contact Colin Poitras at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2008, The Hartford Courant
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